26 Oct 2013

Enter Mumbai, a sprawling metropolis formerly known as Bombay; a busy infrastructure of concrete, roads, pipes and high-voltage wires, tangled and at places buckling under the pressure of almost 13 million inhabitants.

My drive from Pune to Mumbai was a long and winding descent from cool green hills to a frying pan in shades of ochre. Overhead, the sun had reached zenith on a cloudless sky.

Flocks of pigeons kept moving restlessly. Perhaps they, too, were searching for shadow.

26 Oct 2013

A few blocks later, I find myself in perhaps one of the most vibrant districts of Mumbai – Bhendi Bazaar.

A neighourhood at the core of the Mumbai peninsula, Bhendi Bazaar started as one of the integrated, residential, commercial, social, and religious hubs at the heart of the city. Mosques, bazaars, apartments, and organic street patterns all coalesce to create a tight knit urban fabric.

In this fabric porters dash around, entering and exiting the flow of people. Their iconic baskets can be spotted from afar.

I linger for a moment longer, take another sip of water, and head deeper into the side streets.

Let’s go already!
26 Oct 2013

I came across this scruffy looking alley cat in one of the side streets around Bhendi Bazaar.

He kinda had that look of being more than ready for a ride; excited, even. Just one driver short of a sweet afternoon scooter cruise.

Waiting for the sermon
26 Oct 2013

Slaughter of animals isn’t as well concealed around these parts as it is in more developed countries, be it then for sustenance or religious ceremony.

Animal sacrifice does show up here and there. It’s difficult to remain unaffected at the sight of it – or when confronted by the silent submission to what’s about to happen, as witnessed here outside a mosque at Bhendi Bazaar.

I didn’t stay long enough to find out if they just happened to stop by, or if the sheep were unwilling participants in the day’s sermon.

26 Oct 2013

Emerging from the side alleys to get a wider perspective, I came across a typical intersection; in dense urban areas in India these tend to be quite chaotic. Traffic lights, if available, function as gentle suggestions, nothing more. Defiant movement coupled with plenty of honking is the method of operation chosen by most.

Weird thing is, it kinda works. Everyone knows there are no rules, and thus it remains an even playing field. Just throw any estimates of arrival out the window.

Weaving through this traffic, be it then in a cab or by foot, does leave one frazzled at the end of the day. But if you’re up for it and in high spirits it can be quite stimulating to navigate this chaos.

Upon crossing, and a few blocks down, I duck back into the side alleys.

Man and goat
26 Oct 2013

Not every photo comes with an intricate backstory; sometimes it’s as simple as some guy approaching you and asking “hey, do you want to take a photo of me and my goat?”.

Which I naturally did. A snapshot and shared nods later I’m back to exploring Bhendi Bazaar.

Ochre sari
26 Oct 2013

A few corners later I’m walking down a backstreet like many other around these parts, but with one unpleasant dissimilarity; hanging low and thick in the air was a pungent odour. Inadequate waste management or leakage of raw sewage mixed with the still scorching afternoon heat made this block particularly trying on the senses.

I try to focus on something else than the stifling smell.

A sari is a women’s garment common in – among other places – India, Sri Lanka and Nepal. Its length varies between 4,5 and 9 meters, and can be wrapped in various ways. They come in different dyes, signifying caste, geographical backgrounds or the occasion in question.

Yellow and ochre saris, as pictured here, are typically associated with those who have renounced their birth caste or family to pursue a spiritual life seeking liberation from cyclical birth.

The times are changing, and the caste system is gradually fading away into history.

26 Oct 2013

Passed this bakery and the guys were just looking so damn happy I had to stop and say hi.

I’m not sure what’s in the tray though – karanji? Kachori?

26 Oct 2013

Overcrowding, lack of maintenance and negligible investment in the infrastructure have led to a steady erosion of the fabric of Bhendi Bazaar.

Today, residents and shoppers inhabit dilapidated buildings and conduct their daily lives on streets that lack basic urban amenities such as sidewalks, drainage, benches, trees and lighting.

The outlook is towards the better though, with redevelopment projects being well underway.

Bhasta gang
26 Oct 2013

Another turn around another corner and I’m heading down this quiet alley. As I walk I get a slight tingle in my Spider-Senses, reminding me to be mindful; getting mugged is not rare around these parts, and would I be one to do that I would pick an alley like this to do it in.

A group of men sit on a bench halfway down the alley, going about their business and quietly observing their surroundings. I nod as I approach, the guy in the checkered shirt nods back. The rest of them seemed quite preoccupied with whatever they were doing – especially the guy reading the paper, he was so cool it gave me the creeps.

I slow down, we chat for a bit.

They call themselves the Bhasta gang. In their own words they operate in the recreational field, on the outskirts of what is legal. I interpreted that as drugs, and didn’t go into specifics.

An interesting bunch to meet, but still having that tingle I decided not to overstay my welcome. I thanked them for their time, and continued towards less secluded streets.

Taxi boulevard
27 Oct 2013

Time to get out of Bhendi Bazaar for now.

A new dawn rises on Mumbai, and I decide to head out before breakfast to see what that looks like. At 6:30 the taxis in the Fort district in South Mumbai have yet to see the start of the working day.

Fort is, with its lush boulevards and colonial era architecture, what I imagined Mumbai would feel like; beautiful surroundings and rich in history.

I rub away some more sleepy sand from my eyes and move on; breakfast can wait a moment longer.

27 Oct 2013

Cows walking the streets are not an unusual sight here, but that doesn’t prevent it from sparking a bit of bewilderment and joy when witnessed.

They’re free to roam as they like, unhindered, regardless of traffic. If they block intersections they might get a friendly nudge or pull, but interfering more than that with the sacred animal is considered not cool.

I came across this particularly friendly looking one on my early morning walk in Fort.

Enough walking for now. Time to head back for breakfast.

27 Oct 2013

After a good breakfast I head south, towards the tip of the peninsula.

By the harbor at Cuffe Parade, just south of Nariman Point, lies a ditched rescue boat on a stretch of beach exposed by low tide.

What purpose this boat serves is beyond me; storage for fishing equipment, playground for the kids, or perhaps shelter for the ones in need of one?

All of the above?

Long-term parking
27 Oct 2013

One of the things I tried to figure out during my stay in India was the reliability of government functions in potential problem scenarios.

In other words; if something happens, who can I turn to for help.

The general sentiment, based on my own observations and discussions with locals, was that the local police tend to move on the darker half of the moral grayscale.

It’s no surprise: with a police-to-population ratio of roughly 144 per 100 000, the Indian police force is among the most understaffed in the world. Combine that with a proneness for corruption and you get an usually unsatisfactory reaction to your policing needs.

My local friends told me to avoid them if at all possible. The times I did have to deal with government functions – in matters relating to my visa – all requests for moving things forward were met with annoyance and tardiness.

On top of that, this delay caused by them carried with it a risk of me going to jail, for not taking care of the matter more swiftly.

It was only when an envelope switched hands that things were resolved.

But that’s another story.

Colaba market
27 Oct 2013

As evening descends and the air cools down just a bit, the market in Colaba starts to hum.

Fresh produce is placed out on display in anticipation of the late afternoon grocery shoppers.

Chewing the fat
27 Oct 2013

Walking around Ballard Estate late in the evening, I pass by this tailor in the Borabazar precinct. The busy day is slowing down, the air becomes softer and even sounds lose their daytime intensity. The surroundings become a bit muffled, and you can hear your own footsteps again. There is still plenty of activity, but it has ebbed into small shops like this one. Smalltalk can be heard as I pass the doorway.

These tailors are one thing I miss from my time in India. Back home, if you’d purchase a shirt which wasn’t a perfect fit, it’d stay that way; in the “good enough” -category. In India there were plenty of small shops like this, that could do their magic while you wait; measuring and a bit of cutting and sewing later and voilá, that shop-bought shirt now fits you like a proper tailored one.

(No) protection
27 Oct 2013

The deepening night calls for most to retire for the day; not all have a secure shelter to retreat to, though.

The under-representation of the lower levels of Maslow’s pyramid of needs is an unfortunately common sight in India. This manifests in various forms, one of which is vagrancy.

This particular disadvantaged soul had set up an elaborate ropework for repurposing marketing tarps into an urban bivouac.

27 Oct 2013

After a busy few days in Mumbai I felt saturated and headed back to Pune; all I had experienced during the weekend needed some digesting and contemplation. From the general ambience, to the alleys of Bhendi Bazaar, and onwards into the murky depths of Dhobi Ghat – what an exhilirating escapade!

But too intense for prolonged exposure, time to get out and wind down a bit.

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