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Friday, 01 September 2017

Alias Mumbai - Page 3

Written by Richard Taylor
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The amusement park ambience continued with the toy train that carried us from the dock to the cave site. There, the steps and ramps were lined with kiosks and shouting vendors and BEWARE OF MONKEY signs, for the cheeky creatures had the run of the place. The caves themselves were wonderfully atmospheric, with sculptures spanning three centuries, from 450 to 750 AD. Devoted primarily to Shiva, the cave wall panels commemorated among other things, his marriage to Parvati and victory over the demon Andhaka. The caves’ grand centerpiece, where visitors were snapping ‘I was there’ photos, was the six meter sculpture of a three headed Shiva, called the Trimurti.

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Outside the caves, the monkeys were leaping and hissing and picking at fleas; one of them quaffing at a water bottle he’d stolen from two German tourists. I thought, not for the last time, what nasty, aggressive little buggers they were (the monkeys that is) and could understand why Kipling had dissed these Bandar Log in his jungle tales.

On the return ferry, three young girlfriends sat on the bench opposite, dressed in gorgeous saris. This was another surprise. In cultures that stretch back millennia, I’d found there was usually a sartorial divide with the generations – traditional wear for the elders, T-shirts and jeans for the youth. In Mumbai, and India in general, there remains a certain formality to the dress. One sees a lot of Nehru jackets and caps but the younger lads still wear dress shirts and slacks, even if they shun ties. No objection from me – among the grey rock of the cave art and sage and sienna of the surrounding hills, the saris added a vivid rainbow dash.

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Later that afternoon, I walked the opposite way towards Mumbai’s celebrated Marine Drive, but the famous boardwalk, although striking in the sunlight, did not lend itself to contemplative strolls. Despite a placid blue ocean on one side, there was the turbulent, ceaselessly honking sea of traffic on the other. Of course Marine Drive assumes another identity in the evenings, when its gentle curve blooms in a striking cascade of lights called the Queen’s Necklace. There’s still no escape from the cacophony but this seaside Great White Way is a vibrant sight.

What was left in this town of shifting monikers? Appropriately, it came down to names once more, on the morning of my departure when I scoured Victoria Terminus looking for my train, looking for my carriage. Except in Mumbai the carriages are called chairs. On the outside of CHAIR 7 was fastened a computer printout, a passenger list. Nestled among the Sanjays and Salims and Sunils, as if placed there by mistake, I found my own name.

And that was pretty cool.


©Richard Taylor





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Last modified on Tuesday, 03 October 2017

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