Bombay Gothic

Bombay Gothic

I wanted to live a little yesterday, usually 'living a little' is a minimum 2 program but I decided to the ditch the second person and do it alone. I even did it without my camera, strange as it may sound.I've become quiet the trigger happy jap-tourist type of person who lives by the motto "if you haven't shot it you haven't lived it".There is another reason for me not having a camera- well it's not with me. My dad has borrowed it because he's in New Zealand. And since my mom and sis aren't here either I have been left home alone baby-sitting my dog [dog-sitting actually, but she is a puppy so baby would be right].

I decided to head town-wards away from the suburbs. I found the nearest rickshaw directed him to Bandra Station. A few minutes later and 19 bucks lighter I found myself at Bandra Station. 'Locals' are what the denizens of Bombay call their over-crowded yet super-efficient mass transit system on tracks. Stations in Bombay,well in India, embody tiny-ecosystem-ish representations of the entire system at large and this has been said a millions of times before but I'm going to repeat it once more 'if you want a taste of Indian life go visit a railway station.� I got a myself a copy of the Mid-day at the nearest A H Wheeler & Co * and went on to the ticket counter to by myself a second class ticket to CST ** worth Rs. 7.

People in Bombay, random people, people you see at railway stations, in buses, in cabs at pedestrian crossing interactions always seem to begoing somewhere in the fashion and multitude most people would equate to Tokyo or Manhattan but I saw the same raw blankness in my fellow commuter's eyes as I walked on the railway bridge making my way toplatform 5.

As I got on to the train in what I could best describe as a peer induced hurried rush, I quickly found myself a place other side by the doorleaning on the barrier both to rest my back and as a means for support. Locals have this very distinct smell one I would like to call 'metallic sweat' because that�s the only thing that describes it to me-smell which is a not-so-subtle blend of sweat and a metallic paint. First came Mahim Junction, a brief rattle away from Bandra, and we rolled over the mangroves and backwaters more smells some stronger than others piqued through the compartment. A short stop and we were on to King Circle. The man next to me nudged me to ask "Vadala alla kai?� [Have we reached Vadala Road]. I told him he it was the next station. He asked me once more just to make sure before he headed for the exit. The stations went by alternating side each time marked by an exit and entrance of more bodies always some how keeping the numbers rather constant. This was The Harbour Line *** then came Sewri , Cotton Green, Reay Road, Dockyard Road, Sandhurst Road, Masjid and finally Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus.

This is a part of Bombay filled with thepast, old derelict warehouses, unused cranes, container terminals. For this used to be India's premier dockyard. Now since most or all of Bombay's containers go through JNPT, Bombay docks are all but deserted. Maybe after the city fathers are done with the mills they'll turn their eyes here and may be in twenty years this would be filled with boutiques, hotels, malls and/or even a new art district. If you notice from the names of the stations, most of them right in the
middle of Bombay yet scarcely visited, still have kept their colonial names like 'Cotton Green' or 'Sandhurst Road' or 'Reay Road' and just like the names themselves the places themselves remain time warped in
a sort of Bombay Gothic.

All of India's cities still after all these years still have inherited colonial hiccups, places that stand reminders bitter-sweet. In Bombay the sweet would be Victoria Terminal [now known as Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus].Let's walk around shall we, wait let me exit the train first. Platform 1, I look up and I see the large trusses hanging over me all painted siliver with anti-rust paint like foundation on a diva's face. After an glass of apple juice from the HPMC counter for old times sake I felt ever refreshed. You know what impresses me the most about CST/VT, well most would say the gothic facade, the stained glass, the gargoyles for me it's large clock above the middle platform for after all these years it still tells the correct time.

I exit and walk along the station towards Crawford Market. The station stares back at me through her large open windows ,trains, commuters, hawkers, beggars and tourist rolling in and rolling out and above be were the gargoyles smile caught in their frozen dive. Gargoyles are water spouts by practicality but I've always
imagined them to be more than that. I've always imagined them to be like temple guard statues who'll jump out any moment and come to the rescue of the structure.

I reached the end crossed and walked in the other direction along the Bennett and Coleman building towards fountain.

May be when I have a little more time I'll reveal more of what I did or may be I'll let it remain a mystery.

*A H Wheeler & Co - Emile Moreau, a French author, and T K Bannerjee, an Indian businessman, started the bookstore chain 'A H Wheeler & Co.', which later spread to have its book stalls in a great many small and big railway stations in India, especially in the north. The company was also the one that published Rudyard Kipling in 1888 when he was all but unknown. The company's name was borrowed from a then-successful London bookstore, Arthur Henry Wheeler�s. You could now call them the largest un-official book store chains in India. You could find one on nearly every major or not-so major Indian railway

**CST - Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus formerly Victoria Terminus and need I mention, world heritage site.

***The Harbour Line -The 5th corridor on Central Railway runs from CST to Raoli Junction (11 km) from where the line splits. One line goes north west to join WR at Mahim and goes up to Andheri (11 km), and the other goes eastward to terminate at Panvel (39 km) via Navi Mumbai.This corridor is popularly referred to as 'Harbour Line' by the locals.

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Anonymous said...

Hi. Read this blog dated Friday, April 15, 2005. Was quite excited and happy to see that the person has given a little note about A.H. Wheeler & Co. just to add to the note: A.H. Wheeler was formed in the year 1887 and has its presence across the country except in the southern part of the country. it is on 258 railway stations operating more than 400 book stalls. and im proud to be part of this heritage company for having served the nation and the travelling public unrelentlessly for the last 130 years. me and my family own it and i can say that it may not have given us the big bucks, but it surely has given us an immense sense of pride and satisfaction to have spread education and knowledge in parts of the country where the only known source of reading material availability has been and still is the Wheeler book stall.