Its Friday evening…teen-agers huddled together on a broad side walk facing the Arabian Sea, talk in whispers. Under the fading light and the sound of sea waves crashing against the wall, I try to sneak around and eavesdrop. Suddenly I hear a loud cheer, and the group breaks into a familiar song – Happy Birthday to you…! A scene encountered on many of my strolls along the Marine Drive.
I’ve lived a life of a nomad for the last 12 years and have had a few opportunities to ‘settle-in’ in a few places. Mumbai is one which I called home, albeit for a few years. One place I and probably most Mumbaikars love is the Marine Drive, ‘The Queen’s Necklace’. Stretching from Nariman point, it is a 4.5Km ‘C- shaped’ boulevard in South Mumbai. Right from the moment the sun rises from behind the high rise buildings lining the boulevard till it disappears into the Arabian Sea; Marine Drive exemplifies this city.
The Queen’s Necklace is a place where the space-crunched city breathes some fresh air. People from all walks of life come here to find solitude. Young couples steal kisses, joggers get their daily health fix and kids play around while their parents enjoy the sea breeze. There are many vendors selling tea, coffee, warm salted peanuts, packaged water and so on. These are the things that add to our experience on the shore – good or bad is subjective!
Over the years I have bonded with this city both as a tourist and a local. My early visits were pure touristy. These were my student days, when going to a big city made teenagers have stars in their eyes. I was no different. Having seen the city and especially Marine Drive umpteen times in Hindi movies, I was mesmerized when I actually set my foot on it.
On my subsequent visits as I became more familiar with other parts of the city, my fondness for this metropolis grew beyond bounds. And no sooner had I returned from my study and work stint of four years in England, I took up work in Mumbai in 2011. Life in the city was exciting and the crowd energetic. But I realized that this was not what fascinated me. It was my independence and solitude that I loved!
Among the places I sought for my ‘me time’ was Marine Drive. On some weekends when I got up early, I managed a walk on the boulevard, a cuppa hot ginger tea and newspaper. On a few weekdays, after office hours, it was a place to catch up on some office gossip, contemplate and watch the setting sun while gulping down scoops of ice-cream. Coconut, pineapple and chocolate were all time hit flavours.
With changing times, a lot of the city has transformed into unrecognizable forms. And over all these years the Queen’s Necklace has been a part of this city’s shifting dynamics. The sidewalk has been extended to accommodate a growing number of admirers, a huge sea wall built to secure the shore, comfortable sea facing benches and some flora thrown in to add to the beautification process. Like the city and its citizens, it has also seen a natural calamity, terrorist attack and communal riots. It however still remains a refuge for its citizens where they often find calm in this chaos!