Marine Drive in South Mumbai on the Arabian Sea. Ever since I can remember, evening walks there have served me as relaxation, exercise and recreation, and sometimes I find it hard to imagine that Mumbai, India’s Manhattan, was once a beautiful tropical archipelago of seven islands. Until the sun sets on Marine Drive. Then you can watch the magnificent sky change color from an array of oranges and purples to the dull steel blue of night. ‘Queens necklace’ transforms itself instantly, as thousands of lights flood the night sky in Marine Drive’s circular bay.
No wonder we call it the Pride of Mumbai.
Rotate 180 degrees, and turn your back to the Arabian sea – the ferocity of the city overwhelms you. The traffic, the people and the noise. First time visitors to Mumbai often ask “How can you call your city beautiful?”. Diehard Mumbai lovers shrug their shoulders. “The sounds, the smells, the sea , the colours , the festivals and the friendliness of the Mumbai people – we love it all !.” Foreigners are not aware of a secret guarded ferociously by Indians . The secret being that Indians are still evolving in the Darwinian sense – survival of the fittest. They have developed a special survival tool – it is known as “selective sight”. We only see what we want to! But there is not much to selectively discard in Marine Drive as it is quite a beautiful oasis in the crowded city!
Marine Drive ends in a plush area known as Nariman Point an explosion of high rise buildings, five star hotels and offices – the heart of business in Mumbai. Reclaimed extensively from the sea, Nariman Point is named after Mr. Khurshid Nariman a Muncipal Corporator, who in the 40’s reclaimed the entire area and filled in the shallows by using debris from various parts of the city. Eventually he was sacked for using reinforced concrete cement and imported steel obtained from the “black” market at exorbitant prices due to outbreak of World War 2. Today real estate prices in this area are said to be the highest in the world and what Mr Nariman spent was a pittance compared to todays value. He will never know this…it is said he committed suicide !
Most people who live in South Mumbai drive through Marine Drive at least once a day but only a privileged few actually experience Marine Drive at 7.30 am in the morning. The cobble stoned promenade between the road and the Arabian see is transformed into a ‘Walking path’ and nearby residents pursue their morning recreations with regularity and seriousness. Numerous residents walk in their regular groups, others walk with their friends and spouses or their pets. Nodding, waving and acknowledging each other is common. Drenched by the morning sun, all have a fixed glaze and look forward to the prospect of going home to their morning tea. Armed with their ipods the young run or jog, children often cycle or skate and dogs sniff each other. Sweepers gather ‘yesterdays evening’ garbage into wheelbarrows, pigeons alight on the parapet at will cooing their good mornings.
Of the hundreds of people and various groups one passes on Marine Drive one notices a prominent group comprising of retired stock brokers. God fearing and religious they greet each other by saying ‘Jai Sri Krishna’ . Many of them are from Gujarat, a state in India that has produced India’s best traders and businessmen. All wear traditional long shirts and traditional muslin ‘Dhotis’ , ankle socks and the latest Nike shoes. They walk and then sit down on the cement ledge and share home cooked savouries in steel tiffin carriers. Appearances can be deceptive and you would not believe that the networth of each person runs into millions of rupees in stocks and shares. A simple discussion or a heated argument on Marine Drive on a gusty morning at 7.30 am can change the stock market index for the day!