My piece for Sbcltr
Updated: Jun 7, 2021
MUMBAI: THE ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACK
Vedashree Khambete-Sharma on the places and songs that perfectly sum up India’s maximum city
Mumbai, as would be expected of any city that is home to Bollywood, moves to music. It plays on half a dozen radio channels as we travel the city’s length and breadth in cars, cabs, buses and hang on for dear life in its trains. It sticks in our heads so we toss and turn in our beds at 3 at night, trying to get the ear-virus of Chikni Chameli to stop playing. And it blares at us from loudspeakers every time any community has cause to feel religious. But some songs rise above the noise and seem strangely fitting to certain parts of this city. Like these, for instance:
The Western Express Highway: Aaj phir jeene ki tamanna hai, aaj phir marne ka iraada hai Picture this—you have just left your office. Rush hour is about to begin, yet, somewhere in your delusional heart you harbour hopes of getting home before 8 pm. Maybe hanging out with friends. Or a special someone. On a weekday. While you’re stuck in traffic. Yeah. Problem is, the biker next to you is thinking the same exact thought. And sooner or later (usually around Jogeshwari) he’s going to do something stupid enough to make it to the plot of The Fast & The Furious: Death Wish. And then it’s all, dil yeh chalaa aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa….!
Dadar market: Sab ganda hai par dhandha hai yeh Starting at 5 a.m. every day, Dadar market takes upon itself the responsibility of confusing the city’s nostrils. Trucks from two different ends of the city converge here: the ones from the docks come bearing fish, the ones from Vasai come with flowers and vegetables. And by noon, the environs of the market are a fine mulch of trampled marigolds, crushed roses, decaying spinach stalks, all permeated by the fragrance we’ll call Eau De Bombil. The cats aren’t complaining, that’s for sure.
Any train station: I Hate You Like I Love You Ah, trains. The sexy, abusive boyfriend of the average Mumbaikar. On one hand, if you don’t want to enter into a committed relationship with the back seat of a taxi, a train’s the only way out. On the other hand – late trains, cancelled trains, trains that leave from a different platform without a warning and trains filled with the variety of homicidal maniac better known as the average Virar local passenger.
Breach Candy: Kabhi Kabhi Mere Dil Mein Khayal Aata Hai When you enter this bastion of everything South Bombay, you get a peculiar feeling. It is a curious mix of desire, insecurity and delusion. Desire, because have you seen those houses? Insecurity, because have you seen those houses? And delusion, because you inevitably imagine yourself living in one of those houses, which, let’s face it, is never going to happen because well, HAVE YOU SEEN THOSE HOUSES?
Kamathipura: Pal bhar ke liye koi humey pyaar kar le, jhootha hi sahi The notorious red-light area made famous by Bollywood gangster movies no doubt has tons of sordid tales to tell. The most interesting one I came across though, was of a sex-worker who had a regular client with a strange request: he would want her to dress like a bride and he’d spend the whole night, just looking at her in the bridal finery. Not quite the dream they thought of when they called this the city of dreams…
Film City: Aazma Luck Aazma This is where the magic happens. Where with a few bolts of cloth and half a dozen wooden planks, craftsmen transform a bit of the city into Rajasthan, Delhi, Singapore or even a land that doesn’t exist outside a scriptwriter’s imagination. Built on dreams of stardom, Film City beckons to every Bollywood hopeful with a lascivious crook of the finger. Enticing the poor bugger to pack his bags, leave his hometown and spend the rest of his life as a taxi driver waiting to be spotted by a producer, because hey, you never know – it’s all about luck.
Dalal Street: Paisa Yeh Paisa The very imaginatively named lane leading to the Bombay Stock Exchange, Dalal Street is where they make money out of thin air. If you want a quick crash course in the laws of demand and supply, this is the place to be. An in-depth understating of equity markets is not necessary. A working knowledge of Gujarati will do.
Bandra Worli Sealink: Khwabon Ke Parinday The first thing one wants after watching ZNMD aka Zoya Akhtar’s love letter to Spain, is that awesome blue convertible. Then reality bites and one realises that a blue convertible is somewhat out of one’s grasp, much in the same way that aerodynamics is out of a hamster’s. So, one comes to the second thing one wants after watching ZNMD. Which is to just sit in a car, with wind in one’s hair, and watch clouds roll by, while some chump of a friend does the actual driving. A target easily achieved with a 60 rupee toll to the Bandra Worli Sealink.
Chor bazaar: Yeh Kahan Aa Gaye Hum Once, a bastion of noise that led to its original name – Shor Bazaar – today, Chor Bazaar is exactly what it sounds like. A place where things that mysteriously fell off the back of trucks, land up. It’s also home to the more kitschy items of home decor that interior designers flog to customers who gravitate towards hipster stuff. Want a gramophone? Take it with vinyls. How about an authentic Sholay poster? Done. And this deconstructed tonga, which you can convert into a rocking chair nobody will want to sit on? Sold! To the gentleman in the horn-rimmed glasses, with the typewriter in his hand!
Marine Drive: Yeh Hai Bombay Meri Jaan Canoodling couples. Creative eunuchs. Enterprising sing-chana sellers. Persistent beggars. All side-by-side, pushing, shoving but coexisting before the vast, grey Arabian Sea. If there was ever an image that recalls Mumbai to the minds of those who leave her, it is this. It’s not an easy place to live in. But once you’ve lived here, you can’t live without it. And that’s why it is called ‘meri jaan’.
Vedashree Khambete-Sharma is an award-winning ad-woman and the author of the hilarious thriller Swear You Won't Tell? She has unresolved caffeine issues.