Colaba, Kala Ghoda, and Cricket

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Boys playing street cricket in ColabaVictoria StationSleepy cab driverCricket bowler

This weekend was exhausting. It was time to get out and explore some of the city, so that’s what we did, even in light of my tummy’s protests.

Saturday was spent in Colaba, the neighborhood at the south end of the Mumbai peninsula. You can buy fresh fish and produce from the Sassoon Docks, but we arrived much too late for that. Next time.

Colaba looked much like the rest of the city (read: in need of a good coat of paint), but it seemed a bit more like a neighborhood, with plenty of little cafes, tea and pastry shops, and some stores. Also in Colaba are the boutiques of the Cottage Industries Exposition, a sort of co-op for high end Indian crafts. Rugs, jewelry, brassware, shawls – they were all there, and quite pricy. What do you know, but Clinton (yep, Bill) was in the shops last year or so. There’s a different photo of him in all three shops checking out the goods. Apparently, he bought a very expensive rug. Good for him.

After Colaba, we went again to Kala Ghoda, an area whose boundaries I don’t yet know, but I believe it spans the area from the Gateway of India to the Flora Fountain. We wanted to go to the Prince of Wales Museum, but got there a bit too late for us to have a long stretch of viewing time.

Renamed the Chhatrapati Shivaji Museum during a wave of Hindu Nationalism, the Prince of Wales Museum houses Indian, Nepalese, and Tibetan sculpture, paintings, and artifacts, and it apparently has some European and Far Eastern Art as well. We weren’t even to enter the grounds of the PoW without a ticket, but they looked absolutely lush and stunning. The PoW building itself is quite a looker, too.

When we realized that we didn’t have enough time to check out the museum, we got some water – Anthony got some masala chai – at the street stand outside and plotted our next move. There’s a record store called Rhythm House within walking distance.

We had to step over about three stray dogs and two sleeping humans near the entrance of the store. It was a Saturday and Rhythm House was packed. We did a flip through the “rock” section, which was an all-encompassing section of everything from Whitesnake and Christina Aguilera to the Wiener Saengerknaben. The Beach Boys were listed under “vocal” alongside Frank (Sinatra) and Tony (Bennett). Anthony shuddered. We did manage to find a Billy Joel CD that we didn’t yet own. So, we spent our 200 Rs. and went on our way.

Our driver is a pretty good tour guide, so he took us next to see Victoria Station. It was a driving tour, but pretty impressive nonetheless. By the way, Victoria Terminus has also been renamed Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus and the airport is, you guessed it, Chhatrapati Shivaji Airport. Most people, especially non-Hindus and secular Hindus, call the landmarks by their original, Empire names. It’s kind of the same way I refuse to call Washington National Airport by its “official” name of Reagan National. Whatever. Let’s just waste money on new signs, everybody!

A sun shower started right as we were passing by Victoria, so we didn’t really do much touring after that. We did, however, stop at the Parsi Dairy Store. It’s done up in teal and silver – a little dingy, but a cool place. They had yogurt, kulfi, ghee, many types of barfi (sweets) dotted with edible silver foil. Nice place. Can’t wait to visit when I’m back on dairy.

On Sunday, we got up (late again) and hopped in a cab back to Kala Ghoda in order to check out the Jehangir Art Gallery. The gallery is located in a very municipal, 60s era building, with an al fresco circular entrance made all the more inviting by the flute player/salesman on the steps out front. Gallery space in the Jehangir is located on either side of the portico. And really, there wasn’t too much on view: just works from about four or five Indian artists. Some of it was nice, but most of it was not quite my style. I do love the way that the artists made sure that we (obvious Americans) had a copy of the price list while we were looking. So Jehangir was not our thing this weekend. Maybe next.

We took a walk after that: up to the Fountain, then left on the street that connects to Marine Drive. It’s called “Fashion Street” but I don’t know its official name (perhaps Chhatrapati Shivaji? Perhaps Reagan?). On the right are dozens – maybe hundreds – of clothing stalls. On the left are book sellers. You can guess which side we chose: the left.

There are so many books to be purchased in Mumbai. Lots of old books and lots of new ones, too. We considered purchasing a book on Zoroastrianism, but it was a little faded. We did, however, buy a guide to Mumbai and a “hot” Lonely Planet India book for a couple hundred rupees. It seemed that almost every single bookseller had a copy of Hitler’s Mein Kampf, too, which struck me as strange. But then Anthony mentioned the tie-in between the Hindu Nationalist, Aryanism, etc., and it vaguely made sense. Still, it’s definitely weird to see that book out front and center. I had even seen it in the legit bookstore a few days ago, but didn’t think anything of it. I may have to investigate this further, especially if it gives me a chance to use my German and Hindi.

About halfway down Fashion Street is the Oval Maidan, a really beautiful cricket field where at least 20 pick-up games of cricket were going on. Kids were doubled-up in the middle of the pitch, while on either end teams in their spotless whites were playing for real. I don’t know if I’ll ever figure out the rules of cricket, but I must say that watching the players bowl (pitch) is fascinating. They have to take a running start of at least 20 feet, it seems. It’s mad. I’m also convinced that cricket bats could stand in quite well were you ever in a bar brawl and in need of a baseball bat. The flat side (it almost looks like a principal’s paddle) could really pack a wallop.

We walked further along to Marine Drive and walked down the residential side, which we hadn’t seen yet. It was kind of interesting to get a closer view of the Art Deco buildings along the strip, but again, they are sadly in need of some paint and general repairs. I hear that some developers are working on restoring these buildings. But, I wouldn’t be surprised if they eventually bulldozed them to put up more 5-star hotels. There are already a few of them located on Marine Drive. And, if India gets richer and more tourists come, the area would be a prime target for more hotels.

Marine Drive, also known as the Queen’s Necklace because of the way it looks bejeweled at night when the lights are up, is long, approximately 3 miles or so. It really is too much road to walk when the temperature is hovering around 90. But, there were opportunities for pitstops along the way, namely some more cricket grounds each a bit nicer than the next. We stopped for a while to watch the teams play at the P.J. Hindu Gymkhana before moving on.

Not a ton of people were out and about in Mumbai on Sunday, what with the ICC (cricket) tournament on television, and the big temple day for Ganesha. It was quiet and pleasant, but hot. Our walk on Marine Drive lasted about an hour – we made it all the way to Chowpatty Beach Chowk, then headed for home.