There are no hoardings on the Bandra Worli Sealink. Nothing to remind you which tv series airs tonight. Nothing to remind you which bank offers the best fixed deposit rate, which mobile phone is the latest, who to call if you want to advertise. Which politician’s birthday it is and who is celebrating it.
There is no St. Michael’s Church on a Wednesday, a Siddhivinayak Temple on a Tuesday, a Mahim Dargah on a Friday. No devotees walking barefoot through the night struggling for a toe-hold, a minute of devotion, 100metres away from a God that will answer their prayers, listen to them, give them hope, give them happiness. No hoarding to remind them that Jesus loves us all. No Allah, no Ganesha. No, there are no Gods, no temples, no mosques, no churches on the Bandra Worli Sealink. There is no Ganesha Visarjan, no Moharram procession, no Urs, no Jain Paryushan processions, no Chaitya Bhoomi homage.
There are no street urchins at the signals to beg you for money. To display the wretchedness of their disfigured shapes, bodies, arms, legs, nakedness. And urge and beckon and cry and tap at your window for the loose change you refuse to part with because you know it’s all a scam. Bombay style. No mercy. No, there are no beggars on the Bandra Worli Sealink. To dodge between stationary cars at a signal on their tiny carts, spotting a Mercedes with an open window here, a kindly looking woman and her kids there. And to beg just so they can eat their happy meals at the shop in Mahim that pulls cars in their direction to feed the hungry and get dua. No, there are no beggars on the Bandra Worli Sealink.
There are no pav-waalahs on their cycle laden with pavs on the Bandra Worli Sealink. Selling their pavs to the vada-pav stalls and the brun maska Iranis. On their cycle from stall to stall, from shop to shop. In between wiping their brows with the sweat it takes to earn a rupee, one single rupee, in this city. No, there are no pav-waalahs, no chai-waalahs, no coffee-waalahs with their extra milky coffees with cigarettes on the side catering to anyone, anyone on the street at 3am looking desperately for a chai-sutta. No, there are no cycles on the Bandra Worli Sealink.
There are no railway stations on the Bandra Worli Sealink. With an endless line of people swarming in to it in the morning, and gushing out of it in the evening. No buses, no rickshaws, no taxis. Full of people rushing to reach work on time so that their salaries aren’t cut, their bosses not angry, their musters filled on time. No crowds of people rushing back home to their loved ones with the vegetables cut in the local trains so that dinner is on time. There are no mothers rushing between cars so that their kids can reach school on time, their classes on time, their sports grounds on time. On time. In Bombay you have to be on time.
There are no shops on the Bandra Worli Sealink. On the road, encroaching on the footpath. Selling nighties, selling plastic toys, selling bags, food, newspapers, cold drinks. No shop-keepers sipping tea, talking to their neighbors, waiting for customers. No shops with a 50% sale.
No there is none of the above on the Bandra Worli Sealink. None of it. And much more that isn’t there. There is just one 6-7km long road to remind us that Bombay has made progress. To cut through the riff-raff, the traffic, the noise, the poverty, the religion, the grief, the sadness, the madness, the crowds. Just speeding cars that get bigger in size and faster in speed.
No, the Bandra Worli Sealink offers you a shortcut. A bypass, a diversion, cutting through the sea. A hop, skip and jump from Worli to Bandra or Bandra to Worli. In less than 5minutes, depending on your speed. Depending on your wallet. At a price. Because everything in Bombay comes at a price. Rs82.50 for a return ticket, Rs55 for a one-way, Rs2,750 for a monthly pass. For that much you skip it all and zip through. Silently, smoothly, without traffic, without signals. Without hoardings, without street urchins, without pav-waalahs, without shops, without trains, without churches, without mosques, without Gods, without people.
A 5-minute illusion that lands you back into the arms of this mad city. This mad city with its waves and waves of humanity and noise and dust and dirt and filth and disgust and despair and hope and happiness. From that there is no getting away. For that is Bombay.