Driving through Mumbai is like driving through history. Not the history of textbooks, but the history of memoirs and autobiographies and forgotten photographs: random, erratic and romantic. The buildings look as though they have been plucked from any number of places, eras and climates, and simply thrown together. Small boxy buildings with no aesthetic value stand across a narrow by-lane; decrepit stories embellished with stone rosettes and tiny cat heads that are well passed their pristine days; and others that look as though they’re only standing thanks to sheer willpower, or perhaps because there simply isn’t any space to fall into.
A Mumbai building’s appearance often belies its use. The grand, gothic building dominating the large intersection isn’t a cathedral but a train station (interestingly designed to resemble St. Pancras in London). The elegant yet understated villa behind iron gates isn’t the home of a diplomat, it’s in fact a Jain temple. The building with dramatic pink stone domes is not a mosque or hotel, it’s a hospital.
Some are breath taking and oddly heart-warming for no reason at all. The college across the road from a beach; the building with an impressive statue of a Roman woman in front with a sword and tiger that previously housed the head offices of the shipping companies; avenues ending in bright yellow and blue petrol pumps a stone’s throw away from the docks.
The city planner obviously had the odd sick-day as well (or perhaps the street food just didn’t agree with him) for there seems to be no rhyme or reason behind anything.
Another very amusing thing has to be the Linux bins… Garbage bins all along Worli sea front in the shape of enormous open-mouthed penguins. There is also a pair of gymnasts’ beams on the walk by the sea here, not to mention a bronze statue of a man resting on a bar (no, the other kind) staring into the sea, overcoat and all. There’s the now infamous Taj, whose facade seems to resemble Harrods, standing proud and (as seen recently) slightly vulnerable, by the Gateway to India. It almost looks as though a child shook out his bag of buildings of the world all over the carpet, then ran off to play with something else.
And of course, can’t forget THE bridge. This bridge is the Worli Sea-Link, connecting two parts of Mumbai that were previously an hour away from each other, to being only ten minutes away. It opened in July 2009, and is something every Mumbaikar holds close to their heart as I discovered when I mistakenly referred to it as a ‘bridge’. The residents objected to my throw away phrase for something so impressive. But despite my poorly chosen vocabulary I actually love watching watch cars drive over it at night, waves spectacularly breaking on its columns.