Benjamuna's Blog

Stories…. with a touch of India….

Sassoon Docks of Mumbai March 1, 2022

Filed under: INDIA,Travels — benjamuna @ 10:43 am
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“That’s where they landed, the terrorists who attacked The Taj Mahal Hotel back in 2008,” my guide cum driver says, as he points to the right towards a small bay. He asks me if I remember and I tell him that it happened on my birthday. “It’s not allowed to stop or park the car and police are always posted”, he adds.
I didn’t see any police although our car was hardly moving. But maybe I was not supposed to.
We were on our way to Sassoon Docks, another Mumbai tourist attraction in Colaba, in the very south of the megalopolis.

Several web pages had pointed out that photography was not welcomed by the workers, some pages even used the word prohibited. I ask my guide who shrugs and says he couldn’t really tell. “You never know, maybe it depends on their mood that could be marked by the catch of the day,” he says without enthusiasm. It was clear that he wouldn’t be of any help. I tell myself to be polite, and not too intrusive.

Sassoon Docks, built in 1875, is one of the oldest docks in Mumbai and was the first wet-dock constructed in Bombay. It is also one of the few docks in the city open to the public. According to The Maritime History Society of Mumbai, the Sassoon Dock was formally inaugurated on Tuesday, 8th June 1875. The Times of India dated 09 June 1875, in an article titled ‘The Colaba Sassoon Dock’, describes the dock in the following words: “The dock is about 690 feet in length, 300 feet in breadth, 40 feet from gate to gate, has therefore an area of about 195,000 square feet, and has a 15.4 fill below the wear tide. A substantial stone bunder encloses the dock; and flood gates are provided at the entrance on the east side.”
The docks were built by David Sassoon and Co., a banking and mercantile company which was run by David Sassoon’s son at the time. The dock is no longer in private hands, that happened years ago.

We walk through the big gates and head towards the quay while trying to avoid lorries, busy men with hand-carts and the many puddles of water. More men are working outside the ramshackle buildings, while beautiful women in their immaculate working attire – a beautiful sari – are sailing past us, bowls on their heads.
I had braced myself for the smell of fish, it had been raining and the sky was painted grey. But as always in India: colours prevail. From the shining yellow boots worn by men shuffling ice, to the bright orange and blue plastic crates, the colourful trucks and boats – and again, the women in colourful saris.

The fishing boats lay shoulder by shoulder, row upon row, in the water that seems to glister with oil. They look wrecked, like a colony of sinking ships. Everywhere around us, men and women rest on plastic chairs or on the ground in front of fish unknown to me. But as I later knew would be pomfret, Indian red snapper, cuttlefish, swordfish, stingrays and shrimps. Baskets, bowls, crates – many types of storage were lying carelessly around – or placed on top of somebody’s head. The whole place is bustling, and I make it a point not to be in anybody’s way.

The fisheries are run by the Kolis, a group of people who helped develop the harbours and coastlines of Mumbai back in the days when the city was named Bombay, a scattered amalgamation of seven islands. The Kolis live in Koliwadas, modest quarters of the city, distinguished from the rest of Mumbai in their traditions and social life. I had read that the women, in particular, were aggressive and prone to shouting at tourists – especially those with cameras. I experience no such thing; the women are either smiling or busy with their work.

I sneak around, trying to make myself invisible. My guide seems uncomfortable, it’s obvious that he wants to avoid any form of provocation, I am after all his responsibility – for the time being. But nobody seems to pay me any attention, the shrewd Koli women have more important things on their mind. While the men catch the fish, it is the women who sell the catch and thus are responsible for the family economy.

It’s getting warmer and the overall stench seems more persistent. The guide is ready to leave and I tug along. As he turns the car and starts to drive towards the north, he points at some shacks and tells me that many of their residents earn their living from the docks.  “They’re not poor,” he says, “although it might look like a slum. Inside these shacks you’ll find millions of rupees in cash, and gold. But this is how they prefer to live.”
It could be the truth, or part of the truth, but possibly also a myth – popular among guides.
If Sassoon Docks will outlive further urbanisation of Mumbai remains to see, so don’t miss it should you get the chance!

More photos:

 

Mumbai morning. marine drive. May 3, 2015

Filed under: INDIA — benjamuna @ 2:31 pm
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Marine Drive_2

It’s 7 am. The air feels cool. Mumbai’s pride; Marine Drive, is awake and alive. The broad promenade stretches along the Arabian Sea. In the evening, the shining lamp posts form a necklace, the Queen’s Necklace as they call it. Beautifully rounded, accompanied by the waves that steadily hit the rocks. But it’s early morning now, the sun is about to rise and break through the morning mist. A faint breeze strokes my chin as I listen to the ever present Mumbai crows. To the north, the skyline stretches towards the sky, mostly made by the high-rise buildings of fancy Malabar Hills. They seem quite a distance away behind a haze of mist, or smog as it might well be.

I turn around and my gaze falls on the Air India building, who has become my landmark. Tall hotels together with ordinary corporate buildings form the Northern skyline. People come to work here, but right now, people come to walk. They walk alone, or in pairs. In long strides, and short strides. The men, retired perhaps – in their white, big jogging shoes. Loose trousers, shirts with rolled up sleeves. Some stroll along leisurely, some walk briskly. They walk the talk. Old colleagues, neighbours, brothers, friends. Twos and threes, sometimes in fours. Then there is the retired couples; the women in their salwar kameez and a woollen cardigan on top of it. It’s still cool for a Mumbaikar. The wide trousers flutter around old legs above big shoes. Good shoes. They don’t talk, there is no need. They walk. Before the sun emerges and makes walking unbearable.

Some wear track suits, swinging their arms energetically from side to side. More men in groups, friends on a daily morning round. Glasses blinking, hands agitatedly waving the air. They could be discussing politics. Shouting friendly at each other. Or just keeping quiet. An old woman walks towards me, she is wearing a burka. She sits down next to me, breathes heavily. She seems distressed, restless. After a while she heaves her heavy body and leaves, perhaps she needed a rest. A suffering body or a suffering mind. Marine Drive_3

A young man is chasing a football, all by himself. The ball goes this way and that, always captured by the man who puts it back on track. He’s moving along with the ball, in between people. Nobody interferes. I follow him with my gaze, soon the restless figure is lost among the people.

The stream of people thickens. The sun is about to break. Four women is sitting side by side, chanting. Om, they chant. Ooomm… They are unmoved by the stream of people, by the looks of any odd tourist. Closed eyes, deep in concentration. The concrete wall along the promenade doubles as a bench. People also walk on top of it, or they sit down cross legged with their faces turned towards the sea. Contemplating; about the day that lies ahead or even life itself… Even at this hour, some young couples sit close together, captured in secrecy perhaps, a more than common sight in the evening. Some do yoga, stretching their bodies towards the soft sky. Some is lost to the world in deep meditation. Or, we simply let our gaze wander. Up and down the promenade. Thinking how lucky this overcrowded, polluted, dirty megalopolis is to have such freedom and space for everybody to share.

The joggers emerge among the walkers. Long trousers, short trousers. A woman in a sari even. Chubby young girls adamant on losing a few kilos, their feet heavily touching ground; bump bump. Sweat foreheads. Alone, but also in pairs. Mutual struggle. Mutual pain. Being two is always a small comfort. Athletic men in shorts glide along, fancy sun glasses, even more fancy shoes. Expats trying to keep fit, trying to beat the forever-glaring sun, trying to keep up a lifestyle from colder countries. Foreign business men from nearby hotels follow suit. But people mostly walk. Arms swinging from side to side. Stretching limbs as they walk. Serious looks on their faces. Trying to fight old age. Middle aged women in western clothes and big sunglasses. Walking fast and furious. Fighting yesterday’s too many laddoos. Young girls in threes and fours. Serious sometimes. Or giggling, discussing that very special boy in school. Avoiding the many stray dogs that scuttle about. And there he is; the little boy with the monkey in a chain. Frowned upon by the regulars, but always attracting interest from tourists before they realise he’s not there to entertain, but to earn a living.

I’m leaving, still not at risk while crossing the street. Walking towards the Air India building, and then straight ahead on uneven sidewalks towards Colaba. The odd stalls are coming to life along the way, people are queueing for their buses, the Oval Maidan is quiet, but the traffic is picking up as I reach the other side of the city where the sun has hit the Indian Sea with full force. Mumbai kråke