The great wall, the queen's necklace or simply Netaji Subhash Chandra Marg, whatever you may call it, Mumbai's Marine Drive is popular amongst the young and the old alike. I recently had an opportunity to spend some time at this windswept promenade located in the heart of Mumbai, flanked by the Arabian Sea on one side and by posh art deco buildings on the other.
Marine Drive is an eight-lane highway, shaped as an arc, with a wide pavement built alongside. It was built in the 1920s on reclaimed land. It stretches from Nariman Point-the concrete jungle of Mumbai, in the north, to the picturesque Malabar Hills- home to many of our Bollywood stars, in the south.
Marine Drive is an ideal people-watching place at all times of the day. Early in the morning, it is swarmed with fitness freaks taking their morning walks or jogs and enjoying the view of the sea. There are others who come to walk their Poodles or Pekinese. It is also a time when beggars begin their day, lining up in the hope of that kind-hearted sardarji who always spares a penny. Grandpas form a circle and laugh out loud as part of their laughter club exercise. It never fails to bring a smile on to the face of the passer-by.
Soon I find them all rushing back to their homes to begin a new day, all afresh (except for the beggars of course who are already at work!).
Noon sees the sea getting rough. The waves lash out angrily and end up breaking out on the rocks below the pavement. In times of high tide, the waves drown the pavement itself and spill right across the road, up unto the buildings on the other side. This is perhaps the only time of the day when the pavement lies empty. A number of school children can be seen enjoying the spray of the sea while getting drenched in it. The sight is beautiful but it causes a slight traffic problem for one gets the experience of a heavy rainfall in the absence of rain itself. Cars line up one after the other as the traffic signals break down. It is said that a Mumbai traffic jam is one of the worst situations to be in as it can take hours to clear up.
As evening descends, one sees the lights being turned on and the term ' 'queen's necklace' coming to life. The British called it so because from an aerial view it looks like a necklace strung with imperial jewels. The place almost magically gets filled with space-starved couples, some laughing and others crying but all experiencing a sense of serenity around them. The hawkers take the round, selling peanuts, coffee, tea, the famous Mumbai bhelpuri etc. On a Saturday evening, it's virtually impossible to find a place to sit on the pavement. It is crowded with a diverse population of college students, uncles, aunts, grandmas, grandpas, little children with nannies et al. The most intriguing thing perhaps is that Marine Drive is visited by people belonging to different social strata, right from the aristocratic elite to the homeless poor.
Midnight witnesses insomnia-struck walkers who often come out with brilliant poetry or song lyrics while strolling here in the presence of the sounds of the sea and the otherwise silent night. The pavement is also a home to the downtrodden that sleep peacefully without so much as a roof over their heads. With the sunrise begins yet another day and it's time to hit Marine Drive again for that early morning walk.
I associate Marine Drive with happiness, with sorrow, with peace and tranquility but most of all; I recognize it as a place where I can undertake the journey of searching my soul and finding myself. This is Marine Drive to me.