Monday, February 01, 2016

China to Hutatma Chowk

The Hindi film ‘Chandni Chowk to China’ was a disaster at the box office but our real-life epic ‘China to Hutatma Chowk’ proved a runaway hit. The challenge was to conduct an offbeat tour of Mumbai for the benefit of a Chinese gentleman on a business-cum-leisure trip to India, with his family of wife, daughter aged three, uncle & aunt (both in their fifties) and a niece (probably in her twenties).

Apart from staple landmarks like Gateway of India and Queen’s necklace, the Mumbai tour covered a brisk primer on the city’s Gothic architecture, history and legend of monuments and unique cultural aspects – from the distinctive features of the erstwhile VT station to the architectural wonder called the NCPA, from the historic significance of Flora Fountain to the incredible story of Mumbai's geographical formation.

The Chinese guests absolutely fell in love with the Fort and Colaba areas and wished to know minute details of structures like Esplanade Mansion, Parsi Temple, BSE building, Taj Mahal Hotel, Town Hall, GPO, CTO and Backbay reclamation among others. They relished the rich collection of artifacts at the Bhau Daji Lad Museum in Byculla and spent two good hours studying the neatly arranged items on display spanning two floors. Even uncle and aunty were keen on knowing the trivia of each piece, belying age and braving the sultry weather.

Of course, the young niece was in her own world, understandably so, scanning and surfing Mumbai on her iPhone, nevertheless mindful of each tour stopover. The building that brought a broad smile on her face was not any legacy monument, but the mansion of a gentleman called Mukesh Dhirubhai Ambani. She knew everything about him - companies in his stable, the architecture of 'Antilia', his Forbes ranking and exact USD count ($21.60 billion is it?) Some legends surely travel faster than light. Needless to say, we felt immensely proud. Ambanis are an indisputably integral part of the Mumbai folklore and we were thrilled to note the instant Chinese acknowledgment of the fact.

The family's keen interest in knowing minute details of Mumbai’s history is worthy of adulation and emulation in the same breath.

To our lovely Chinese guests: If and when you stumble on this blog, do accept our big Thank You. It was great knowing you all and escorting you on the offbeat Mumbai Darshan on Feb 13, 2016, the day our Prime minister was also in Mumbai for the Make in India week festivities.

If our own people back home show the same enthusiasm in cherishing the 24-carat defining moments and monuments of our past, Mumbai’s and India’s future would be that much brighter. We would then take more effort to preserve our legacy rather than outsource the job to foreign tourists.

We pity the Indian gentleman, the principal contact of the Chinese family in India, who was more concerned with minimizing his effort and expenses on the D-day. He was more than proportionately happy to note that we were not professional tour guides (lots of money saved) and didn't charge money for the trip, in fact spent it out of our pockets (lots and lots of money saved)

"Show them Bandra - Worli sea link" was all his imagination allowed him in the form of an expert comment. We simply can't forget his wooden face the day before at a local coffee shop where we were painstakingly narrating the incredible tale of how the elephant idol (after which the Elephanta Caves get their name) was moved from the Gharapuri island to Jijamata garden. His face was so wooden, we felt we should have carved furniture out of it. Our spider sense told us he was probably worried he would have to pay for the coffee. He seemed visibly relieved when we paid the bill. When Cafe Coffee Day says "A lot can happen over coffee" they probably also mean "only if you happen to sip it in their shops."