Close to two years ago, I visited my home at South Mumbai with two of my very close friends from college to stay over for the night. Eventually, we decided to rent bicycles and ride to Marine Drive early morning. The last time I did that was in the last year of my school, when we used to rent a dozen cycles and ride on the empty lane closest to the footpath. When the notorious guys would take their cycles so close to those of the girls that they would finally freak out and scream. We would see Mercs and BMWs passing by us, the engines making a sweet sound. I would smile and think to myself about the day I’ll own one. That morning was no different.
The three of us were riding parallel to each other cutting the cool breeze. We raced each other as we closed to the end from the Air India building to NCPA. We parked our cycles at Nariman Point and I stared at the blue sky which looked beautiful with a hint of saffron given to it by the sun that had just risen. I was lucky enough to have my earphones in my pocket. I untangled them and plugged them in my ears. Lazarus by Porcupine Tree. The song of all seasons. While it was playing, I closed my eyes. The magic of the keyboard and the double pedalled drum set worked again. I let my mind take myself to the past. Different times, different people, this very place. Each face flashing in front of my eyes. As the song finished, I said “People change, places don’t!” I still can’t figure out why I said that. Both of them were startled by what I said and why I said it.
It was that day and yesterday. I visited marine drive again. This time with two girls from college. Both juniors. We took a train to Churchgate and started walking towards marine drive. Right outside Eros Cinema, I spotted two girls from my school who were good friends back then. It must’ve been well over a year since I last spoke to them. A skinny, fair, bearded guy accompanied them. I did not know him. Not to forget, I had a history with one of those girls. There was a smile on my face seeing them. They did not see me. I wanted to go say hi to both of them. But something stopped me. It had all come back. All the bad stuff. All the mistakes. It was during school. I had said something I should not have. I can say I was immature back then. We fought. She got upset. Followed by a period when we did not talk. She was the bigger person to forgive me and be amicable. All this during a period of four long years. I guess it was nothing more than wishing each other on our birthdays and some other day during the year. I could easily count the number of times we spoke to each other during the year on my fingers. I hesitated to walk to them. I did not go. My first step towards letting go. Finally after five years.
We ate a little as we were walking. Both the girls were chatty. I was in my own world
All those mornings on marine drive. The street actor who aspired to be on the big screen but never asked for money after his acts. He only expected genuine appraisal for his performance. Accidentally meeting teachers and relatives who would be there for a jog or a stroll. The old men in the laughter clubs. Cricket matches in the gymkhanas. How the place was our favourite spot for Friendship Day. And how those couples made love facing the vast ocean. For them, their love went past the horizon, ignorant of the people and the world around them.
Yesterday’s marine drive was different than the one I knew five years back. Having said that, the vibe that I have got from the place was the same since the first time I visited it. Sunday pulls a tenth of the city’s population in the entire day to Marine Drive. Cars plying the three lanes on each side. Thousands of people sitting on the sea facing promenade and making talk. It stretches all the way from the Girgaum Chowpatty to Nariman Point. A Queen’s necklace but made of marble that does not have its own sheen. People dangling their feet. The randomly arranged pile of quadrapods is all that is between the vast ocean and them. Laughter here. Intense talk there. Amateur and professional photgraphers with their DSLR cameras and the huge lenses. The sound of salesmen selling salted peanuts, tea and coffee, roasted corn on the cob, cigarettes. One thing that struck me as I was walking towards Nariman Point was that I saw no couples making love at all. Made me think about two possibilities. Either couples have become increasingly conscious of the people around, which was never the case before, or it could be the police. Moral Police. As the sun started its course downwards to hide below the horizon, we took a break to capture panorama shots of the beautiful surroundings.
After that day, when I cycled with my two friends to Nariman Point, it was the first time yesterday that I actually went to the end. It made me think how I came every other Sunday with my parents. Or how I would find time with the school girl I saw outside Eros. The promenade holds a billion secrets of the million people who visit it. It holds memories of marriage proposals, break ups, friendship bands, the post farewell outings. But the marble is strong. It does not break even after all this burden of all the calories the joggers lose there. Today I was with my college friends. In the years to come, I might visit the place in my car that I thought about when I was a school boy. I know the place will still hold the importance it always did. It will take care of those millions of people who visit.
People change. Places don’t.