Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Lalbaug to Byculla at Warp Speed (or at least at a trot)

Lane Behind ITC Grand Central
Yesterday, our Hon. CM Saheb very graciously arrived a mere four hours late to inaugurate the latest claimant to the title of Mumbai’s longest flyover. This morning I decided to inspect it for myself. By running it, one end to the other.
As you trundle up from the northern end, with the ITC Grand Central on your left and the Bharatmata Cinema on your right, you start to discover midtown from an elevated perch that presents altogether different views than those you were used to. The lane behind Grand Central curves away, dogleg right, into a tree-lined avenue. At the early hour when I took this picture there wasn’t a soul on the road and every prospect pleased.
CM Saheb's Shamiana
Time to turn attention back to the flyover itself. We have barely covered 100 metres at this stage and notice that while the odd car is bounding down toward Byculla, the northbound lane is entirely devoid of traffic. The mystery of the missing vehicles is shortly resolved when, close to where the ramp starts to flatten out into the long flat stretch, you espy a shamiana tent. Yes indeed, the VIPs have left their distinct signature on the brand new bridge. Leaping like a mountain goat over the piles of scaffolding, corrugated sheets, tarp and assorted furniture which the grandees’ majestic rear ends must have graced yesterday, we reach the other side. Given that this apparatus isn’t about to dematerialise like something out of Matrix, we now have a clear, safe run down to Byculla.
खँडहर बयां करते हैं
The Currey Road junction is now behind us and a series of chawls and the textile mills that they once provided with manpower marches alongside for the next km or thereabouts. ‘Khandahar batate hain ki imarat bulund hogi’ you mutter to yourself. Windows that have long lost their glasses, gabled roofs that have lost their red tiles, the evidence of a once thriving industry hollowed out in a matter of decades by indifference and the ravages of time.
Privacy? What's that?
Running past the chawls, you can see clear into the homes and hearths of hundreds of families that had enjoyed generations of relative privacy, with the road lying a floor or two below them. This rare luxury, of not having inquisitive strangers peering at them with impunity, literally meters away from their windows must surely (and legitimately) cause resentment and anxiety but remember, these are lesser mortals. Children of a blue collar god. Unlike the Olympians who reside on Peddar Road and have thus far vetoed a flyover there on the perfectly fair grounds that it could mar their rightful privacy.
Your reveries on the fairness or otherwise of life are interrupted. All this time, you have been looking left and right, away from the bridge itself, but as the road straightens out for its exit decline towards Byculla, you look down and are promptly horrified. This is a brand new road, you tell yourself, but who would believe it looking at its patchwork state.
A run is nearly done. You exult in the knowledge that the commute from Lalbaug to Byculla will now be at least 10 minutes quicker. Then grieve for a lost way of life, a lost age, a whole lost generation from which a very heavy price was exacted only so some of us could live in comfortable 3 BHKs,