The Bandra-Worli Sea Link – the Rajiv Gandhi Sea Link, to give it its official title – is a bridge five-and-a-half kilometres long that connects the busy office district of Worli in southern Mumbai with the more residential district of Bandra in western Mumbai. I have to say that for much of its length it doesn’t feel like a bridge.
When you go onto it at Worli, you speed straight out across Mahim Bay and it seems bridge-like enough. But then the thing bends around and the next thing you know, Worli is no longer behind you – it’s actually passing alongside you, on the right. Thus, the Sea Link feels less like a bridge between Place A and Place B and more like a bypass that helps you avoid the congestion of Place A. Albeit a bypass that rises out of the sea on giant concrete piles, pillars and pylons.
Four lanes of traffic shuttle in either direction along it, between pairs of huge concrete frames that are wishbone-shaped at one point and look like gymnastics high-bars at another, and between myriad cables that fan down at the sides. Meanwhile, scrolling past inland from the bridge is the burgeoning cityscape of Mumbai – many of its tallest buildings still under construction so that crane-jibs stick up from their summits like lopsided antennae.
It’s only when you arrive at the toll-booths up at the bridge’s Bandra end that you’re reminded of being in India – a country famous for its overabundance of workers. When drivers stop beside a booth, they don’t hand the bridge-fare to a guy in the booth. They hand the fare to a guy next to the booth, who then hands it to the guy in the booth.
Now from a link across the sea to a forest in the sky. In central Mumbai – where my work had sent me for a three-day training course – I often found myself looking out of the window of the office I was in and looking into the concrete-and-steel skeleton of a new monster-building that was taking shape next door. This structure, an Indian colleague told me, had already been given a name: the Sky Forest. For the time being, its wall-less floors were desolate and filthy, strewn with construction-rubble and awash with grey pools of monsoon-water. But according to my colleague, it was envisioned that one day the Sky Forest would have 18 lower floors housing ‘service staff’ and then, on top of those, many more floors of luxury apartment buildings for Mumbai’s best off.
My response to this information? “Have you ever read a book,” I asked, “or seen a film, called… High Rise?”