Monsoon in Mumbai

Indian continent experiences a number of weathers. Even there are vast differences in the weather along the length and breadth of India. Unlike Europe, the weather changes are rapid and during the year one can experience biting cold and searing heat at one place. This is particularly true in the Northern plains.

The weather along the sea coast remains humid and moderate. During summers, the humidity and heat becomes unbearable.  In Bombay, everyone prays the rain gods for being benign and lash the city with rains to cool the heat and bring succor to people, animals and trees. The hot summer months climax to monsoons in the end of June.  First place which comes to mind is the otherwise serene Marine Drive. marinedrive

It is the favorite of tourists all round the year particularly in the evening with lights like necklace in the Malabar hill. It is beset by the sound and fury of a monsoon high tide. Tides beat against tetrapods and embankment in beautiful patterns. Then there is picturesque Gateway of India looking hazy in the mist of water and boats standing near the Gateway with rain beating the sea water.

gateway

If you are an outsider, then you will be intimidated by the rains and rains can harass. The rains usually are accompanied by strong winds which throw your umbrella heltor skeltor. If you happen to be at a railway station, you will see the sea of umbrellas jostling each other. Clothes are drenched with water.

Worli Seaface faces straight across the Arabian Sea, with no land between it and Oman. Rows of bungalows and expensive apartments overlook the sea. In the late afternoons, this is a place for daydreamers. The sun is coming down and the day looks as if it is just beginning, as people take their evening walks and rendezvous with friends. There are amusement rides for children, streetside eateries for teenagers, and benches for seniors. During the monsoon the most coveted seat is the one right next to the statue of the Common Man the creation of famous cartoonist R K Laxman.

Haji Ali is the popular dargah constructed in memory of the Muslim saint Sayyed Peer Haji Ali Shah Bukhari. The dargah is connected to land by a narrow causeway. Even in the day, the path is submerged in the water during high tide. So in the rains, the journey becomes a project to be attempted with care.

hajiali

The Mumbai monsoon is an experience, but monsoon weather is often unpredictable. What begins as a mild rain may suddenly turn into a heavy downpour. Then it is no longer safe to be near the sea. The tide is strong enough to pull a person into the sea and away from the shore. During the worst weather, a hot, sweet cutting chai and crunchy, salty, home-made bhajias complete the monsoon experience. They are best enjoyed in one’s own home.

During last few years, however, due to building activities, the drainage system has come under a severe pressure. There is flooding, water logging and train disruptions due to submerging of tracks. Life for poor becomes very difficult. With a large population living in the shanties along the train tracks, there are hardly any civic amenities. In fact, during 2005 monsoons, flooded the city, paralyzing it and warning the greedy builders to stop poaching the natural networks of sea drainage.

mumbai_deluge

We were living in a place called Panvel when the 2005 flood strike the Mumbai and Panvel. Panvel is on the way to Pune and Goa from Mumbai. It is in the Konkan region and every year experiences strong rains. Near by Panvel is a dam which overflowed and its gates were opened causing a flash flood in Panvel and near by areas. We are witness to the harrowing experience people underwent. The experience is described in Floods in Panvel.

Description of Early Bombay nee’ Mumbai

This information is given about Bombay in the Imperial Gazetteer during the period 1908 to 1930. During this period a frenzied activity was taking place resulting in the development of a city which is nowadays known as the commercial capital of India.

In the historical context, originally Bombay formed the outer portion of the Kingdom Aparanta or North Konkan and was ruled by King Asoka. He was succeeded by Satavahanas, who ruled this area in the second century AD. After this the succession of rules belonging to Mauriya, Chaulakyas and Rashtrakutas.

The original inhabitants of the place are Kolis which have their settlements in Colaba, Warli, Sion, Mazgaon and Naigaon. These people were mostly fishermen and husbandmen and thought have moved here during the advent of christian period. The island takes its name Mumbai from the Koli goddess Mumbadevi whose temple once stood at the place presently occupied by Victoria Terminus.

The bazaar represented the most northerly side of Fort area. The first significant building outside the fort was Victoria Terminus of Great Indian Peninsula Railway very handsome building standing at the site of old Mumbadevi temple. Opposite the station are the municipal offices. The foundation stone of the municipal office was laid down by Lord Ripon in December 1884. A short distance away are the newly erected offices of the famous English newspaper The Times of India. At a few minutes stroll away is the market known as Crawford market named after Arthur Crawford, who was the municipal commissioner of Bombay from 1856 to 1871. North of this market lies the native Bombay. There are two well known thoroughfares in this area namely Kalbadevi and Abdur Rehman street both of which lead to Paydhuni (foot-wash) so known because the passerby used to wash their feet in the stream flowing through this area. At the junction of these thoroughfares, lies the temple of Mumbadevi guardian Goddessof the city.

Parel was one area which was favorite place with the British authorities. Parel was, along with Naigaon, Wadala, Matunga occupied by Bhima Raja in 1284 on their arrival from Deccan. But Parel has yielded the favorite position to fashionable Malabar Hill and Cummbala Hill which have some very beautiful buildings. From the Malabar Hill and Altamount Road, the view is very beautiful. At night, one can look at the palm groves at Chaupati, Backbay, Rajabai Clock Tower and secretariat and light house in an unbroken line of lights in an arc appropriately called Queen’s Necklace.

Sense of Ennui

Our colony is very big in comparison to most colonies in Bombay. It is spread over an area which has circumference of about 3 kilometers. There are 1400 flats. Once upon a time this colony was bustling with people. But after the 2005 floods decadence has set in. An exodus ensued and people began to leave the colony and shifting to nearby Kharghar area. As the number of residents dwindled the administration became slack and maintenance suffered greatly. Presently the colony seems to be ghostly place after the dusk. Only about 50% flats may be occupied.

Number of security guards is same as before. They are posted at different locations in the colony. Those who are guarding the buildings of offices invariably sleep in the night. In the day time they gather in groups and sit at some convenient place for gossiping. Their favorite pastime is gossiping & giggling with the home maids and women sweepers who come from outside the colony and have to wait for breakfast and lunch time to finish and then enter the homes. In the vacant time they sit and chat with the guards.

The security guards also cluster around some women vendors who sell the vegetables and fruits going around on foot. These women sometimes give the fruits and veggies to them. Another favorite place of guards is the tea and snacks shop in the shopping center. They cannot be blamed for that. After all everyone requires food.

They seem to have bored from doing the same duty over the years. In the winters they have to shiver because there are no structures for them to sit in. Usually they make fires and sit around it. In the summer, the suffer the heat and mosquitoes all night. They have either to bring water from their homes or from shopping center as no where else the drinking water is available. There is no provision for toilet except their office at the gate which is about 1.5 kilometers from the farthest post in the colony.

Bombay Duck is not a duck!!

Guess what is Bombay duck?  Any normal person will think that it must be a duck living in the water bodies around Bombay. There is a surprise.

In fact Bombay duck or Bummalo is a fish belonging to lizardfish family. In the areas around Mumbai and Konkan, this fish is found in plenty in the Arabian sea and savored by the population.

The fish is often dried and salted before it is consumed. Generally it is consumed in the fried and curry forms. After drying, the odour of the fish is extremely powerful, and it must consequently be transported in air-tight containers.

Origin of its name as Bombay duck is not certain. Actually, according to one story, the fish was transported in the Bombay Dak train. Dak here means Bombay Mail. Its odour is so strong that Britishers began calling it Bombay Dak which became spoiled to Bombay Duck.

Drying on a wire
Drying on a wire

According to local Bangladeshi stories, the term Bombay duck called “Shootkie” by Bangladeshis was first coined by Robert Clive, after tasting a piece during his conquest of Bengal, it is told that he referenced the pungent smell to that of the news papers and mail which would come in to the cantonments from Bombay. The term was later popularized amongst the British public by its appearance in Indian restaurants (which are in fact, mostly Bangladeshi owned) across the country.

Despite the rather unpleasant odour of the fish, it is often considered to be a delicacy by connoisseurs of Indian cuisine. If freshly caught, it is sometimes eaten fried in a batter; and in its dried form, it is commonly eaten in a curry. It is also prepared as a pickle. The bones of the fish are soft and easily chewable.

Packed
Packed

Its body bones are very fragile and break on slight twist. So, special care is taken while preparing the dish.

Though the fish is mostly caught in Arabian Sea, small quantities are caught in Bay of Bengal. In Bengal it is called bamaloh or loita. In Gujarati it is called bumla & in Marathi it is called Bombil.

Once I was attending training on sea safety at Coast Guards office situated near Mallet Ferry Wharf in Bombay (near Docks). Extensive fish catch in trawlers is unloaded here and distributed to Bombay. There I saw boats upon boats on which this fish was drying on the lines. It seemed that buntings are waving on the boats. I also saw how the baskets of fish were tossed from boats and caught up by the men on the wharf platform. This job was so much perfected by the fishermen. There were quintessential fisherwomen with massive backs and one end of saris tucking between them. For two or three days whenever there was a break from training I used to visit the wharf. There was a great hustle and bustle there which subsided only in the noon. There were fishes lying on the bridge road to wharf. Urchins wandering there were collecting them and I can safely say they had bags full of them.

Dry Preparation
Dry Preparation

On the other end of the wharf, there is ferry station which is called “Bhaucha Dhakka”. From this station you can catch a ferry to go to Ali Baug, Uran etc.

Below are two pictures of Ferry wharf.

Boats with Catch
Boats with Catch
Passengers at Ferry Station
Passengers at Ferry Station

Some Facts About Bombay

The year 1840 marked the year of progress and prosperity.

  1. Great Indian Peninsular Railway completed first sod work in 1850 and completed the rails laying work in 1853.
  2. First bank of Bombay was opened in 1840.
  3. First tramway was opened in 1860 in Colaba.
  4. In 1857 first spinning and weaving mill started to work.
  5. In 1869, the Crawfors Market was thrown open to public.
  6. Tulsi water works were completed in 1879, Powai water works in 1889 and Tansa in 1891-92.
  7. Between 1860 to 1890 great influx of migrant labours took place and was held mainly responsible for city congestion and diseases like plague.

Mallet Ferry Wharf

Mallet Ferry Wharf! I visited the place. It is a ferry terminus and fish trawlers unloading port in Bombay. Whole area smells of fishes even from a distance. Hundreds of fish traders stand on the platform and fish baskets are conveyed to top from boats by ropes and mesh nets. There are mounds of fish of every kind. Every single inch is covered with sea  fish. There are porters towing it away on the carts. Water drips from the  baskets made of the bamboo carrying the fish. Trucks and tempos  are loaded with the fish for taking it to the different parts of the city. Every boat has a flag and while standing in the parking area these boats  bob up and down in the waters.

A very popular variety of fish called “Bombay Duck” also dries on the ropes in the boats. This fish is cooked both as  fresh or dried and does not have bones. The rows of hanging fish on the ropes look like buntings.
There were fisher women, very fat and strong. The boats which have emptied their catch were parked to one side. The fishermen on them were preparing the food: lentils, rice and of course fresh fish. Crows pecked at the fish filled in the baskets waiting to be put into the trucks. These seemed to have become bored by eating and eating in plenty. Seagulls caught the floating dead fish thrown out of the boats.

On the right side is the ferry wharf station from where ferries ply to Mora Bunder in Uran and Alibaug, and to Elephanta caves. People wait there on the benches. Most of them are inhabitants of fishing villages. There are shops selling refreshments in the waiting area. They come here on buses from Mumbai and take ferry for crossing the sea and to avoid the torturous road journey. The journey is thus reduced from many hours by the land route to an hour or so. In the earlier times, when British were here most of the work force belonged to people from Konkan Ghats and used the sea route for coming to Bombay. Still many people working at the docks belong to this area.