Neighbourhoods of Mumbai 1: Matunga

Neighbourhoods of Mumbai is a series that will explore the different areas of Mumbai, their history, their sub-cultures, their architecture, the changes sweeping through them, and what makes them tick.

How difficult can it be to write about a place that I have known all my life? I would have said not very, till I sat down to write this post on Matunga, a central suburb of Mumbai. Read on with advance warning that it is a long post ! :)

Matunga is where my mother grew up, where I spent a part of my childhood, and a place that is so much part of me and my memories that I’ve never given it a second thought. So when I heard about a guided walk of Matunga conducted by a fellow blogger and friend, Rushikesh of Breakfree Journeys, I was surprised and intrigued. Surprised, because someone found it interesting enough to conduct a walk, and intrigued because I wanted to know what exactly was being covered in the walk and if they would look at Matunga the way I saw it and do it justice.

On a Saturday evening earlier this month I went on the 2-hour walk that took me through the history of Matunga, its development, the different communities that are resident here, its architecture, it unique sub-culture, its eateries, the changes sweeping through it… Some of what I learnt on the walk was new to me, some of it was a literal walk down memory lane, and some of it was seeing the same place through new eyes. Join me as I take you on that Matunga walk and also share my memories and thoughts about the place.

Matunga 1

My maternal grandparents’ home … somewhere in Matunga

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Serendipity and a second-hand book

Serendipity. I can sum up my day today with this one word.

It was a day that began very simply with my camera and I setting out to do a bit of exploration of my city. We first went to Sion, clicked some impressions and recorded some memories. And then to Matunga to have some hot filter kaapi. Happy and satisfied with the morning’s efforts and eager to see the results of my  photography, I turned homeward.

As I walked towards my bus stop, I came across this sight of booksellers setting up their stalls on the pavement at King’s Circle.

Pavement Bookstalls

Booksellers setting up their stalls on the pavement at King’s Circle in Mumbai

The late morning winter sunlight created beautiful patterns of light and shadows amongst the piles of National Geographic, Home & Garden, travel magazines, self-help books, classics, Mills & Boon, pirated copies of best sellers… It was delightful to see the books being dusted and lovingly laid out. Since, I had already packed my camera away, it was my cell phone camera that had the honour of capturing this sight.

As my eyes skimmed the book piles, the magazine stacks, and the neatly laid out rows of books, there came that little heart-stopping moment of the beautiful kind. The one where you see an unexpected treasure in the form of a book. One that lights up your eyes in anticipation, and quickens your breath just that little bit. And as you savour that moment, the world slows down just for you.

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Papakudi Meena

It was a little over noon when the train from Madras pulled into Dadar station in Bombay. It had been a long journey for the weary and grimy travellers, who disembarked with a sense of relief. Some were being received by family and friends, while many more were just making their way out of the station on their own.

Ram looked fearfully out of the train window. This was his first time in Bombay and he had never seen so many people or heard so many languages spoken at one time. He had also never smelt anything like this before—the smell of so many people, sweat, the salty air and his own fear of the unknown. His first instinct was to take the next train back to Madras and then another to his native village in southern Tamil Nadu. That’s when he thought of his family back home and the reason he had come to Bombay—to make a living like countless others before him, and countless others after him.

He took a deep breath, gathered his belongings and resolve, said a prayer to his favourite god Shiva and stepped off the train. He now had to make his way to his cousin Meena’s house in Matunga; Meena’s husband, Raman had promised to help him find a job. But first he needed to get to Meena’s house, which he had been told was not too far from Dadar station.

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