Gudi Padwa in Dombivali – The Grand Carnival Of Mumbai called Shobha Yatra

Everything in Mumbai is ‘Maha’ (grand) in size and stature. Be it the buildings, the vast expanse of sea, the industries, the heart of its citizens or the way they live their ‘larger than life’ despite the several personal and professional demons they struggle with everyday.

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Ain’t less than a carnival!

Mumbaikars never skip an opportunity to celebrate their life extraordinarily. And most of Mumbai’s celebrations spill on its roads and streets! Yes, Mumbai knows how to celebrate life on roads! Apart from Dahi Handi and Ganeshotsav, one major festival which is close to every Mumbaikar’s heart is Gudi Padwa. Gudi Padwa marks the beginning of the new year as per the Hindu calendar co-inciding with the harvesting season. The first day of the Chaitra month of Hindu calender is celebrated as new year amongst the Maharashtrian community.

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Sweat it out!

A Gudi is hung aloft in homes, shops, temples etc to mark the festival. A Gudi is

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Gudi

enthusiastically made by family members. A long bamboo stick is washed, dried
and its one end is covered with brightly colored and neatly tied zari Saris. Neem leaves, mango leaves, sugar crystals (gaathi) and Marigold flower garlands are also tied alongwith it. The top of the tied sari is covered with an inverted copper vessel called ‘lota’. The gudi is hung high to announce the universal theme of triumph of good over evil. It is also supposed to bring in good luck and prosperity. The preparations of the festival starts a day or two earlier with spring cleaning of the house. On the day of the festival, very early in the morning, the women and children of the house make ornate and colorful ‘Rangolis’ on the ground! However, the Rangoli is removed late evening on the same day.

 

People scrub themselves clean early morning, women smell of gajra (a fragrant flower garland tied on hair!) and wear new traditional clothes on this day. Men wear white ‘Dhoti’ and brightly colored (mostly saffron) ‘kurta’. The look is completed with saffron colored ‘pheta’ aka ‘patka’, the traditional Maharashtrian turban. While the women adorn themselves in brightly colored traditional 9 yard saaree and a short sleeved blouse. It’s complimented with flowers and jewelries especially the traditional ‘Kolhapuri Saaz’. A small pooja (ritual) is performed after launching the gudi.

Now its time for the dieters to let loose and allow themselves to give in to the gastronomic indulgence, mostly sweet dishes. Strangely, the first thing the family member eat on this auspicious day is an odd bittersweet mixture of coarsely ground bitter Neem leaves, ‘gud’ (jaggery), and dhana (coriander powder). The highly medicinal properties of Neem strengthens the immune system and purifies the body while the sweet jaggery offsets the bitter taste of Neem. A wide range of sweets such as Shrikhand, Poori , Sanna, Basundi, Kheer, Jalebi, and most importantly Pooran Poli ( A kind of sweet lentil paratha) is cooked at home.

Once the celebrations at home wraps up, the festive fervor spills with full vigor on the narrow streets and roads of Mumbai. The ever busy and infamous traffic of Mumbai comes at an abrupt halt as the city witnesses multiple ‘jhaanki’/ ‘Rath Yatras’ / parades in different localities of Mumbai. However, the parade in Dombivali steals the show with its grandeur, pomp and show. It attracts the maximum audiences, photographers, media, politicians , the usual suspects! And for good reason!

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Dombivali based Ganesh Mandir Sansthan’s Nav Varsha Swagat Shobha Yatra Sanyojak organises the annual procession better known as Shobha Yatra every year. Contrary to the popular belief, the tradition of taking a Shobha Yatra , much carnival like, is a recent phenomenon. It was started in the late 1990s and has inspired similar procession not only in Mumbai but all of Maharashtra. The tradition is not only entertaining but also displays the cultural and religious richness of Maharashtra in its full glory. And in the process it unites the citizens by instilling in them a sense of belongingness, cultural and ethnic unity and brotherhood. The bonhomie, goodwill, geniality and camaraderie amongst complete strangers here is to be seen to be believed.

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You can expect to see myriad themes and performances in the parade. At one moment you will be treated with a power packed and well synchronized dhol performance then at other you will be amused to see dogs dressed up as dolls and sitting pretty on moving motorbikes. And then the next minute you go ‘wow’ when kids as young as 10 years old flex their agile bodies and perform ‘Mallakhambh’ as if it was actually a ‘child play’. Lavani perfomances are also big attraction and so are the participants dressed up as mythological characters on horse driven ‘raths’ (chariots). Maharashtrian celebrities also throng the parade and add more glamour to the festive milieu.

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Volunteers are appointed every few meters to offer free water and ‘sherbets’ (Refreshing sweet drink) to not only the performers but also the audiences.

Where else you can have so much fun and not spend a single rupee? Only in Mumbai!

(Oh come on, you can afford that local train ticket!)

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Lavani – Maharashtra’s folk dance

P. S. I was accompanied by my good Maharashtrian friends and colleagues, who were also the volunteers in the processions. Ankita Gawade, Manjiri Joshi (She is a fab Tabla Player) and Sameer Naik enriched my experience by giving me the local’s perspective. This blog is based on conversations with them. I thank them for inviting me to see the festival in all its glory. If you want to see the processions live, Dombivali carnival I have been told are the best. I went in April, 2013. More pictures here :

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Me and Maharashtrian actress Mrinal Kulkarni

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Have You Ever Experienced The 4 a.m. Mumbai? It Is My Favourite Mumbai

THE SINISTER PLAN:

When I lived in Mumbai for 7 years, I often did this. There were Saturday and Friday nights when I used to be sleepless and restless. So it was 4/11/2012, a Saturday, 3:15 a.m. and I was watching my favourite scenes and songs from the ‘soul’ film of my life: INTO THE WILD for the Nth time. Every time I see this film after 12 am, I am unable to sleep. Thanks to the semi autobiographical theme of this film, it does something to my brain, makes me think, brood, reflect, cry and smile. (More on that, in a later blog)

And then there is this huge ‘soul window’ in my flat from where I can see local trains pass by. I know that in half an hour the 1st Vashi to CST aka VT bound train will start at 4 a.m. Impulsively, I decide that I have to take this train and spend some ME time at the God’s hour.

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Fisherwomen waiting for cab at VT. Yes, it’s Rush Hour at Dawn!

In a jiffy, I got down, took the 5 minutes walk to Vashi station, punched my ticket coupons and waited for the train. There were 2 more men seated on the ghostly and deserted platform, one of them playing my favourite soulful songs Faya Kun and Nadan Parinde from Rockstar. More food for my soul! (I can’t help but chew on the thought that the protagonist of Into The Wild and Rockstar are so similar in their spirit and bad ass attitude) The mood for introspection is set!

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THE RIDE:

It was a 45 minute ride and I was happy to see an empty train. That meant I could stand at the door and let the early morning cool breeze caress me.10 minutes into the ride, and people started filling up the train.

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Lesson learnt: There is no such thing as an empty Mumbai local train 4 a.m. or 4 p.m.!

But I fiercely latched onto the middle rod of the door like a novice striptease dancer. The commuters were mainly the fish vendors on their way to Bhaucha Dhakka, Dockyard Road and the ubiquitous pao (Mumbai bread) vendors and flower sellers. The contrasting smell of fresh flowers and decaying fish combined to emanate a funny sick sweet smell. Then soon a bunch of young punters (aka tapori) broke the silence as they hopped on to the train. No prizes for guessing what happened next: I got to see the famous Mumbai local stunts (which claim many lives every year) by the self styled and trained teenagers. The jaw dropping bonus: One of the performers was a burqa (Islamic veiled dress) clad teenaged girl. It happens only in Mumbai! Enveloped in the soul stirring melodies of In To The Wild (Eddie Vedder, I can’t thank you enough for these songs!), and intoxicated by the sweet November feeling, my soul is transported to some other world!!!!!

 

VT (Victoria Terminus) aka CST STATION (Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus):

Soon I am at VT station, I get out and behold the sight of the iconic BMC building (Big hug, British folks!!) All lit up, it looked great in early morning. Bang opposite it, fish vendor toting huge empty cane baskets were struggling for a seat in taxi. It’s 5 a.m. and its serious business time. Lighting up a cigarette (Of course, its injurious to health), I ordered a tea and bun – maska (bread-butter). Simple yet tasty!

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Me at VT (Pic : Jeetendra Sharma)

Satiated, I move on to find myself intrigued by the frenzied activity of newspaper vendors. There were scores of them arranging newspapers (and inserting those irritating advertising brochures) on the supposedly busy VT to Kala Ghoda road. I had to take out my camera to capture this rare moment. Click click click, I went. Next stop in my ‘pilgrimage’: The Flora fountain. My dad is obsessed with this fountain (and to think, he last saw it in the 1970s) and thanks to the genetic disorder, the tradition to obsess about this remarkable piece of public art has passed on to me! I take the ‘darshan’ and move on. By the way the ‘Amar Jyoti’ (Eternal light) is still going strong! (There is this small ‘mashal’ aka firelight which is lighted 24 * 7, 365 days, come what may, be it rain, storms, or even Kasab – (the 26/11 terrorist!)

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Me salivating over Bun Maska (Pic : Jeetendra Sharma)

Churchgate

Then as I move towards Churchgate station, 4-5 bikers whizzed off past me in a jiffy at a mind boggling speed. The need for speed and empty Mumbai roads : perfect combination. All I could manage was a ‘chaunk gaye’ (surprised) expression. They were probably coming from their biking session at Marine Drive.

On the way to Churchgate, I see people sleeping on pavement sans a care in the world. But what struck me the most was that most were sleeping with a dog as if they were the part of their family. I even saw one guy hugging the dog as they slept in eternal bliss. The bonhomie and bond shared by them was very palpable.

Pic above : We saw some turkeys on road, In Local Train , Tea at 5 a.m.

As I reached Churchgate, I indulged in the second round of cigarette (Yes, you are right…..I am wrong!), bun-maska and tea. Interestingly, I could see I was not the only eccentric chap there. There were also many ‘advertising types’ brats who hung around.(Read : the standard wild Afro hair, a goatee, a Bermuda, sandals and black tee with whacky prints and voila the advertising wala look is done) They parked their super expensive sports cars and bikes and high maintenance girl friends and indulged in this humble ‘eating out’. Anything for the love of 5 a.m. Mumbai!

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Churchgate

As I savoured the ‘Ambrosia’, I was interrupted by another divine intervention. All the walking and eating built up the pressure on me and I had to defecate ASAP. Thankfully, the God sent Sulabh Shauchalaya (Public toilet chain of India) was nearby. So, I sat pretty as a king on the HOT SEAT and admired the erotic art and literature on the jarred wooden door (both hetero and homosexual in nature, ugh!) Thanks to the free XXX action on the door and walls, as I began fantasising about ‘things’ and possibilities, I was soon shaken from my fantasy world. As soon as I entered the loo, within 2 minutes a rude knock on the door was accompanied by a crass, “Ae nikal re, kya ander hi baitha rahega?’ (Aye, get out, will you keep sitting there all day?) I wound up my performance in a jiffy, exited, but not before giving an intimidating eyeful to the ‘Yeller’.

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Me at Marine Drive (Pic : Jeetendra Sharma)

Marine Drive

The next stop was Marine Drive. Though at 5:30 a.m. you don’t have to fight for a seat on the promenade but it was still surprisingly buzzing with activities of different kind. There were joggers, time-passers, ‘life-livers’, Yoga lovers, dog walkers, road sweepers, the works! Most of them were rich SoBo (South Bombay)/Colaba gentry. Then there were a bunch of oldies whiling away their time; the overtly LGBT group busy in their own little happy world; the girl who looked like a prostitute; the traveller who was perhaps passing his time, before he can board his long distance train from VT; the foreign couple, perhaps from the adjoining Oberoi hotel.

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Me at Marine Drive (Pic : Jeetendra Sharma)

The great leveller this egalitarian megacity is, it’s the only city I know where people share a common platform , regardless of their class, caste, color, income group, sexuality, gender, region, religion, ideologies whatever. I soaked in the seductive ambience and perched on the promenade, sipping tea and observing. (Yes, you have those cycle tea sellers at 5 a.m. in Marine Drive! Now squeal like a teenaged girl and say yippee!)  Soon, the streets light went pfft and the whole area was illuminated with soft early morning Sun. I have seen many sunsets here, it was one of those rare sun rises I have ever seen in my life.

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Churchgate

I soon received a scandalised SMS from my room mate. “Dude, where are you?’ he asks. I couldn’t help but smile. He was worried to not find me at home so early in the morning. Soon I received another SMS from an office friend Sagar Surve asking me to join him on the Walkathon (Walking marathon) in Bandra. I still had one venue left to complete my pilgrimage circuit; i.e. Bhaucha Dhakka. I was in 2 mind, as I had not slept in 24 hours. But soon, I put aside ‘Will I be able to pull off the 5 kms walk after remaining awake for 24 hours’ with a sporting, ‘Lets do it. Lets push the limits and test my stamina.’

BHAUCHA DHAKKA :

I still had time left, so I rushed to VT to take a local to Dockyard Road station for Bhaucha Dhakka. Come here at 6 a.m. and you will see thousands and lakhs of fishes of all kinds and sizes lying on the roadside.

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The smell will wear on you. The place lived upto the term ‘fish market’ There was chaos, bad ass behaviour, petty fights, screams and mixed human noises. (If only the dead fish could make noise to appeal for mercy!) And then a hand cart puller rudely admonished me while I was standing in the middle of the super busy road, admiring a huge and gorgeous sting ray with a child like curiosity, mouth agape. “Ae Lambu, hat re…”,

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Ae Lambu, Hat Re….”

(Hey tall man, get off my way) he screamed. I move on to discover more secrets of the sea. Alive Crabs, Bombay ducks, pomfrets, prawns etc filled every empty space.

By this time, I had managed to click some good pictures, but soon a Mr. ‘I Own Bhaucha Dhakka’ (and maybe even Bombay) accosted me aggressively: Photography not allowed here. When I asked why, I was subjected to 100 year old history of India.

 

The Britishers made this rule! Blah blah (Sad, we are still following the archaic laws!) Wake up Sire, Raj is over. After ensuring that I deleted all the pictures, the man voluntarily escorted me to the taxi stand so that I do not return back. (The pictures in the blog is from a different visit)

 

 Pic Above – Bhauchcha Dhakka

WALKATHON AT BKC, BANDRA:

I moved on to Bandra Kurla Complex for the Walkathon. After ogling at all the celebrities, especially my personal favourite, Anurag Kashyap, (Other celebs were : Kunal Kapoor , Gowatrikar sisters, Jacky Bhagnani (yawn!), I began the litmus test. I finished a 5 kms walkathon on 4-11-2012 in 45 minutes. Not a big deal, but a somewhat big deal when I have not slept for a single minute in past 24 hours and took the 4 am VT bound train, roamed like a vagabond at 5 am in the streets of Mumbai and then took this last minute impulsive decision to take the walk. Thanks to my friend for putting a pistol on my head and forcing me to take the walk. The perks: free snickers and crackers and water bottles and safety pins (Ugh).

Pic above  – Pic 1 – Kunal Kapoor, Anurag Kashyap, Rajat Barmecha , Pic 2 – Me after finishing Walkathon, Pic 3 – Me with Aditi Gowatrikar

Pics above : Tired me (Shot by Nishant Bajpai)

I returned home at 11 a.m. As soon as I hit bed at my bachelors’ pad, my roomie says, “Lets go to the new James Bond movie, Skyfall, I blabbered in my half sleep, “Dude, I am too tired. I ain’t a James Bond! Ever seen me with a martini? Put the light off, sell my tickets, and see the movie alone”

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Important Points If You Want To Do It Too :

 My 4 a.m. Mumbai darshan got so famous and envied that later many of my friends nagged me to take them along. The pictures here are from many of my early morning walks in So Bo. Here are some tips for you :

  • I won’t recommend this pilgrimage to solo women.
  • Even men should be aware of their surroundings. There have been some cases of chain and cellphone snatching early morning.
  • Don’t flash expensive gadgets and jewelleries.
  • The fish smell from Bhaucha Dhakka just grows on you. It might take a day or more to get the smell out of your nose and clothes. Yes, even after a bath.
  • Eat Pao Bhaji at the Churchgate station main gate. It is very unlike the regular Mumbai pao bhaji.
  • There might be some drunkards or lunatics around. Beware.
  • Carry paper soaps, you know why!
  • Walk, don’t take a cab.
  • Best months to do it- November to February, even monsoon if you can brave the Mumbai rains.
  • I enjoyed doing it solo and also with friends. If you are a girl and you want to do it. Do it like we did. We went in a group of male and females.

Other fun places you can do this in Mumbai:

  • Dadar Chowpatty
  • Bandstand, Bandra

I wrote this post in 2012 but sharing today for the first time with all of you. As I sit and edit (I was a horrible writer in 2012), the piece in Delhi , I get deeply nostalgic about Mumbai and want to catch the first train to the maximum city. I have never felt so deeply for any city (and I have lived in 7 cities). I shifted permanently from Mumbai to Delhi in Nov, 2015 but my heart still lies in Mumbai. 

 

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