“We must make a list of things to do before we leave Mumbai” said Sheba to me as we were out for a walk yesterday afternoon, “things that we can only see here, or places we haven’t gone yet.”
“I don’t really think there are many places that I really ‘want to see’ at this point” I replied. “I would rather we make sure we spend some time with key people from our time here” and then we made a mental list of folks that we ‘must meet’ before we shift to Lalitpur in April (if God wills and sends the miracle of Yohan’s adoption papers).
Later in the evening, Enoch mentioned that he wanted to go to the aquarium. A school friend of his had been there and spoke highly of it – and said there were piranha fish there. I broached it with Sheba and she broadened the trip to take in the current wide-screen science film at the Nehru Science centre. Quick check on the internet: yes, both places open on Saturday. Google maps: not too hard to get to. Saturday so kids are not in school – parents are around (including yours truly freshly arrived from Lalitpur). Picnic lunch? Why not up on Malabar hill! I scooted off to D-mart to get supplies and was back in time for supper at 9 PM and prayers afterwards. Another Mumbai Darshan was been started.
As they say in German: gesagt, getan!
This morning broke bright and slightly foggy. We bundled into our beloved Papaya and were soon zipping down to Mumbai town. The first bit of the ride was mundane for Asha and Enoch – they drive it every day as it is part of their way to school – but we had good company with Sheba reading out to all of us from “Charlotte’s Web” – a book that Yohan can understand too. And so we were transported from the stench of Mumbai’s large landfill to the pleasant farm smells of a rural US set in the middle of the last century. Books have the power to take you places don’t they?
The book was put away as we came up to the beauty of the Worli Sea-link Bridge. A huge suspension bridge that sends us shuttling over the waters. On a clear day you get a broad sweep of the Mumbai skyline in the back ground, with the tiny Mahim fort jutting out on a peninsula in the foreground (surrounded by – what else – the standard Mumbai shanty-town of course). This morning wasn’t clear – so we saw the dim shades of skyscrapers through the haze – and the Mahim fort looking underwhelming – a dark shape riding on a small hill of slum.
But the sheer beauty of the massive cables holding up the bride, cream yellow, curving up and swishing symmetrically by as we drive through the middle of the road, a dream of lines.
It’s a pity there are so many reminders that ‘photography is forbidden.’ Whatever ‘secrets’ there may ben have long evaporated in an age of google maps, but here once again the latent influence of the Indian state (and the baggage for ‘secrecy’ from our erstwhile colonial masters) continues to linger on. Maybe it was good that we were not able to snap the shots. The images are probably crisper in my headl.
Soon we are pulling into the worli sea face and I see a statue of the cartoonist R.K. Laxman’s ‘the common man.’ “Who is that?” the kids ask and I give a quick recap of reading the Bombay edition of the Times of India religiously every morning and looking first for a political cartoon by Laxman (usually on the front page) and then down at the small daily ‘As you Like it’ panel which he drew every day – and which usually had ‘the common man’ which his glasses and dhoti and lower-middle class scruffiness silently observing the lives of those around him.
As we come to the beginning of Peddar Road I make a quick decision – how about seeing if we can visit the Deutsche Schule Bombay? The family says yes and we are scooting through early-morning Breach Candy (since when did everything become so small) and soon are outside Lincoln House which was the old US Consulate building – bought from a maharaja for a princely sum just after independence. The good consular folks have long since moved to a spanking-new purpose-built place in Bandra-Kurla complex and they recently sold Lincoln House for an absolutely obscene amount to one of the maharajas of today - the jet-set that continues to rule the roost in our dear nation of India.
Our days were more innocent. Of sorts of course. To get to the school you have to enter the gate of a housing complex and walk along its side till you come to the two-story building that houses the Deutsche Schule. In my day some enterprising chaps had actually got up to the top of this building and thrown some kind of a bomb into the US consulate. No one was injured: this was decades ago, well before the now sadly normal levels of lethal attack that the terror brotherhoods (and sister-sets) have sadly scaled up to.
But for us the task was more pleasant. We were standing before the entrance of the school – now heavily guarded with a revolving gate opened by security cards, multiple CCTV cameras and a guard on duty. We explained that I was an old student and requested a quick look-around. It was a holiday and later in the day a parents carnival was being readied for, but the person on duty graciously allowed us a quick peek in.
Wow, does the place ever look attractive. Every inch of space is covered with beautiful drawings, words, thoughts. The building is now only used for preschool and classes 1-4, other students are in a separate building. In our days the whole school - kindergarten to class 10 – were only 75 strong, with the largest number in kindergarten! My class 10 graduating class of 1985 was a ‘big class’ with 7 students. The class bellow us had 4. All of our courses were taught with two classes together. In half the subjects you were a year ahead of your normal curriculum – and in half the lower class who was with you were a year ahead of theirs. An amazing school with wonderful teachers.
We left after our quick tour of a place bursting with colour and learning (and a lovely library) with Enoch telling me “I wish I was studying here. You can drop me off.”
But the aquarium beckoned and so we were soon tootling along up the hill to Kemps corner, covering the distance that Stefan and I used to ride our bicycles (or take the local busses) while Mum did her prayer cover thing sending us off and waiting for our return.
Our Papaya took us to the aquarium and we joined a dense line of tiny-tots (and their continuous high decibels of chatter) from at least 2 local schools in a room lined with fish-tanks and many kinds of finny friends.
The place has been renovated as is better than before, but again the gap between this dear aquarium and a truly world class one is still large. The fish looked faded and jaded. The displays were spotty. The tanks turbid. So much more can be done, but we are mired in murk it seems. Excellence in public seems to have gone a.w.o.l. for many a year.
At the same time, the sheer beauty of creation can just not be dismissed. How amazing to see colour and form in so many ways. How much of the marine world is deeply hidden from sight, with only the eye of the Maker to behold and enjoy it?
There was a piranha, but he seemed a bit out of sorts. His teeth looked like they were ground down – but maybe he had not been brushing well? I wished we could watch at feeding time…
Back outside we were peckish and so decided to drive up Malabar hill to the Kamala Nehru park. It was the first time for me to drive there and so I found myself following the vaguely-familiar roads of youth with new eyes. We got to the top and found an empty bench right next to the iconic boot house that generations of kids have trooped up into. The sign said entry was for 12 years and below – but that did not stop many an older soul from popping out at the top.
We had our cheese-n-veggie sandwiches and multinational kala-paani and watched the tourists go by. One group of 3 Japanese (?) men had a young Indian guide speaking to them in their mother tongue.
Sandwiches done, Yohan went up the boot and showed up at the top (like I did many a time in my growing up years)
A quick look out from the viewing deck showed that the Marine Drive can still be seen from there (and family photos taken too!).
We then explored the rest of the park and found swings and climbing things. A lot better than when I was growing up. There was even a fenced off special park which we figured out would be opened for children in wheel-chairs so that they could also o on swings and use jungle-gym kind of bars.
Since we were on top of the hill I couldn’t resist a quick peek at two other areas of childhood. My first school – the infant section of the Cathedral and John Connon School still stands. The futuristic architecture has been wonderfully painted with cheery frogs and other welcoming words on the front.
Next to it is the All Saints Church where I occasionally attended and where the German School children had their confirmation service. I thought we might be allowed into the compound – and was pleasantly surprised when the caretaker allowed us into the church itself.
We not only looked at the beautiful little church, but had some quiet time of individual prayer in that beautiful peaceful congregational hall, with the gleaming brass plaques commemorating the departed gleaming the words of sorrow and celebration of lives well lived.
Walking back to the Papaya we finally got through on our mobile to the Nehru Science centre. When was the English show of “Adrenaline Rush: the Science of Risk” which was being shown on the big screen projection? 1 PM. A glance at our time: 12.40. We have 20 mins to get to Worli. Into the Papaya we bundle and off we go. We are in our seats at 1.08 PM.
The film is a blast. A total thrill. We fall out of planes with sky divers, fly with wing-suits, recreate Leonardo Da Vinci’s design of a parachute, and then go base-jumping with people who live on adrenallne. The camera takes us on these “base jumps” including a 4000 foot jump off a cliff over a Norweigian Fyord. The images are lyrical, balletic, hypnotic – and all so mouth-stoppingly crazy. We emerge jubilant. I still have the pictures looping through my head, and will do so for some time hence.
We have had a smashing time, and as our Papaya wends her way through traffic we pass the Worli Sea face and our iconic ‘common man’ statue. We stop to pay him a visit!
Then back over the beautiful Worli Sea-link (alas again –no photos allowed) and up the long high-way back to Thane. Most of the car is now dozing beautifully when we slip into town and arrive alive at home – 7 action packed hours since we left!
We got back home and got spaghetti and sauce and garlic bread for the evenings guests. Our Indonesian friend Alva and our old colleagues Emmanuel and Mokshaa who we have not seen for a long time! It was great to be together and fellowship and sing! Alva is stopping through on the way back from the Comprehensive Rural Health Project in Jamkhed,
It's been a wonderful day. One that will linger on for a long time to come. Thank you Jesus for giving us your strength and your long-suffering to carry on!
A final pic of our common friend seated at Workkus :