I am not a very religious person. I do not remember when was the last time I visited a temple, or sat through a religious ceremony. I will not call myself an atheist though. I just do not like to bother Him, unless it is really important.
Anyway, there are two religious landmarks in the country that I have a weakness for.
One is the Golden Temple in Amritsar and the other is the Haji Ali Dargah in Mumbai. I love these two places because of their grandeur and elegance.
While Golden Temple has this power to overwhelm you at the first glance, the beauty of Haji Ali Dargah lies in its simplicity. Located on a small islet, this beautiful dargah has an interesting story to tell.
The legend goes something like this. There was this Persian merchant named Sayyed Peer Haji Ali Shah Bukhari, who gave up all his possessions to become a saint. He travelled all around the world before finally settling in Mumbai.
One day he saw a poor woman crying on the road with an empty vessel in her hand. She had accidently spilled all the oil and was afraid that her husband will be angry. Seeing her helplessness, the saint jabbed one of his fingers in the soil and the oil started spilling out. Happily, the woman filled her vessel and went home.
But then the saint started getting these dreams that this act of his had injured the Mother Earth. So, one day he gathered up all his followers and told them after his death, he would want them to cast the coffin carrying his body into the Arabian Sea.
While on a pilgrimage to Mecca, the saint died and miraculously his coffin floated back to these shores, where his followers decided to make this beautiful dargah.
“What is this sea called?” A lady asked me, while I stood on the big rocks near the dargah, taking pictures of the surroundings.
“I have no idea” I replied, shamefully. As soon as I was done taking pictures, I googled it on my phone and learned about this amazing story.
I entered the dargah following the narrow path with the calm waters of Arabian Sea on both sides. There were shops selling flowers, cloths and various types of offerings. There were beggars sitting in rows on each side of the narrow path, waiting for the visitors to donate a few Rupees.
This was not my first trip to the dargah and upon entering, I realised that the dargah had changed quite a bit since the last time I was here. New halls were being constructed on one side to accommodate more people inside the dargah during the time of prayers.
Soothing Sufi music was being played from inside the main tomb where people wearing white kurtas sat around, clapping in rhythm. I sat on one of the marble seats, to listen to the music and watch the Mumbai skyline in the distance.
I remember thinking “This is a great start to the day!”
Near the dargah is another famous religious landmark. The Mahalaxmi Temple. I took off my boots, climbed the stairs, stood in line, and stroked the temple bell extra hard.
So hard, in fact, that the person standing behind me with a big bouquet of offerings went “Ohoo!”.
It was a Sunday, so the temple was quite crowded and after about half an hour of standing in line, we finally reached the threshold of the God. I remember standing there for about two seconds, folded hands and closed eyes, before one of the guards pushed me to the side, saying“aagey badte raho”.
I gave him a piece of my mind.
“Who gave you the right to stand here and push people around?”
I think I called him a donkey, in front of the God. That was not cool.
But he started it!
I was really upset that I spent half an hour patiently waiting for my turn and then didn’t even get the chance to tell God that I really needed the new iPhone.
Frustrated and heartbroken, I came out of the temple wondering where to go next.
I realised that God was my travel planner for the day when I saw a red bus stop nearby. It was completely empty, and it was going to Juhu Beach.
The only thing I remember about Juhu beach from my past trips was that it was extremely dirty. Today, even though it is not sparklingly clean, things have changed for the better. The beach seemed to be a lot cleaner and there were people around who were disposing off any waste material left on the shores.
I decided to have my lunch at the Juhu Chowpatty. I ordered a Pav Bhaaji, which tasted nothing like the Pav Bhajis I used to have in Delhi. It was better.
For dessert, I decided to try the famous Kala Khatta Chuski.
I sat around on the beach for a while, looking at the waves come and go. I love the sound of the waves. I can listen to them all day. The cool sea breezes protected me from the harsh Sun. Kids were running in and jumping in the water, while their parents enjoyed chaat.
I remember on my first job interview, one of the panellists had asked me;
“What is the one thing about Delhi that you don’t like?”
“Delhi doesn’t have a beach.” I had replied.
They laughed, while I quietly mumbled “I like beaches.”
If the panellists were here today, they would have understood what I meant.
Couple of hours later, I decided to take a taxi to the Prince of Wales Museum. My taxi driver turned out to be quite a character. As soon as he got to know that I was new to the city, he decided to give me a brief tour.
Every now and then, he would say something like;
“You see that road? If you follow that you will reach the Hanging Gardens. Beautiful place. Great view of Mumbai”
At first it was nice. Then things got hilarious.
He pointed to a big building.
“That’s where Dhirubhai Ambani lives.”
“I thought he was dead.”
“No Sir. He is old now. Very sick too. He takes a helicopter from his terrace to all his business meetings these days. Nice man.” He said nodding his head confidently.
Another time, he pointed to a hospital and said;
“You see that hospital, that’s where Amitabh Bachchan comes whenever he is unwell.”
“Oh.. I only heard about Leelawati Hospital.”
“Yes, yes… he goes there when things get serious. But for cough, cold, indigestion, he comes here.”
Prince of Wales Museum has been renamed as Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya about ten years ago, but it never really caught on. The museum is still famous as the Prince of Wales Museum. It is a beautiful place to be. Seeing the colonial style building, the sprawling lawns and the iconic statue of the Prince are reasons enough to visit. But there is so much more waiting to be discovered in the beautiful halls of the museum.
From the history of Mumbai to European paintings, from Indian mythology to the beginnings of the human race, this museum seemed to have all the answers. I rented an audio guide and checked out all that the museum had to offer. It was great. Definitely one of the best museums I have been to.
That evening, sitting in the back seat of a taxi, going off towards Victoria Terminus to catch my train back home, I thought about all the places that I had visited in the city since I moved here, and all the places that were just waiting to be explored. I thought about the crowded local trains, the sea, the old buildings, the temples, the dargahs and the people. Mumbai had exceeded all my expectations.
I realised that I was falling deeply in love with this city.