Author Amit Gurbaxani Photography Manjari Sharma
I alight at the bridge’s southern end, in Worli, one of seven islands that were merged, through a series of land reclamation projects started in the 1840s, to form Mumbai. A working fishing village, Worli comprises a warren of lanes where the aroma of fish being dried or fried is ever-present. I pass by a weathered-looking man who, apparently unaware of how good he’d look on a postcard, sits fashioning a net out of rope. Nearby is a fish market inhabited by the world’s fattest stray cats. Then there’s a wedding party of women in bright saris dancing down the street and showering blessings on the bride. It’s perfect—almost as if they knew I was coming.
I decide not to use the Sea Link to return to the northern part of the city, heading instead through one of Mumbai’s largest green spaces, Shivaji Park, which is filled with kids, canoodling couples and, above all, cricket matches. I stop for a while to lounge in the sun, then continue on to the futuristic Bandra Kurla Complex, a commercial district on the banks of the Mithi River.
Bandra Kurla isn’t the most soulful place in Mumbai, but it is home to some fine restaurants, including the “progressive Indian” eatery Masala Library, by Jiggs Kalra. Hailed as the “czar of Indian Cuisine,” Kalra has pulled out all the stops at this venture. My meal includes mushroom chai presented like a tea service—a consommé is poured from a kettle into a cup of dehydrated button mushrooms—followed by mutton chaap, an Indian iteration of spare ribs. I also have the jalebi caviar, a dessert so elaborate I don’t have the space to describe it here. Despite the fanciful presentation, Kalra makes no concessions when it comes to taste—this is a wonderful meal.
From here, I catch an auto-rickshaw and head to the west side of Bandra, where I’m meeting local street artist Jas Charanjiva. Bandra West, as the area is known, is Mumbai’s creative hub, home to many of the city’s musicians, designers and artists. I meet Jas outside her store, Kulture Shop, which collaborates with Indian artists around the globe to produce prints and T-shirts. The plan is for Jas to take me to her favorite place in town, Bandra Fort, a 17th-century Portuguese fortification overlooking the sea. For Jas, the history is perhaps a little less important than the fact that the spot allows “a quick getaway from the crazy traffic and pollution of the city.”
On our way to the fort, we pass Mount Mary Church, outside of which is a clutter of stalls selling wax candles shaped like houses, shops, cars, airplanes, currency notes, computers, babies and body parts. Devotees believe that if they place these candles at the oratory opposite the church, their wishes, as represented by the various shapes, will be granted. In this regard, the stalls provide a snapshot of the hopes and aspirations of this city; the candles include one marked “TV star.”
Inside the fort, we settle down beside some college kids taking selfies with the Sea Link bridge in the background. “I find it fascinating that you see people aiming their cameras at something so recent,” Jas says, “while surrounded by something that’s 400 years old.” We leave the fort and stroll toward the promenade, where we come across another group of smartphone-wielding kids, snapping the actor Shah Rukh Khan’s beachfront bungalow.
I take another rickshaw, drop Jas off and head to Juhu Beach to catch the sunset. The beach is less a place to swim than a picnic spot where families spread sheets and laze, fully clothed, on the sand, buzzed by hawkers selling pinwheels, cotton candy and sun hats. As I jostle through the crowd, I am approached by three different men offering seaside massages. Then, just in time, I spot a speeding, oncoming volleyball. I duck and decide to get out of here.
Another rickshaw takes me to the restaurant where I’ll be dining tonight. A hugely popular local seafood chain, Gajalee has several branches across the city, including one right by Juhu Beach, but hardcore fans swear by the flagship, in the neighboring suburb of Vile Parle. Once there, I’m happy to find that the golden batter-fried bombil (a native lizardfish also known as Bombay duck) has been cooked to perfection. The prawn masala and fish curry are equally delectable.
Stomach full, I return to Bandra, home to Bonobo, a nightspot named after the amorous African apes. Over a few beers, I chat with a jewelry maker about to launch an online store, an indie musician working on an electro-pop album and a foodie entrepreneur who’s come from debuting a pop-up night market. It all reminds me of something Jas said earlier, about Bandra being “the Brooklyn of Bombay.” This isn’t the first time that Mumbai has been compared to New York. It’s a melting pot. It never sleeps. Some have even taken to calling the city “The Big Mango.”
It’s a bit of a hike, but I feel duty-bound to end my trip at my favorite spot in Mumbai: the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, a Gothic Revival masterpiece that was deemed a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004, and which is even more beautiful at night. As I stand and take in its riotous detail—its turrets and Moorish dome, its glorious clash of idioms and styles—it occurs to me that Mumbai is indeed a bit like New York, and London, and Dubai, and Rio de Janeiro. It is a city where, as one visitor put it, “you go five yards and all of human existence is revealed.”
Amit Gurbaxani is the co-founder and editor of thedailypao.com, a website that covers food, culture, nightlife and fashion in Mumbai.