Though not recommended much – even by travel sites ( which recommend the Gateway of India, the Taj, the Oval Grounds and the VT Station, perhaps, due to overcrowding and gandgi – having some ( ok, enough !) time at my hand, i visited the Juhu Chowpatty. Shivaji Maharaj’s statue ( looked like not too old erection) naturally welcomed visitors. There were waves, and waves of happiness. Sea takes off everything – every worry. People, perhaps those from outside, immerse. Boys and men – irrespective of their physiques – shamelessly flaunting their hairy paunches; women drenching with their clothes on.
As one walks on away from Juhu chowpatty towards Koliwada, a few things catch the eye. One is the amazing use and respect of space, that Mumbaikars only can have. The entire 1 km odd beach is divided into cricket pitches – each one claiming only as much as required, and not more. Balls go to others’ fields and returned effortlessly. Beach is everyone’s. There are no jhagdas, again perhaps a Mumbaikar’s trait / survival necessity. All those playing there – youth from neighbourhoods, belong to the same fraternity. Without even knowing each other perhaps, one senses a bond within them. Where longitudinal space becomes limited, they can play perpendicular : with football team playing perpendicular to the cricket team.
In addition to the efficient use of space and bonhomie, there is talent. Many batsmen are effortlessly hitting balls deep towards the sea. The view reminds of government-school children playing band scene in the movie ‘Hindi medium’ and the dialogue – इन को मौक़ा मिले तो यह छत फाड़ के ऊपर निकल जाएँगे । ( Given a chance they would do wonders).
The young vibrant crowd is however, mostly boys. The women representation is either small girls accompanying their parents, or wives accompanying their families. When will our beaches and public spaces become fully accessible to young women ( though Mumbai perhaps provides this accessibility much more than any other city).
Abutting this vibrant crowd on the landward side are ivory towers : big buildings, hotels ( with names such as bay view). People from amongst the vibrant crowd, who make it big in life stay there. And look back on the crowd and place as ‘dirty’. Simultaneously, there seems to be an unparallel desire and competition for people in this crowd to climb up the steep walls and be part of the ‘ivory tower’. The Mumbai dream.
As one walks further ahead, one hits Koliwada. The sea seems to have meticulously washed back here, what belonged to land : the garbage. It is a site, we won’t like to show to anyone. While Clean up Mumbai van is at Juhu chowpatty, and that area does seem clean – despite sea of people visiting there every day, and some of them still littering – Swachh Bharat in urban areas must begin with slums and areas like Koliwada. There is no carpet to sweep this garbage under. Sea washes it all back.