At Dadar’s Shivaji Park, on the line of benches that lie on the periphery of the iconic ground, there is a little Mumbai mix that exits. Young and old, rich or poor, healthy or infirm, these benches are for everyone.
MEDITATION: The scene at a bench outside Shivaji Park, Dadar. PIC/SATYAJIT DESAI
Good old days
A favourite spot for many an old folk to reflect on the days gone by, these benches are a resting place for morning walkers. Thomas George, 72, Matunga resident says, “After a morning walk, I always make it a point to sit on the benches outside Shivaji Park to practice breathing exercises. I have a group which joins me as we catch our breath and also chat about the happenings in our lives.”
Agreeing with George, his friend Lalu Shrihari, 75, Dadar resident says, “As school children, this was our favourite place to spend time and discuss homework. But now as we have aged, I’d like to say gracefully; these benches and trees are filled with our 60 plus years of banter and stories. We sit here and discuss everything from health tips to children and grandchildren as well as the news.”
FRIENDSHIP TIME: Tales on the benches near Chakala Municipal School, Andheri (E). PIC/NIMESH DAVE
Near Chakala Municipal School in Andheri (E), the joy of sitting on a bench and spending time with old friends is the same. Kokilaben Patel, 67, a housewife says, “These benches were put by our corporator some five to seven years ago. I remember sitting and waiting for my grandchildren’s school bus. I happened to meet other senior citizens like me and we bonded. When my grandchildren didn’t need me to pick or drop them, I continued going in the evenings as I made many friends.”
Patel who lost her husband three years ago says, “We discuss news, families, serials and Bollywood trends. I sit on the bench from 5 pm to 7 pm almost everyday, except when the bench is wet because of the rains. I have slipped and fallen many times, so I avoid going out in the rain.”
The bench is also a favourite place for school children as they wait for their bus. Samson Shetty, 8 who goes to Paranjape School in Andheri (E) and his brother Samarth, 5 sit on the bench near Hotel Oriental Aster in Tarun Bharat, Andheri.
Their mother Sarla says, “Their school bus comes at around 7 am, so there is always a mad rush at home to get ready and run. Often the boys wake up late and breakfast is a treat on the bench for them. Since they are normally sleepy, they sit on the bench and wait for the bus. A number of other school children also sit here, so the bench gets very crowded early in the morning.”
PARK BLISS: Senior citizens love sitting and chatting. PIC/BIPIN KOKATE
The scene is similar at Chembur’s Subash Nagar where students wait for their school buses, while sitting on benches. Uma Salgaonkar who brings her 10-year-old son and 12-year-old daughter near Acharya College to catch their bus to school says, “Our corporator has been very gracious to have used his fund money to make this sitting space for residents.
Sitting here and waiting is much better than standing, especially for us parents. Some grandparents also come to pick up their grandchildren and so waiting for about 20 minutes to half an hour becomes, too much. With these benches, those waiting can sit and rest for sometime.”
Food for thought
The bench also serves as a small picnic spot for many daily wage workers in Chembur. Mohammed Khan who works in a stainless steel company nearby comes with his colleagues to share their dabba at the bench. “We have a party of sorts from 1 pm to 2 pm which is lunch time for most people who work in this area.
SEA VIEW: It is pure joy sitting by the beach and watching the water wash the shore. PIC/SAMEER MARKANDE
There is no place to eat in our workshops or the factories that we work in and so the benches near Acharya College are a great spot to sit and have a meal together with old and new friends as well as share food and experiences,” explains Khan.
Like Chembur, the benches near Shivaji Park also draw many tiffin sharing groups of labourers in the area. Shammi Patel who works at a garage in Dadar says, “My neighbour told me that rather than eating alone, I should come and sit on the benches at Shivaji Park with him and his friends.
Though my workplace is near Plaza and I have to walk a lot to get to Shivaji Park the company of friends draws me to the benches there, every time during lunch hours. I joke and say the walk to and fro helps build an appetite and aids digestion for me.”
LIKE A CHILD: Benches are a pleasant perch for young students as they await their school bus. PIC/SATYAJIT DESAI
Rajesh Pandya who lives in Virar and works in Dadar says, “Eating in the fresh air surrounded by nature is always nice. Plus, some of the best people I have met in my 40 years of existence has been here. I like talking to people and I am proud to say that I have made many friends with those who come here to have lunch. Politics, family and happenings in the city are the top topics for discussion here.”
Fans like the Bandra Bandstand promenade benches for a glimpse of the stars. Waqar Qureshi, 21 who along with his friends Laldin Shetty, Dara Singh and Yashwant Rao have come from Madhya Pradesh to see Bollywood and the stars. The benches at Bandra Bandstand is step one of this dream.
“Shah Rukh Khan has a fort-like house and it is very difficult to see him. But a few days ago, his car passed by and he waved to us. The feeling was awesome. To get a personal wave from such a big star! Salman Khan hasn’t come to his window yet. We are waiting anxiously in the sun for him to come and wave to us,” says Waqar Qureshi.
Laldin Shetty adds, “We have taken pictures of their houses and will be taking these home to show our friends and families back in Bhopal. We tried to get into Film City, but the security did not allow us, this was also the case with some film studios. These benches on the other hand are free for all.”
Bharti Bhansode and Abigail Kapoor, both 21, who study at St Andrew’s College, Bandra also come often to Bandra Bandstand hoping to see Shah Rukh and Salman Khan. Bhansode says, “Part of the reason I chose a Bandra college was because of the numerous chances they offer to meet celebrities.
I am a big Salman Khan fan while Abigail loves Shah Rukh. We don’t agree on the same celebrity, but we agree on spending time after college waiting for them together. We have actually chosen a bench that is equidistant from both celeb houses so we can sit and wait for our favourite celebrity.”
“We are at Bandstand generally from 5:30 pm to 8 pm. So far, we have seen Shah Rukh five times and Salman twice. We have also managed to see Gauri, Malaika, Sohail and Arbaaz Khan on a few occasions. A number of local politicians and television actors also frequent this place and so these benches are the ideal place to see them all. We also spend time near the beach watching the waves, sometimes,” adds Kapoor.
“The places to wait in peace in Mumbai are very difficult to find and benches at the side of roads are a great place to rest and relax tiring feet. On my way to work at Lalbaug, the benches near Lower Parel station help me rest my legs after spending almost an hour standing in the train from Virar to Lower Parel,” says Anand Rai, a trader.
The benches at Lower Parel also serve as a sitting space for those who have broken their shoes and need them to be repaired. “Generally, you have to juggle standing while the cobbler is repairing your shoes. But the benches near the cobbler shop makes it very easy to give your shoes and then sit while he repairs it,” says Sushma Patwardhan, a nurse whose shoe broke while on her way to work.
From swapping stories to forging friendships and something as prosaic as resting feet; benches provide solace for the body and soul in a city perennially on the go.
What are benches for?
>> Benches are for aching feet. They provide chicken, and if you are vegetarian, tomato soup for the sole (pun intended).
>> Benches are places where you can rest your posterior. Put a newspaper underneath you, if the sun is too hot and burnt buttocks is not what you want. Or, put that plastic bag you are carrying that crackles while you walk, sometimes irritably.
>> Benches are for romance. Rest your head on a shoulder, just in case you are feeling bolder.
>> Benches are for putting your feet up and tying your shoelaces that trail behind you. In a city, where there’s many a slip between the pothole and the short trip (to the shop, to the next building, to the park, to the whatever) you don’t need untied shoelaces, to add to woes.
>> Benches outdoors are for holding on to as your practice your tricep dips. Benches are for putting your feet up as you grind out some tougher than usual, push-ups. Good for your ego and your arms, too.
>> Benches are for putting your shopping bags down and indulging in some banter with your friends. Eavesdropping on the maavshis at Shivaji Park who are talking about Madhuri Dixit’s husband being “agdi simple ani sweet.”
>> Benches are for sitting down and buying Mumbai ‘timepass’ from the passing sing-chana waala, and thinking with a bit of shock and amusement, that inflation has caught up with sing-chana too. There’s nothing available for peanuts these days, not even peanuts.
>> Benches are for sitting cross legged and practicing your yoga postures. Call them benchasana.
>> Benches at maidans are for fielders at third man, sneaking a quick rest when they think the captain isn’t looking.
>> Benches are places to scribble ‘Ravi loves Mihika’ when you think nobody is looking.
>> Benches are for sleeping, with a handkerchief on your face. Till a crow decides to plonk one on you and you get up, shouting rather aptly, oh shit!
>> Benches are for opening newspapers and reading tripe, like this column, laughing alone and wondering at the strange looks people are giving you.
- Hemal Ashar
2013: The year in which Mumbai got its first water bench at Horniman Circle Garden