It Takes a Neighbourhood

Colaba in Mumbai has so much going for it in terms of people and places — but sometimes it can get ugly.

Published: March 9, 2014 12:05:09 am
Hip and happening Business as usual at the Cafe Mondegar in Colaba Causeway. Hip and happening Business as usual at the Cafe Mondegar in Colaba Causeway.

Colaba in Mumbai has so much going for it in terms of people and places — but sometimes it can get ugly.

Nonita Kalra

I never tire of repeating how much I love Colaba. My love affair dates back to the first holiday I ever took in Mumbai and nothing has changed since. I have been inordinately lucky as well, and barring a few months, I have only ever lived in the area known as Colaba Post office. Located right at the end of the island, this is where Mumbai ends and the naval area begins. And most of the people who live here have been around for decades, so everyone knows everyone. If not by name, then certainly as a nodding acquaintance. This is most evident when I go for my walk at the gorgeously lush Bombay Port Trust gardens, another hidden gem in Mumbai. You start your day by wishing every single person in the garden, it is a lovely way to begin the day. With amiability and affection.

Our part of town has many such lovely characteristics. There are old churches. A wonderful florist. An art gallery. Seven beauty parlours (yup!). And the most pleasant alcohol delivery service. Whenever I am entertaining, I use their refrigerator to chill my beers. There is the iconic restaurant Sunshine with its amazing assortment of cutlets. And Saurabh, which serves the best masala dosa, according to Shantaram. Essentially what this means is that the people who live here have numerous opportunities to engage with each other. And engage we do. We give motorists right of way without the cacophony of honking, you allow elders to get ahead in the Sahakari Bhandar line and acknowledge each other’s right to a pleasant life. I have never seen a fight or raised voices in all my years. Which make me love Colaba a little more every day.

It also helps that I live in a gorgeous building. I have views of the sea from every room. But again, all that is enhanced because I have the nicest people living in the building. They are the ones I greet at the BPT gardens. Everyone is helpful. And we have a lovely cross-section of people. It’s the best example of secular India.

But all of this fades when you meet them in an elevator. Recently, I was attacked by a man because he didn’t like my dog. Or the fact that my maids were holding my well-behaved pet on a leash. He went ballistic. His rage was out of proportion. This is not the first time I have seen this peculiar savagery. And it got me thinking: Should I blame it on the drop in air pressure? Or the fact that people get claustrophobic in a tiny, enclosed space?

Perhaps, the lack of oxygen makes them crazy? Is there a genuine reason for this obnoxiousness or is it just pure rudeness? I would like to believe that this failure in etiquette stems from a specific illness. While the phobia had no real name, I came across the term “Otisphobia” recently and I would like to extend its meaning from the fear of elevators to include flipping out inside one.

However, try as I might, I cannot find any justification for what happens to the most refined people when it comes to annual general meetings for the building society. When I had just moved in, I enthusiastically attended every meeting and volunteered for everything. My bad. I opted out before I resorted to fisticuffs. And I am a huge pacifist. We are really lucky, our society has a large number of young people, who contribute their time and energy to make a difference. Alas, they are not allowed to move forward. Labels of corruption are tagged on to them. Legal cases are filed. Letters are also written to the Maharashtra government with a copy sent to the chief minister invariably to “highlight the wrongdoings”. And all this paranoia and aggression is then played out in meetings. Of course, it must be noted that the people who make the most noise are the people who are willing to do the least.

Our building is literally crumbling. Over a decade ago, we had a huge fire that left cracks on the walls. Because we face the sea, every monsoon these cracks deepen. Very soon, our building will collapse. And still that fear doesn’t galvanise dissenters to set aside their differences. Making a point, winning the argument is more important. And in the bargain, all semblance of civilisation is lost. I realise that we have such poor role models — it is no wonder that we think communication in a collective is all about scoring a point. If our elected representatives think nothing of using pepper spray and turning violent to state their displeasure, then, perhaps, freedom of speech in our country means something entirely different. Perhaps, it is a licence to behave badly.

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