Lindsay Pereira: Not all change is constant

The more some parts of our city change, the more other things about it remain the same – Mumbai always rises to face another day

The government can change the concrete things along this route. But it can’t change the essence of Marine Drive and what it represents for millions of Indians. File pic
The government can change the concrete things along this route. But it can’t change the essence of Marine Drive and what it represents for millions of Indians. File pic

I came across an installation called a Selfie Point near Juhu a while ago. It was, with the exception of every movie made by Salman Khan, the most awful thing I have seen in Mumbai. There are a number of things that vie for this title routinely, of course, thanks to corporators who have access to our hard-earned money and approach their job armed with a seemingly unlimited amount of bad taste.

Take those strange ceramic sculptures that crop up on streets and near railway stations, for instance, or those dead trees given a paint job. Who commissions these things? Why do they exist? Whom do they really inspire? Are they supposed to bring some form of beauty to our increasingly filthy city?

Our railway stations now boast the most inane, execrable drawings on some walls, all masquerading as graffiti, presumably in a bid to get some station masters brownie points for meeting their mandates of 'beautification'. Almost all the drawings appear to be done by people who were denied admission to art school, which, obviously, hasn't stopped the powers that be from thrusting paint supplies into their eager hands and ignoring the effect their work has on millions of us who must avert our eyes from these murals on a daily basis.

The only thing that comforts me in such times of distress is the fact that some things about Mumbai will never change, despite the government of Maharashtra's best efforts to turn our city into a dustbin. There's Marine Drive, for instance, which doesn't appear to have aged at all since I first set eyes on it decades ago. I was born in Mumbai, so the sight of the sea wasn't as magical for me as it possibly is for people born in cities without a large water body. And yet, surrounded as I was by smiling faces belonging to people across ages, from all corners of the country, I felt what I recognised much later to be hope. It is what continues to draw people from across India to this little crescent-shaped patch of Mumbai on Sunday evenings, with the sky on one side of them and a necklace of jewels gleaming on the other.

The government can change the concrete dividers and experiment with the shapes of bus stops along this route. It can install gymnasiums as publicity stunts and debate endlessly about the pros and cons of what streetlights to use. What it can't change is the essence of Marine Drive and what it represents for millions of Indians.

Then there are the restaurants and bars that continue to plough on, sticking their thumbs up at new taxes, bizarre diktats from the BMC, requests for additions and subtractions to menus for political points, and the presence of corrupt officials at every corner waiting for a cut. They may add an air-conditioner or two, exchange faded menus for laminated ones, even change the names of a few dishes to make them sound better than they are, but the feeling one gets, stepping inside any of these age-old haunts in any suburb, never changes.

I suppose there will always be an August Kranti Maidan and a Bandra Talao, dances on Christmas Eve and massive idols of Lord Ganesha at Chowpatty every year. There will always be vada pav and quarter bars, dabbawallahs and Virar locals, roasted peanuts at traffic lights and argumentative fishmongers on Sunday mornings.

Our monsoons may forever be ferocious; our movie stars, perennially Kapoors or Khans. Statues of eminent Parsis will always look down upon us benignly, while the legacy of the Raj will always inspire awe in the faces of people who walk past Victoria Terminus.

I can't ignore that much-maligned spirit of Mumbai either, trotted out whenever something awful happens. It crops up in the aftermath of every riot or terror attack, used as an excuse for the incompetence and inefficiency that consistently makes every tragedy here worse than it ought to be. I don't know if it exists anymore, or if it did at all, before my time. All I know is that Mumbai shakes off whatever happens, whenever it happens, and rises to face another day. All I know is that the people who live here make me smile, whenever I run into any one of them at any corner of the Earth. There will always be a part of this city in the soul of whoever is lucky enough to spend some time here. And I'm pretty sure that counts for something.

When he isn't ranting about all things Mumbai, Lindsay Pereira can be almost sweet. He tweets @lindsaypereira. Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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