A salty aftertaste

Updated: Nov 18, 2019, 07:36 IST | Fiona Fernandez | Mumbai

Views of the Mithi from the newly opened BKC connector should serve as a wake-up call to the city that doesn't seem to learn from the looming threat of climate strike

Mithi River as seen from the BKC-Chunabhatti bridge. Pic /Fiona Fernandez
Mithi River as seen from the BKC-Chunabhatti bridge. Pic /Fiona Fernandez

FionaThe BKC-Chunabhatti connector road was thrown open to the public a week ago. Like most Bombaywallahs starved of hassle-free, timely commutes to their workplaces, yours truly was also expecting the moon from this new succour of hope. And so, on the first day of last week, my dedicated kaali-peeli cabbie, as if he was headed down the US's Route 66, gleefully took me via the new road. There we were, on the other side of the river in less than three minutes. Wait a second; did I say 'river'? Well, yes, if you are willing to believe that the semi-stagnant water body that caught our eye for a few seconds was THE Mithi River. The zippy-trippy ride didn't feel so nice, after all. There were many reasons.

First up, a phantom sinus attack emerged out of nowhere. It was such a sudden, severe head spin that had it not been for a Monday morning where I was heading to work, I might have possibly taken a short detour to O Pedro for a round of their potent Portuguese wine to blank out the attack. Soon we realised that the sensation had to do with the stench that greeted us from our 'joyride' over the river moments before.

Then, there was the view of the actual river. There's nothing to be proud of, Bombay. Call it eyesore, swollen gutter, nullah to nowhere, anything that suits the season, really. We might as well build shanties, glass façade offices or apartments [whatever springs up quicker] over the last remaining exposed parts of the water body. I shudder to imagine what might become of this area in the next five years, or if we believe Greta Thunberg, even sooner.

Monday and Tuesday had passed, by Wednesday the drive on the connector drilled home the point even more. I spotted landfills as big as football grounds on the BKC side of the connector; here, cranes and contractors whirred around doing their jobs. Life seemed to be carrying on as if it was just another day. Climate change can wait.

Sometime back, I came across an interesting extract about this area in Heritage of Mount Mary Bandra, a book by Monsignor Francis Correa. Here, he explains in detail about a time almost a couple of centuries ago, when vessels would move about along the river from the harbour of Bandra. The polluted slushy stream that we see today has phased out the brooks that gushed down the slopes of the Mahakali, Marol, Kurla and Ghatkopar hills, and even from the slopes of the hills in faraway Powai. Water at high tide rose high enough to enter the flow of this river. The sweet water thus used to turn salty and this flow was known as the 'Mithi' river (from a Marathi context, not Hindi), referring to the nature of the water that is salty and not sweet (meet: salt in Marathi).

By Thursday, when this extract came back to mind, it was like rubbing salt on our wounds (pun fully intended). In fact, the stench worsened on the return ride home. As if the river with no voice was trying to send out a signal to the harried commuter zipping past above her, and by default, to her city. It was her home ground before anyone else's, remember?

By Friday, I tried a bit of Utopian imagery as a possible distraction. Imagine a riverside promenade that would line the stretch all the way up to Mahim Creek, where one could buy fresh catch, straight from a fisherman, and have it cooked on a boat kitchen as it set sail down the river. No stench, only savoury aromas. Allepey and Kumarakom have been celebrating their backwaters for decades, why can't we do the same with our salty river?

And by Saturday, I had exhausted every trick in the book as we climbed the connector. Then, like a sign, I spotted a massive flock of egrets rise like a carpet of white over a marshy isle in the middle of the river. They soared skyward unfazed by the glasshouse buildings and concrete universe around them. They had survived this mindless onslaught, and the Mithi was still their sanctuary. In that frame lay a message – the Mithi is our lifeline, and we as a city ought to keep whatever that's left of her safe before she goes under, forever.

mid-day's Features Editor Fiona Fernandez relishes the city's sights, sounds, smells and stones...wherever the ink and the inclination takes her. She tweets @bombayana
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