Baby Bombay

Published: Jan 13, 2019, 05:40 IST | Meher Marfatia

It's crowded, it's polluted, it's frazzling. Yet, how does Bombay love its young? Let us count the ways

Baby Bombay
Illustration/Ravi Jadhav

Meher MarfatiaIn the sea, once upon a time, O my Best Beloved, there was a Whale and he ate fishes. He ate the starfish and the garfish, the crab and the dab, the plaice and the dace, the skate and his mate, the mackerel and the pickerel, and the really truly twirly-whirly eel." I too giggled, reading out that quirkily rhymed passage to my daughter, shaded by a mango tree on the JJ School of Art campus. Shopping at Crawford Market, we had happened to find ourselves across it. She was carrying an adored book — Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling, whose childhood bungalow stands on the grounds of the school where his sculptor father John Lockwood Kipling taught. Surrendering to serendipity, we'd chosen an apt corner to hear nonsense-nuanced Kipling in a happy match of moment to mood. Such episodes needn't be rarities. Fatigued and frustrated though the city leaves us, it holds magic and mystery.

Walk the talk
Enjoy treks suggested by architects Brinda Gaitonde and Abha Bahl.

Books that  revisit the city's local histories, iconic landmarks and cuisine

. Bandra villages Ranwar, Pali, Sherly Rajan and Chuim are complete charmers. Centuries-old tiled roof cottages, with wooden staircases and quaint doors folding open onto the road mark a pedestrian scale and strong sense of neighbourhood.

. Breach Candy boasts Neo-Classical treasures in 19th and early 20th-century palaces, institutions and colonial bungalows, the gardens, graceful facades and exquisite detailing archetypal of their time.

. Khotachi Wadi in Girgaum is the perfect precinct to be introduced to the East Indian community. From St Theresa's Church near Charni Road Station, follow a picturesque streetscape of timber framed porches fronting Portuguese villas with fretwork balconies and cast-iron balusters.

Books that  revisit the city's local histories, iconic landmarks and cuisine

. Banganga, on west Malabar Hill, from the early 18th century, may be the island city's largest surviving pilgrimage spot. Ramayana myths and legends come alive around the stepped Banganga tank and temple complex. Start at Walkeshwar bus depot near Teen Batti.

. Fort means a long walk, the 1860s demolition of the British Fort heralding a great era of construction. Break up the route in more than one outing. Set off at Apollo Bunder, covering the Taj Mahal Hotel-Yacht Club-Regal Circle-Elphinstone College-David Sassoon Library-Kala Ghoda-Mumbai University-Rajabai Clock Tower. Finish admiring the UNESCO-tagged Victorian Gothic public buildings of the 1870s at Oval Maidan facing fab Art Deco homes.

Nestle with nature
Environmentalist Sunjoy Monga has six cool outdoor jaunts for juniors.

Books that  revisit the city's local histories, iconic landmarks and cuisine
Books that revisit the city's local histories, iconic landmarks and cuisine

. Highest Point Trail in Sanjay Gandhi National Park, Borivli, charts a gradual climb rewarded by valley views and good birdwatching. A less taxing half-trail runs 2.5 km from base to Gomukh and back via the Kanheri Caves.

. The Silonda Trail in the same park is prime for insect spotting. It winds partly along stream beds which roar during the rains.

. The South Gate Trail up to Vihar Lake is ideal for first-timers, along paved road and lakeside grass. Permission for the three routes is required from the National Park office.

. Godrej Mangroves in Vikhroli are ripe to explore secrets of grassland and scrub, leading to protected mangroves. A minimum number of 20 preferred, admission is free. Contact: 67961097

. Maharashtra Nature Park, on the Bandra-Sion link, creates easier accessible forest-like terrain, with well-laid trails proving quite revelatory.

. Karnala Fort Trail is an ascent of 1,400 feet through forest, grass and scrub, up the ancient fort ruins. But great birding and insect watching opportunities await.

Go green, think pink
. Wander onward for immersive organic experiences. Camp Deogadh on Pawna Lake offers waterfront yoga, astronomy nights training young eyes to identify shooting stars of the Geminid showers and rice harvesting. Beyond their tents lie the Bedse Caves and Tikona Fort. Contact:

. Cross-harbour at Alibaug, the SP Native Biodiversity Project grows over 560 native plant species (native flora brings back native fauna). Visitors play among musical bamboos and stop for guidance at information kiosks to understand the ecosystem. Contact: Langi – 8983891617

. Closer home, families can look forward to flamingo spotting in the Mahul-Sewri mudflats, where thousands of pink feathers flutter for half the year. Joining them recently are Eurasian spoonbills, black-headed ibises and open-billed storks.

Elephant tales from our very own museum
The 1872-built Bhau Daji Lad Museum, beside the Byculla Zoo, glows with ornate stairwells, 23.5 carat gold painted ceilings and patterned Minton tiles. It is the finest restored of very few Palladian-style structures in the city.The museum tracks the journey of our port town which pioneered Asia's oldest newspaper, dry dock and stock exchange. Delicate dioramas focus on communities building Bombay, their head-dress, occupations and recreations. My favourite artefact is an elephant which turned up his trunk at the Raj, refusing to leave. Originally from Elephanta, the sixth-century stone animal broke a crane hoisting him for shipping to England. Pieced back, the patriotic pachyderm has stayed on here. Question vexing working mums and dads: Why is the fantastic Railway Museum at CST open only 3-5 pm? 

Pleasure between the pages
. Among must-read local histories for under-12s is Rashmi Palkhivala's Samundari City, voiced by an endearing unlikely narrator. Samundari, a little wave hugging our Arabian Sea coast, laps and maps the metro around ideas of secularism and conservation — "It doesn't matter who you are, Mumbai encompasses you in her big, beating heart. We must make sure her heart doesn't bleed often. Then all that is special about her will slowly die." Contact:

. Pereena Lamba and Miel Sahgal's Totally Mumbai brims with "Did you know?" gems — from sharing that the High Court design was inspired by a German castle, to cheering 5,000 dabbawalas who daily deliver 350,000 identical lunchboxes with multi-lingual coded symbols. Packing a wealth of wildlife facts, Miel says, "Children are lucky their city is home to leopards, crocodiles and deer. Look skyward to a bird, pause a moment with a butterfly, even just touch the bark of a tree." Contact:

. Preeti Vyas has published 366 Words in Mumbai, vocabulary romping through our icons, landmarks and cuisine. Her other book, People Called Mumbai, tells real-life stories in subcultures sensitising kids. Adventure, humour, simplicity and courage abound in accounts of Kumbharwada potter Jeenibai, Anil Kapoor's "duplicate" Navin Rathod and Sub-inspector Pramila Kshirsagar. Contact:

. Young adults will dig Shabnam Minwalla's thriller, What Maya Saw, whose clues hunt narrows excitingly to the city core. Contact:

Fill a personal city calendar
Every kid deserves "joy dates", affirming Bombay bonds. Mine included May 20 and December 2. My Fair Lady's release left us lisping its every epic lyric. I listened to the LP endlessly boom "Next week on the 20th of May, I proclaim Liza Doolittle Day", causing the parents to pronounce that Movie Day. Each 20th of May, my brother and I were treated to a film in a grand cinema hall, darkness turning to delight as ruched red curtains rose. December 2nd, my birthdate is carved into the Gateway of India's basalt: George V and Queen Mary sailed in that day of 1911. An annual family ritual bringing me to Wittet's welcome monument was fun.

Same time each year
Besides ticking off regular attractions like the Kala Ghoda and Celebrate Bandra festivals, schedule activities for National Science Day (February 28, 1928, when physicist CV Raman discovered the Raman Effect which won him the 1930 Nobel), World Book Day (April 23, Shakespeare's birth and death anniversary), Earth Day (April 22) and World Water Day (July 5). Interestingly, Origami Day is observed on October 24, birthday of Lillian Oppenheimer who singly popularised the Japanese paperfolding craft. Dockyard tours and police bands ring in Navy Week (Navy Day, December 4, pays tribute to Operation Trident launched in the 1971 Indo-Pak War).

That's entertainment... or used to be
. Vibha Kamat, of Bandra's superbly curated M Cubed Library for children, despairs that barely a body comes for kiddie flicks the library screens on the month's last Sunday morning. The young today revel in solitary online orbits, true. But why not at least occasionally watch a show together the old-fashioned way? The warmth of meet-and-greet is unbeatable. Contact: 26411497
. The shelves of Akshara, Radhika Kundalia's lending and, more uniquely, "sitting-in" library in a leafy Colaba lane bursts with over 10,000 engaging titles for
toddlers to teens. Children can spend hours curled on its floor cushions, their wish-list books, puzzles and toys stacked within reach on colourful sofas. Akshara also has a
library on autism. Contact: 22041908/ 22833588

Reclaim the neglected
. Never mind sights abroad, find beauty in your backyard. Examining notions of place-building in Native to Nowhere: Sustaining Home and Community in a Global Age, Timothy Beatley applauds a New York City initiative on the South Bronx

River bank. An exercise to appreciate their taken for granted turf saw children hug, roll and float a golden ball from spot to spot. Olympic Torch-like, the ball awakened wonder beyond the energy of transporting it. Imagine this along the Mithi River or some stretch of our shores. The city rests on tender shoulders. Enthuse kids to love its past and they'll chalk fine plans for its future.

Author-publisher Meher Marfatia writes monthly on everything that makes her love Mumbai and adore Bombay. You can reach her at

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