Of ‘Deepak’, ‘Five Gardens’, Koolar and morning walks in Mumbai

“Deepak” building in Sion, Mumbai has been a constant, for the major part of my life – and at all phases of it that I was not a resident of the city, my home in Mumbai. And it was no different this time for a short 2 day official trip to the city.

On my first visit to Mumbai as a teenager, ‘Deepak’ was a  smart new 4 storey building, in a distant suburb, and a novelty for the kids from Mumbai who had seen little beyond the double storey flats of the sarakari colonies in Delhi. It was located on a katcha narrow lane off the main road (which itself was of 2 lanes) going north towards Chembur and then onto Pune. My Mama was proud of the new flat that he had bought there. Since my grandmother lived with my youngest Mama,this was the only ‘Nanihaal’ (maternal grandmother’s house) that we knew.

In the decade that we lived in Chandigarh, every trip home to Goa took us to Deepak – both on the way out and on the return. During the years that we lived in Mumbai, and did not have a TV, it was the venue for many-a-get- together to  watch the Wimbledon finals, major India cricket matches ….And after our move to Lucknow, we continued to transit through ‘Deepak’ on our LTC – supported visits home.  These visits became infrequent, after air travel crept into LTCs and our lives in general (my Naani and now my Mama have passed on). My Mami was and continues to be a warm and welcoming figure in my life.  And of course, her cooking has always been an added bonus.

It was no different on this short visit as I headed to the  familiar building directly from the airport. As in all other urban metros of this country, over these 5 decades it is now a run down building on a busy 6 lane road on which the traffic never seems to stop. The building itself is under scaffolding for a long overdue face lift. The same VGP shop occupies the ground floor and the same chowkidar continues to occupy the 6feet by 3 feet of space under the staircase – it has been his home ever since I can remember. The corridors, stairs etc. all look the same – it is an island frozen in time, in the chaos of change around it.

My banker cousin now lives with his mother and is keen on his  morning exercise like me.  And so on this trip I had company for my early morning walks. In this western part of the country, its dark till 7 am and the weather too was great – cool in the upper teens at that time of the morning. So, I got a Bullet ride to ‘Five Gardens’, a walking destination popular with people of Sion, Matunga, Dadar area.The name is literal, as 5 major roads cross here and a garden has been carved out of the spaces between – it is a famous landmark of the area and has the VGTI and Vaccha Wadia school close by. It has always been a favorite location for walkers and joggers – in our Bombay days, one of our friends used to jog there after dropping off his daughter and Mukta to their dance class near by. But those were not my walking days…..

As I walked around the perimeter, which would be about 1km, I watched my fellow walkers. They were  of every age and in a wide variety of dress – the men and women in their branded track ware, women in sarees, salwar-kameez, half and full hijab, men in dhoti and pyjamas, walking as couples and in groups.  And with my ears open, I could pick up  Marathi, Gujarati, Sindhi, Hindi conversations – English was occasional. There were also joggers, the more serious walkers doing it alone, occasional cyclists. And in the parks, there was a variety of activities, a large group doing yoga, another doing group exercise, and young men in the outdoor gym, besides the people stretching and exercising on their own. All in all, a refreshing reminder that middle class India in turning towards a healthier life style.

The bonus for the brisk hour of walking each morning was the breakfast treat from my cousin – one morning the traditional idli,  vada, chutney, sambar at Mani’s in Matunga and the other pav-maska and bhurji-pav at Kooler at King’s Circle. This is an iconic location as it is one of the few original ‘Irani hotels’ which used to be landmarks in the Bombay of old. This particular one has had some recent claim to fame –  it is where Nimrat Kaur waits to meet Irfaan in ‘The Lunch Box’. Both mornings were exhilarating for the weather, exercise, company and food – laced with plenty of nostalgia.

A quiet street around 'Five Gardens' at 6.30 am
A quiet street around ‘Five Gardens’ at 6.30 am
Yoga - in groups and alone
Yoga – in groups and alone
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The men using the outdoor gym
Inside Deepak
Inside Deepak
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Janaki Mami

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