A city isn’t so unlike a person. They both have the marks to show they have many stories to tell.”
-Rasmenia Massoud; Broken Abroad
If you happened to be a sleepy child in the back seat of your parent’s car in the Sixties, being driven home to Juhu at night after a long day in ‘town’, chances are, you would not have to open your eyes to know where you’d reached at any part of the journey.
After all, navigating Mumbai’s north-south trajectory was an olfactory skill acquired by many children at that time. Through closed eyes, you would pick up the peculiar gas balloon-like effluvium that assailed your nostrils while passing through Prabhadevi; Bandra would announce itself with a tangy bouquet of Bombay duck left out to dry along its shoreline; and at the stretch connecting Linking Road to Juhu, after the car had turned left, the air would be redolent with the fetid whiff of illicit alcohol, brewing in the marshlands that flanked both sides of the road. But it was only when you crossed Juhu Tara and you breathed in the untamed, squally-salty tang of the open sea that you’d know you were on the homestretch and it would be only five minutes before strong, loving arms would carry you to your warm and waiting bed.
Juhu, once an island — a long, narrow sand bar just off the west coast of Salsette, accessed during low tides by walking across the tidal inlet; presented along with Bombay as part of a Portuguese princess’ dowry; the early home of toddy tappers, salt traders and sundry cultivators; the proposed site of Jamsetji Tata’s most ambitious plans for an Eastern Venice, the iconic aerodrome to which his descendant JRD Tata would later fly after his maiden flight from Karachi; the refuge of Mahatma Gandhi during the high point of the Freedom struggle. Juhu, inhabited by fisher folk and film stars, royalty and rough necks, writers and airline crew, would be your habitat and homing ground, your realm and universe for the first 17 years of your life.
“Cities, like dreams, are made of desires and fears,” wrote Italo Calvino in his meticulously-charted Invisible Cities, in which he examined the warp and weft of the places we live in and the intersections between the personal and the public.
Indeed, the places we inhabit have geography and can be located by GPS, but to locate their culpability in who we ultimately become, often takes a lifetime.
For some of us, who did our growing up in Juhu, its every stone and cranny, crack and crevice, holds meaning and memory.
For instance, would you believe that this unprepossessing upmarket mansion was once the thatched cottage repository of all that was bright and beautiful in someone’s life? Home to a high-spirited clan, said to be too gifted for its own good, it proved to be a child’s first lesson in the merciless slings and arrows of fate that assail the guileless and open-hearted.
And look, it was beneath this ancient tree that a star-crossed couple had made its first pledges of ardour, confident that their love would surmount all challenges; it was that unassuming thoroughfare, running parallel to the beach, through which regularly passed fulsome funeral corteges, the men be-hatted and the women forbidding behind veils, to the accompaniment of a brass band, on their grim passage to St Joseph’s Church at the end of the road.
And at least three times a week, from this low-rent, seen-better-days structure, would emerge an out tune, My Bonny Lies over the Ocean, the midnight culmination of a jolly brood’s evening of a rum and sorpotel-soaked repast ; it was from an apartment in that tower that the first cries of anguish were heard from the family of an airline crew member when the news of the ill-fated Air India Flight 101 in 1966 first reached; this humble stairwell had sheltered four families of frightened neighbours during the earthquake of 1967; it was into that deep and narrow well that an angry father had threatened to throw himself, when his headstrong daughter had refused to get married, on the eve of her wedding; and this neglected sea side cottage had served as the rendezvous for the ageing, reclusive cinema heartthrob, when she had conducted her lyrical affair with her much younger co-star.
News Source: Hindustan Times