A few weeks ago, my work sent me to Mumbai for a training course. Frustratingly, most of what I saw of Mumbai was limited to three confined spaces – the office where I did the course during the day, the hotel-room where I spent the nights, and the car that shuttled me between the two every morning and evening.
Still, when I learned beforehand that my hotel was in the Mumbai suburb of Bandra and it overlooked the sea, I did some Googling. I read how the promenade there – ‘Bandstand’ – was worth seeing, “especially liked by young couples who like to sneak out onto the rocks below and spend some time alone.” So although I hadn’t time to do much in Mumbai, I thought I could at least take a walk along Bandstand one evening before it got dark.
The Internet had mentioned rocks, but I didn’t expect the Bandstand shoreline to contain so many of them. In fact, it consisted of nothing but black slabs of stone, mired amid tracts of gravel and pools of rainwater. (I was there during the monsoon season and a slate-grey sky spat down on the city continually.) But as promised, there were plenty of young couples in evidence – seated on the presumably cold and wet rocks and huddling and canoodling under gaudily-coloured umbrellas.
Many of the people walking along the seafront seemed more interested in looking at what stood inland than in looking at the rocks and waves. For the neighbourhood was a prestigious one and some very big and costly-looking residences loomed among the buildings lining the inside of the shore-road. One in particular, its compound wall bearing the title ‘Land’s End’, attracted a lot of sightseers who were eagerly snapping photos and selfies at its front gates. This, it transpired, was the home of superstar Shahrukh Khan, veteran of some 80 Indian movies and Baadshah (‘master-king’) of Bollywood. He’s also a philanthropist, the co-owner of the cricket club the Kolkata Knight Riders and, according to Newsweek in 2008, one of the 50 most influential people on the planet.
Presumably because that road was packed with so much money, respectability and, dare I say it, snobbishness, the atmosphere on the promenade on the coastal side of it was a bit authoritarian. A lot of rules had been drawn up to keep the promenade and the rocky beach as decent and decorous as possible, worthy of the privileged folk whose houses looked over it. And they weren’t hesitant about displaying those rules. Every couple of yards, it seemed, yet another sign shoved yet another rule about how to behave into my face.
Hardly had I started along the promenade when I was confronted by these:
And then by these:
It made me wonder how angry the local residents would get if a film crew, consisting entirely of beggars, suddenly showed up on bicycles and started filming (whilst gobbing onto the paving stones). Wow, I thought, that would really piss them off. However, although saliva, bicycles, beggars and film crews were strictly verboten, there at least seemed to be no ban on dogs, which was good news for his dozy soul:
Neither was there any ban on crows. This was just as well since such a rule would have been unenforceable. The place was overrun with the wily cawing birds, their black feathers glistening in the rain. At one point I looked up and noticed a great flock of them, surrounding the top of one of those fancy seafront buildings like a cloud of iron filings being pulled towards the head of a magnet.
Oh well, I thought, I at least hadn’t seen a sign telling me I wasn’t allowed to imbibe while I strolled along the seafront. I had the freedom to swig liquor out of a hip-flask, if I so wished. But then I saw this:
Which was reinforced by this:
No food, drink or tobacco? The atmosphere was fast becoming oppressive. Even the one sign that tried to cheer people up with some wry philosophical advice couldn’t resist sticking a warning on at the bottom, telling them where they ought to be walking.
You were also warned to keep away from ‘baggers’, whoever they were.
So, to paraphrase Adam Ant, you can’t drink, can’t smoke – what can you do? Well, you’re permitted to jog along the promenade. That is, going by this sign, if you’re a particularly well-endowed female.
I have to admit, though, that there were a few rules I was glad to see posted up. I just hoped the ‘no latrine’ one was strictly enforced.
After that barrage of tyrannous rules and regulations, it was a relief to arrive at the far end of Bandstand and then, a little way past there, to wander into the grounds of St Andrew’s Church. Founded as a Christian site in 1575, it boasted a venerable, if damp-stained, church-building and a crowded graveyard whose crosses displayed an agreeable colour scheme of black, white and orange.
Keeping with the spirit of Bandstand, it also had a sign – though one expressing a religious rather than a social imperative. At least the St Andrew’s Church people managed to wrap their message up in a joke.