Mumbai Aura

I remember an ad from the ‘Black Book’, the one that used to be the reference for all advertising agencies in the 80s and 90s before the internet made all stock searches a lot easier. A photographer had a shot of the Grand Canyon bathed in natural early morning and late evening light. The headline said – ‘I use such old equipment, it works only twice a day’ or words to that effect. Somehow, that line sprang to mind flying into Mumbai yesterday morning.

It was a little after seven and the plane was coasting in to land. I glanced out of the window and it was as if the city of gold was lit up by an advertising photographer. All the searing, tumultuous urgency was masked in the glow. Warm yellow light washed over every single building and the lattice of roads, running like veins through the length and breadth of the city, making them come alive in a dreamlike state. The high rises lumped together had shafts that played out in geometric patterns, with bright shadows racing for the ground. Even the slums of Dharavi, perched precariously on the edge of the hills and covered in a thick film of dust and grime, looked like a page out of a fairytale. A few minutes later, I knew that the view would be completely different. Realty would intrude and bring the actual hues into stark prominence. The eyes could be momentarily deceived but the nose would not be. But for a few glorious seconds, the city of dreams lived up to its promise.

Another time Mumbai was just as breathtaking was a night memory. Again, it was an aerial view. The aircraft had taken off and after heading deep into the sea, banking to fly south. And the whole city, lit by millions of lights was awesome to behold. The Marine Drive may have been christened the ‘Queen’s Necklace’ but this necklace of lights stretched as long as the coastline on all sides. lighting up the whole city, the buildings, the slums, the swimming pools and the arterial roads and crevices. The map of Mumbai, said to have risen out of the integration of seven fishing villages was laid open in expanded detail – coming right out of the geography books and into majestic view. Millions of points of light played out on the panorama. Then, I noticed that there was a huge concentration of light at a central point. The finals of the 2010 IPL were on at the DY Patil stadium and it was packed. I must have got about 10 seconds of the match from a 20000 ft vantage point, but it is burned into memory. The green patch in the middle, the spectators looking like pinheads from that height and the massive floodlights looking like little matchsticks. As the plane pulled away, I strained to hold on to that view for as along as I could.

On the ground, however, the aura vanishes. I suspect if you were to come across an angel in close up, the illusion would not be sustained. But it’s good to catch glimpses of that brilliance, fleeting though it may have seemed from an aircraft window.