This post was quite overdue and owes all allegiance to an assignment meant to discover Mumbai. The un-cut story Meter Down...
" Three months after shifting to Mumbai, I wanted to know more about the city of dreams. I found the perfect guide in Ballu Jadav, a tobacco-chewing taxi driver from Byculla. We start our journey from Lalbaug’s Chiwda Gali, driving towards Pherbunder in Byculla. “This is where I live,” he flaunts, pointing towards a patli gali.
The skinny streets lead into one of Mumbai’s many chawls. Remains from the previous day’s dahi-handi clutter the lanes. The open square laced within vertical pigeon holes houses disparity. Vegetable vendors sit in a corner, barbers in another, children chase hens and a butcher sits proudly at an end overlooking a mandir. Ballu’s voice brings me back from my stupor, “Have you seen Black Friday? The chase was shot here,” he informs, hoping to impress with his vast trivia on Bollywood.
We head back to his beloved taxi and drive over J J Flyover, zipping past Rani Bagh, Victoria Church, Palace Talkies and Motibai Reading Room. I absorb the altering landscape with alerts from the garrulous Ballu. “I slept here for 20 days when I was new in Mumbai, 12 years ago,” he reminisces about the Rajabai Clock Tower. Renting in the suburbs, this was my first intimate acquaintance with South Mumbai, in all its colonial splendour.
Ballu slows down at Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus and introduces me to his friend Rahim who runs the crowded Canon Bhaji Pav stall outside. Licking off the greasy plates, we speed off to the next pit stop. My cabbie’s affinity for storytelling shifts from Bollywood to the macabre. “This is Ajanta Talkies. An encounter took place at the exact spot we’re standing,” he says ominously, hoping to elicit a shudder.
While South Mumbai sprawls, Ballu’s meter hastens and we move to Khushrobaag, a famous Parsi temple. “I get my wife here a lot. She forgets we are Hindu sometimes,” he laughs. Since cinema-hall- hopping is his idea of getting to know Mumbai, he takes me to Minerva next. Driving past Mumbai’s biggest red light district, Kamathipura, Ballu accelerates with concern, “Don’t come here alone”.
He then declares the South Mumbai session complete and we head to the suburbs with little time to spare. Dadar throws up Maratha Mandir, and at Mahim, Ballu points to all the memorable kebab stalls, which feed teeming people who visit the mosque. A ‘townie’ at heart, Ballu has little to sermonise about the suburbs. Skipping Bandra, we halt at Juhu Garden, with a life-size airplane replica mid centre. “You must sit inside and dream that you’re flying,” he philosophises.
Halting at the final destination, also a theatre, Bombay Talkies in Malad, Ballu good naturedly presents a tab of Rs 1,000. He drives of with good tidings, singing Musafir hoon yaroon, na ghar hai na thikana. I ring home and announce, “Mom, I dared.”
Now five days a week, a shared cab takes me down to town each day. Strangers fill the inch space between each other and the touch doesn't feel alien anymore, but alike: Human. The small concave window overlooks the sea and there is that much distance between cramped and vast space. The sudden realisation then dawns as you sit next to new skins each day. There is openess here after all.