Sunday, June 10, 2012

Mumbai: a Study in Names

The name Saki Naka, as we all know, does not have Japanese origins. It isn’t named after the inimitable Hector Hugh Munro, either. Instead, it literally means The Crossing of the Female Bartenders. Which is an outright lie, of course, despite the innumerable liquor shops and resto-bars around the place, including the iconic Chakra. The shops and bars, between them, have given birth to the famous phrase Spirit of Mumbai – a phrase overused by newspapers to describe the reason for Mumbaikars going to work during monsoon.

Of course, you should not believe anyone who tells you that the morning traffic from Saki Naka to Marol Naka is the slowest-moving entity in the world. It definitely moves faster than a snail, a giant tortoise, a three-toed sloth or a slug; the evening traffic from Marol Naka to Saki Naka is, however, unanimously ranked as number one, moving roughly at about four microns an hour, with the number of overtakes being slightly less than the number of expressions used by Fardeen Khan in his entire acting career.

***

Not all of the stretch from Andheri to Goregaon (has a name ever reflected apartheid in a stronger manner?) is terribly polluted. Between two of the most congested places on the third planet of the solar system there is actually a long green patch of land.

I was often under the impression that this zone was called RA Milk Colony, a place responsible for producing budding Mumbaikars with the calcium essential for concentrating hard on the stock market and paaws with an assortment of ingredients. I was wrong about the spelling, though. It was actually Arrey Milk Colony. In case you’re wondering what it means, one is actually supposed to exclaim in awestruck surprise – Arrey! Milk Colony!!

***

Bandra, of course, has two different versions – the very strong British Bandra (ব্যান্ড্রা/ब्यान्द्रा) and the very soft Indian Bandra (বান্দ্রা/बांद्रा). These can be distinguished very clearly in the Mumbai Suburban train announcements. The Marathi version is also the latter, but for whatever reason they prefer to write it as Bandre (বান্দ্রে/बांद्रे) on the dangling blue signboards.

Who says Mumbai cannot show affection, and is all about ruthlessness?

***

If you're in a city studded with aggressive names like Mankhurd, Bhandup, Kandivali, Ghatkopar and Khar (a place we all remember as the Sharma residence from Gol Maal), you often feel that you're at war: none of that soft, mushy stuff like Sovabazar, Vasant Kunj or Nandanam. Even the names announce their names to you in an unmistakable tone of arrogance.

And then, you come across a name called Seepz - possibly the coolest name for a place in the city. Yes, I know, it's actually SEEPZ (Santacruz Electronics Export Processing Zone), but isn't Seepz too cool a name for a place in a city of hostile-sounding name?

***

There's a Parel. And if you move west, you'd end up in, well, not West Parel, but Lower Parel. The Parels are possibly the only places in the world to retain the old practice of a caste system. There's a rumour that there used to be a Middle-Class Parel somewhere in between as well, but then, we all know that Mumbai really doesn't accommodate mediocrity.

If you move south, past Lower Parel, almost to the south-west corner of the city, you'd end up in a place called Mumbai Central. It currently holds the record for the most inappropriate name for a place located in one of the corners of a city (just for the information, West Bengal holds the equivalent record for any state on the eastern border). A friend had tried to convince me that it's basically the centre for Town (in Mumbaiya language, this is a single word meaning auto-rickshaws-not-allowed), a place between Bandra and Churchgate. But even then, this wonderful map suggests that it's hardly the case.

***

Despite all this, Thane definitely outdoes Mumbai in terms of exotic names. It all starts with Mumbra. Look at the map again: it's at the part that looks like a cleavage - which makes you realise how appropriately named the place is.

Of course, just behind Mumbra lies Diva. She had to.

And then, as we move ahead, on one of the bifurcations lies a place called Titwala. Brazen, blatant, suggestive, and very appropriate for a place just adjacent to another, called Khadawali. A tad too direct, that, but then, subtlety was never the forte of the city, was it?

***

And finally, the city, famous for its uninhibited spirit and ruthless speed, has a cultural capital as well. As the city decides to embrace the intellectual subtleties, this place has definitely emerged as the unsuspected path-breaker, or, in other words, the dark horse. It is, of course, called Kala Ghoda.

24 comments:

  1. Hahahahaha .... Loved it... Well as a born mumbaikar I should be ideally be abusing you... :) ... But for the way you wrote it .... Can't say anything other than... Keep writing... Waiting for more... Again hilarious piece of work...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Diptee. Of course I shall keep on writing. I don't have another alternative, actually. :)

      Delete
  2. Your blog post asks the reader to rate it as either "Ghyam" or "Baje bhat" (disregarding the third choice of "vague", which your delightful prose ain't).

    I want to call it "ghyam baje bhat"... You write excellently as is your wont, but sadly, I am all-too-conscious of your true feelings about this city to be able to accept your essay on its face value. With consummate skill, you hide your bitterness and dissatisfaction behind your playful and delectable prose, replete with backhanded compliments and equally backhanded - but subtle - denunciations, nonetheless a joy to read.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Nice. But then, "but then" appears in consecutive sentences.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Thank you for this enlightening piece.
    I'll leave the world more intelligent.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Teehee.You know,bride seeing in bambaiya language is called ' kaande pohi',named after the dish that's served when a potential groom comes to see a girl,he's served something made of onions and flattened rice or poha with kanda.talk about Weird etymology ,but the title could've been better,don't you think?
    I can't make out if this is a parody or an ode,since you've made mumbai a woman,but i'd like if you could personify some indian cities in terms of family tree,though your posts tells us you have not been out of kolkatta much.
    I REALLY wish you could give us more personal posts like the last one,more philosophical,like something on birth,death,marriage,loss,love and life.not discounting the fact that you have an eye for detail and find quirkiness even in the most ordinary of things,and maybe imbue mythological figures with your own emotions.
    Your posts are much more beautiful when you write with your heart than with your witty mind.

    Please dont publish this post.
    Love you
    keep expressing:)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I really cannot fathom why you post anonymously and yet want me not to publish your posts.

      Thank you for the nice words, and the helpful bits of advice. I shall keep them in mind.

      Delete
  6. Awe man Awe.Bori-wali loves you.This is hilarious.
    Thakrey,is coming to get you.(not the vanity fair one)

    ReplyDelete
  7. And Ferdeen Khan makes a Return!!

    Darun legechhe!! :-D

    ReplyDelete
  8. I bet even no Mumbaikar has ever thought the names could have these connotations to them

    ReplyDelete
  9. Nice read. :-).. To me, names like Parel, Powai, Kanjurmarg, Mulund always sound Gujju-- don't exactly know why...

    But enjoyed this piece of writing...

    ReplyDelete
  10. Have sent the link to some Mumbaikars :)... such as my classmate. Kichhu imagination, bhiDoo!

    ReplyDelete
  11. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sU4RcVdJ64o

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. A very in-depth analysis of my blog post, there. Top marks for relevance.

      Delete
  12. Nice. Looks like you missed Chinchpokli though!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That wasn't intentional. I didn't want to miss it. I just couldn't fit it anywhere. :(

      Delete
  13. http://pinterest.com/knagarjun/vintage-indian-advertising/

    ReplyDelete
  14. The most refreshing prose about Mumbai ever... Awesome choice of words... loved it!

    ReplyDelete
  15. Wonderful.What fertile imagination... and then Fardeen Khan.Awesome.

    ReplyDelete
  16. "Who says Mumbai cannot show affection, and is all about ruthlessness?"

    ... Really, who says so? :(

    Kala Ghoda film festival.. I bet you haven't been there! Else you couldn't be as ruthless!

    Despite all the times I had to give on to a smile while reading this, I feel deeply offended as an earnest Bombay lover. How can one, ever, not fall in love with Bombay! Are you sure you went to the right place? :'(

    ReplyDelete

Followers