I was in Bombay last week for a couple of days, visiting a friend. This time of the year is the most characteristic Bombay weather with the famous (or infamous) monsoon at its peak and I wasn’t disappointed. My journey, like that of most people here, started with the local train. It was a working day and we were bundled into the general compartment by the flood of humanity flowing in. Students, employees, godmen, pickpockets, policemen, salesmen, day laborers, beggars, people of all ages and from all walks of life crammed together, united in the harmonic motion of the train as it rushed on through the massive suburb.

The general compartment is a great equalizer.
I notice that regular travellers have established a niche for themselves. In what seems like a melee to me, they find companions and ways to make the journey interesting. Singers, both individuals and groups, people playing instruments or using the walls of the compartment to produce a beat, discussion groups and a host of other activities are ubiquitous. When it is time to get off, all one has to do is get to the aisle near the doors and rest assured that you will be deposited on the platform without any effort (and if it isn’t your platform then stay away from the aisle!).

The plan was to take a ferry from the Gateway of India to Alibaug, but we were told that the ferry doesn’t operate during the monsoon months. Taking a bus would have been too much of an effort and we decided to visit the Haji Ali dargah instead. The taxi driver promptly told us how the Haji Ali dargah was all sham and instead recommended another one in Mahim, which he guaranteed was more “effective”. After being assured that Mahim was indeed next on our list, he dropped us off at Haji Ali.

This is located at some distance from the coastline and is connected by a raised platform through the sea which is about 12-15 ft. wide. As we started walking on this platform, the rain started and the wind was picking up, bringing sea water with it. The waves were hitting the platform continuously and furiously. By the time we reached the dargah we were already drenched. The dargah itself was pretty ordinary, neither grand in architecture nor in history and not very well maintained. It is easy to guess that this place is only famous for its location, one doesn’t come across a dargah in the sea everywhere. The drizzle had become a downpour by the time we got out and the return journey was even more “wet”, the only side from which we were not being hit by water was below our feet. In spite of all this the platform was packed with people going and coming from the dargah. On the platform, another great equalizer.

We were already drenched and so we decided to throw caution to the winds and continue with our little tour. We went to chowpathi and from there walked all the way along marine drive. This was a most relaxing experience. The whole ambience of this place is magical, something I haven’t seen anywhere else. I am tempted to call it romantic, which I’m sure it is in the right company. There is a place for everyone here – children, couples, walkers and joggers, people who come to meditate or just relax after a hard day’s work, groups of friends, loners looking for peace and quiet, families or just anyone looking for a change. There is something about the sight of the sea, a pleasure in walking along side it and feeling its infinite expanse. I might be getting ahead of myself here, I have only been there twice, but then I wouldn’t describe it any other way. The sea and marine drive is the third great equalizer I met that day.

The next day we took a trip to Navi Mumbai, which is to Bombay that Noida/ Gurgaon is to Delhi. Unfortunately as is the case with Noida/Gurgaon, the charm of Bombay is lost here. The look of the place is completely different, it could be just any other city in India. Navi Mumbai seems like a hollow shell trying to imitate its famous neighbour and failing miserably. It was in great part the hospitality of my friend and his family that made the trip complete for me, for those couple of days I was a part of that family and not just a guest, that made all the difference.

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