Tag Archives: Lower Parel

A Pink Bird Flies Through The Ruins


Mid 2000s: I was fresh off the press, newly minted professional and facing a reality that I was not prepared for because the generation before mine had never seen it — RECESSION. I was the forerunner of a generation that would only be named a few years later but would come to define worldwide shifts. I had lived in the same city my whole life and I had rarely ventured beyond my home-college-workplace circuit – physically or mentally.

I found my dream job in an industry that I’d wanted to join and a good company. I had also been blogging for over a year and was just discovering that I had a voice and a place to exercise it. Each day was a new lesson. Even my daily commute became an adventure. I learnt about who I was and where I came from — because you really can’t have one without the other.

Mid 2010s: I took to the stage as a quest for a new life, smarting from deep wounds, forcing myself to shed every skin I’d accumulated. I started, with a promise to myself to carry a mindset of healing and not vengeance. I wanted to tell stories of hope, of inspiration, of triumph. It meant tapping into deep wells of emotion, of wading through long accumulated hurt, of salvaging the good parts, of picking out the broken bits and attempting to heal them.

One story that cried out to be shared, was of the bruised history of this city . Maybe all big cities are this way and each one in their own unique way. To me, the stage feels like a hyper concentrated experience of being a Mumbaiker. You are constantly being stripped down to your most basic truths because there is no time or space for extra baggage. And yet simultaneously, there is the sad knowledge that we cannot carry anymore, a lingering memory of all that we leave behind. It is us. I have been writing this story in diary entries, in blogposts, in poetry and finally, in performance for over a decade now.

Last month, one telling of this story was picked to feature in The Habitat’s fortnightly line-up of oral storytellers. I ran through a story that sits comfortably with its words, because I’ve shared it so many times now. When I realised it was being recorded though, I asked if I could have a do-over. This is such an important story, that I felt it deserved more than an autopilot telling. They obliged.

The better part of this month has forced us all to examine in brutal detail, our emotions, our motivations and our identities. #MeToo encompasses and colours every interaction, every thought we’ve had about another person, every desire, every play for power. Raw, so raw. This is the only way I can explain what happened when I went back for a do-over telling.

I went up on the stage where I first learnt how to be a performer, with a story that finally fits right, after the years of edits and retellings and rethinkings and research. And midway, I felt myself collapse inside. The audience blurred before my eyes, my breath caught and I felt like my insides were old, withering and flammable, catching fire. and I felt like I was watching bricks and walls that make me, collapse. I mumbled “Sorry, I must leave.” and ran off the stage. I couldn’t stop shaking, sweating and feeling like I was going to drown in something unidentified that was rising from inside me. It was a good ten minutes before I recovered enough to be able to re-enter the room.

My story had nothing to do with the MeToo movement but it is laced with pain and we are living in a world of burning, screaming pain. I imploded. Where else could it happen but on stage, where one’s truths rise to the surface? When I returned, a stranger caught my hand and said, “Please go back and finish your story. It was so touching. I really want to hear it fully.” It gave me the courage to start again and luckily the host welcomed me back up.

A performance shifts in every rendition. And if you’ve seen this piece before, you might notice that it sounds sadder and more melancholy than before. But maybe that’s what the truth of this piece is — stripped of its showmanship and its sugar. This then, is FLAMINGOS, a story about the city I love and about people just like me.

Chinchpokli is a station on Mumbai’s Central train line. Cotton Green and Sewri are consecutive stations on Mumbai’s Harbour train line. All three of these roughly correspond to Lower Parel on Mumbai’s Western train line.

Most of the mills have been or are being redeveloped into urban commercial/office centers. Due to the laws, many of them are not allowed to destroy the original construction, which is why exposed beams, industrial pipes and chimneys still dot this landscape.

The flamingos appeared this year as well, delayed but in greater numbers. Bombay Natural History Society (among others) organises walking tours to see the flamingoes. You can also find your own way from outside Sewri station (on the east) to the docks where between rusty boats and fish-stained ropes, you may catch a glimpse of these migratory pink birds.

My city has flamingos.


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Missing Person Notice Turns Out To Be Kahaani Movie Promo

Here’s a poster I spotted on the walls of Tulsi Pipe Road, at Lower Parel. Think it’s a notice for a missing person? Look closely:

The text on the poster says:

Age: 31years, Complexion: Wheatish, Height: 5’11”.
Please share any information with Vidya Bagchi at

This strikes me as a really cheap marketing ploy to grab your attention. Using something as vital as a missing person notice for an advertisement, makes it so other genuine missing notices will be mistaken for promotions and ignored.

Remember a movie called Criminal, featuring Manisha Koirala, Nagarjuna and Ramya Krishanan? A leading daily carried a piece right in the center of their news spreads, reporting that one of the actresses had been found murdered. It turned out to be a promotion for the movie. That was in extremely poor taste and I think, so is this advertisement. What’s a movie that associates with the likes of Sujoy Ghosh and Vidya Balan, doing with an ad like this?

I wouldn’t expect a marketer to think beyond his/her product and be willing to go to any extent to generate buzz. But what about the channels that carry these messages? Does it occur to them that these commercial messages masquerading as actual news/information, comprises their validity?

Posters not being under the control of any one entity, are difficult to monitor. But in this case, they may be violating other laws by putting up the posters in the first place. Incidentally, this isn’t the first time Bollywood posters have been problematic. The Kahaani poster is a stone’s throw away from the Wall Project offenders.

A Piece Of Sky

Not far from this mausoleum of Mumbai’s textile mills, lies the rapidly growing upper-crust uber-urban area of high rises (and higher prices). They’re shooting up into the skies, they’re advancing rapidly to engulf the hitherto mill belt. I know I’m probably harping on and on about a forgotten age. A city must develop & grow, its older structures, both architectural & social, must perish and be replaced by newer definitions of urban life.

I’ve lived in flats all my life. Staircases, then lifts and now escalators are all everyday things to me. My father who grew up in rural Tamil Nadu himself, used to tell me that when our first flat was under construction, he’d look up at the construction site and think,

“That little piece of sky there, that’s going to be ours.”

Recently I happened to be in Lower Parel. I rode a tiny old-fashioned lift that had probably been added on some years after the building had been built in an additional wing. The flat I visited, was tiny. But the furniture was tasteful, the fittings luxuriant and everything was stacked up, tucked away or fitted at the edges so perfectly, it seemed larger & more opulent than it was. Everything that had gone into that flat, could only have been paid for by someone who had enough money to live in that area. At the same time, it was a flat in a congested, under-redevelopment area of Mumbai so it couldn’t possibly have been any bigger. It seemed like it fit its identity, its space perfectly. If that flat were a person, I’d say it fit into its skin comfortably & well.

Then I stepped out and here’s what I saw. This slice of sky will probably not be seen again for a few generations in Mumbai. In a year or two, somebody will claim it for their own, somebody somewhere will call it home. Security guards will man the gates, landlords & lawyers will brand their names with contracts & leases and residents will glare or protest if you look too hard or too long at them.

But today, this evening, the sky belongs to no one. It’s free to be stared at, to be photographed and to be remembered. This is just me, holding on to fragments of the world I once knew before it vanishes right before my eyes. Goodbye Mumbai, city of my childhood, chaperon of broken dreams, home to everything new & ruthless & transient.

Survivor’s Guilt In The City Of Gold

When I wrote this post earlier this year, I doubted anyone would actually read it. It was something that I wrote because I felt I had to, for myself.

My first brush with this story was back in 2000. A young greenhorn, freshly out of college, I’d been given an internship that would take me around the city and (I hoped) be my stepping stone onto the corporate ladder. I looked at the list, clutched in my fist and read through the rainwater dripping off my hair, an unfamiliar address. It was the first time I had stepped off at that station called Lower Parel. In the years to come, it would become home station to me as I passed it everyday on my way to and from work. But back then, I didn’t even know about the staircase at the end of the platform that lead to an overbridge. I walked out into a busy market, even then as filthy as current-day Mumbai with its roads bruised by incomplete construction.It was pouring. I walked all the way through muddy puddles, broken roads and unidentified messes. On either side, high walls towered around me, the kind I had only ever seen in Hindi movies of the late 70s. Instinctively I recognized them as factories and mills.

A few years later, my career took me to the other side of the tracks to a place with the quaint name of Chinchpokli. The first time I heard that name, I really thought the speaker was kidding. But he wasn’t and the directions he gave me were ones I would follow for the next four years. I’d spend my lunch or coffee breaks walking around near the office. My wanderings took me past the plush building, past the post office, right through the heart of an old-fashioned bazaar (complete with clay pipes, stacks of tobacco shavings, religious pictures and plastic jewellery). The back gate of my office compound led into a narrow lane, which ended up at another picturesquely-named station, Cotton Green. Both sides of the lane were flanked by those same high walls, broken windows and architecture of another era.

My father is the one who told me the tragic story of the mill-workers in Mumbai. Once I saw a play called ‘Cotton 56, Polyester 84‘. The story of two mill workers whose lives are permanently put on hold by the strikes and their pathetic attempt to pass their days counting the number of people wearing shirts of either fabric stayed with me. I had no words to describe what I felt, though.

I spoke to the boy (a relative newcomer to Mumbai) about this sometime back.And he is the one who dug out this movie for me to watch. City Of Gold is the appropriately titled story of the greed, the desperation and the angst that collide and fuel this place that I call home.

The movie begins with the phasing out of mill divisions and the subsequent protest strikes by the mill workers. A mill worker was one of thousands who trained in a specific job and spent all his adult life doing just that. His peers were his colleagues, his friends and true to the Bombay chawls, his neighbors & family. This simple, defined world was thrown into despair when the strikes began. Not only did the mill worker lose his job, but his self-esteem was battered, his relationships worn down and the social structures that he belonged to, eroded.

The mill workers had been working people with all the sense of respectability and pride characteristic of the middle class of this country. But an entire generation was suddenly rendered jobless, unemployable and thus, impotent. Knocked over from their traditional roles as bread-winners, their families suddenly found themselves struggling to cope both financially and emotionally. Anarchy reined. Their women, traumatized by the shift in gender roles turned into incessant nags, dejected by life or fell prey to bad decisions with irrevocable consequences. Their sons, similarly tortured, varied between escapism of every way to crime.

City of Gold focuses on one family and some related characters and how these events shaped their lives. It’s sobering to see what one normally reads as a newspaper headline over morning tea, turn into a catastrophe that destroys entire families. The boy described the movie as ‘hard-hitting and pulling no punches’. I’d agree. It’s grim, it’s tangible and it’s real.

Speaking objectively (as much as I can, anyway), this movie could have been a dreary, heavy documentary but it wasn’t. The characters all felt real and well-defined. The movie also pulled together diverse sub-plots and zoomed between the larger reality of the mill strikes to the mundane dramas of everyday lives of the workers perfectly. What was most interesting was that a story with so much berth to fall into controversy, finger-pointing or preaching, didn’t. You can almost picture the story-teller, gritting his teeth to stick to the facts and pass no judgment while at the same time empathizing with the horrors faced by these people.

My only real grouse was with Anusha Dhandekar (who plays a very small role in the movie) since her bubble-gummy, glittery self seemed out of sorts in a movie of this nature. But the boy brought home the point that she was meant to represent the viewer (the entire story is a flashback, narrated to her by a man who grew up in the mill worker chawls). That touch actually makes the movie even more real.You and I after all, can have no more than a very superficial impression of what elapsed in that historic period in Mumbai. She is what connects us to the movie, just the same way that the glitzy malls and hip pubs that stand on those places today, do.

I loved the movie. It tells of a people I never knew, of a time that was before me. But it speaks the truth of the city that I call home. I cannot, in good faith, call myself a true Mumbaiker by enjoying the glamourous urbane life with no thought to what built it, after all. Mumbai, Island city, Maximum City is a place of much dazzle and money and it all stands on the remains of exploitation and greed. It is survivor’s guilt but I think that is the very least we owe to the people that lost everything to make this city home for us today.


City of Gold was released in both Hindi & Marathi and directed by Mahesh Manjrekar.


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Mills To Malls: The Monuments Of Mumbai

The city of malls was once a city of mills. Mumbai, home to Bollywood, financial capital of the country and one of the most populous cities in the world also lays claim to being a key vertex of the textile boom of the last century. The mill redevelopment was big news for a few years the start of this decade. In my own adult lifetime, I’ve seen the grey industrial belt of Parel-Curry Road-Cotton Green metamorphose into the glitzy gaudiness of malls, pubs and fancy retail outlets.

Walk into High Street Phoenix and the disposable income of this city is all around you. It’s grabbing a beer at one of the pubs or flashing a credit card at the latest ‘it’ designer’s collection or checking out the coolest entertainment that money can buy. Subway, MacDonald’s and Big Bazaar are only for those who’re slumming it.

But stop for a minute and let your eyes drift a few feet upwards. Over the neon hoardings, the new glass-and-metal construction and the mega-parking lot, you just might catch a glimpse of an old soot-stained chimney. The next time you’re at Hard Rock Cafe or Zenzi Mill or Blue Frog, let those same eyes catch the massive overhead pipes. They’re not a fashion statement by an eccentric interior designer. They’re the last remnants of a bygone era.

I’m not just being nostalgic. I worked in this belt for most of my career. My first job, an internship with a marketing agency required me to travel around in this area. My first memory of Lower Parel is a filthy place full of muddy lanes,  zero rain shelter and depressing buildings. In the past ten years, I’ve seen each of those spaces get cordoned off and then re-emerge with fresh paint, a new construction or two and a fancy (very fancy) price tag attached to whatever is being sold there. It’s literally an Eliza Dolittle on this city.

I think spaces hold memories, of people who’ve lived in them and what  they’ve felt and said and been. These glossy new addresses are the new  avatars of what used to be the salt of the earth of this city. Standing  in the middle of the hottest nightspot, sipping a fashionable cocktail,  I’m suddenly struck by the contrast.

Who were the  people who spent their lives in these places? Who called this home or a  place that provided employment for them and sustenance for their  families? The mill belt carries memories of places no one else  remembers. Mumbai’s success story is an epitaph to the forgotten workers whose toil made this city.

Tread respectfully the next time you’re here. Mumbai’s history lies beneath you.


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Friday* evening is when the city comes alive with a vengeance. As if it were sleeping the rest of the time. But Fridays are a frenzy of partying and drinking and laughing too loud. In a frantic attempt to drown out the panic of life running out faster than we can make sense of it.

One such Friday, I stayed in late at work. Of course the work never ends. I suppose I could have left earlier. Met a friend for coffee. Or another for drinks. Or walked down the seaface. Or photographed flamingoes in flight. Or watched Aamir Khan’s debut performance as a director. Instead I took a walk.

Behind my office is an old building that used to be a factory. Now one half of it has been converted into a glossy glass-and-steel office complex. The other half is used as a parking lot. On a late Friday evening, there weren’t too many cars around. I strolled around in the semi-darkness. Not even a breeze…unusually warm, even for a Mumbai December.

In between the buildings is a long stretch of concrete road. No vehicles at that hour. No employees walking out of the building. Just the stars above on an unusually clear night, visible between asbestos sheets on one side and curved steel girders on the other.

I stepped into one of the open doorways. I wondered if this is what it felt to walk around in an old castle.

Heavy cylindrical pipes overhead, solid pillars and rusted metal staircases at the corners. Hundreds of busy feet must have walked this floor thousands of times over the years. Machines being oiled, a worker showing another one how to pull a lever, a foreman looking at a sheaf of papers, sparks in another corner. Things were made here, lives were built here, dreams were dreamt and realised…or shattered here. Hundreds and thousands of them. Don’t they say ‘put your heart into your work’? Those milling masses must have put their very souls into their work. I still feel them.

Mumbai was built on industry, on factories, on the hard labour of workers. They made this the city of dreams, the commercial capital of the country. The grit and hard-headedness that is taught to us as a way of life now were the lessons that they handed down from lives of unrelenting labour. They were my true ancestors. I haven’t forgotten.

Incidently this post was written almost a year ago. The building in the photograph does not look that way anymore, since it has been converted into yet another gleaming office complex. The mills shut down long ago and now with their buildings being revamped, it feels like the tombs of Mumbai’s ancestry are being razed away.

* From a Friday long, long ago.


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Unless I’m greatly mistaken, these are the pipes that one uses to smoke ganja? I remember seeing these in little shops on my way home from school as well, and wondering what they were. Back then, I figured they were some special attachment to be used on taps. My curiosity continues unabated and I’m still wondering whether these aren’t illegal. If I’m right, they are…sort of.

I could be wrong, however. Does anybody know what these things are used for? I didn’t have the nerve to walk up to the shopkeeper and ask him. He didn’t seem perturbed by my taking photographs though.



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The Old Mill

More intelligent minds than mine
Have spoken
Everything of consequence said
Now I speak my unimportant bit

Never saw the sky this blue
Broken shells hint at the idea
Of something that was
And has passed
Like time whispering

Footprints on sand
Just before the tide washes in
Aren’t ugly
Neither is the old mill.

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