Aye Dil Hai Mushkil Jeena Yahan,
Zara Hat Ke Zara Bach Ke, Yeh Hai Bombay Meri Jaan
A typical Bombay-based non-Bollywood movie starts with this song, pans across the VT station, gives a bird’s eye view of Marine Drive and closes with the "kaali peelis". That is the city in a nutshell, at least to the awestruck tourist.
However, as a migrant who has lived in Bombay for almost six years, my home memories of Bombay revolve, not around happening Colaba or around suburban Bandra, but around that indispensable Tam bastion of Matunga East.
To many, Matunga East is just a land of South Indian eateries fitting a dozen or more tables and chairs in a 400 square foot space and serving endless amounts of rice, saambhaar, idli and dosa.
A Matunga-ite would know much better than that.
They would know about that small shop in the gully on Bhaudaji Road that sells ready-made batter for idlis and dosas. They would know about that road parallel to Bhaudaji’s where Mysore Concerns sells authentic filter coffee powder. They would know about the Chheda Stores opposite the railway station that sells every namkeen on Earth – dhoklas, khakhras, chivdas, kachoris, samosas. They would know about the veggies market near the railway station that sells the freshest yellow and red peppers and broccoli and celery. They would know about the empty, by-lane through Hindu Colony that would take one directly to Dadar station. They would know that, no matter what the hustle-bustle, the area goes quiet by 9 pm, letting one take a walk in peace through the empty, tree-filled, well-paved by-lanes of Chandavarkar Road.
Who is this Matunga-ite, one may ask. I am not, as per traditional definitions. Then again, since living in Matunga is such an exorbitant affair, only BMW owners can dream of becoming Matunga-ites in the traditional sense.
But, the biggest beauty of Matunga lies in the fact that one doesn’t have to live there to be a Matunga-ite. Matunga is a hodgepodge of cultures, filled with Gujju aunties and Tam Brahm maamis, hep girls at Sia’s jewellery shop and traditional ladies in Milaap’s saree shop, South Indian temples and Jain Mandirs, New Yorkers’ and Madras Café. One just has to drop into this place to feel belonged, to become a Matunga-ite.
Matunga is what I remember during Dahi Handi and Ganesh Puja, Matunga is the place I end up in during Diwali and Sankranthi. The colors vibrant, the themes changing in sync with the festivity, the lights, stars, marigolds, Krishna figurines, Ganesha idols – the sight is quite amazing.
One may argue that only fools will frequent Matunga during the festive season, when Dadar is but a couple of kilometres away. Have you ever been to Dadar? On a normal day, it is a menagerie where bikes, cars, taxis, pedestrians, vendors and everyone else coexist both on the roads and the walk ways. Around the festive season, it is a wild forest with an uncontrollable fire that threatens to consume all that dare walk through it. If Dadar is wilderness filled with commotion, Matunga is a mature peacock carrying herself with panache through the wilds, in rain and sunshine. And that’s why one would like her better.
So, the next time you end up in Matunga East for a bite, do sample the Khotto Idli at Mysore Café. But, also take a few minutes to walk through Bhandarkar Road up to Ruia college. You will realize that beauty and peace can exist, even amidst the crowds and the jostle.