Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport welcomes you.
Pudhcha station, Vileparle.
Agla stop, Parla Parla Parla
And this is how Mumbai says welcome. In many languages. Each unique to its own neighborhood. The variety boggles the mind. It’s not called the Island City for nothing. Reclamation, flyovers and sealinks bridge water, train lines and suburbs across seven islands. My city breathes in cultures distinct from each other. We are a different society in every station, fast or slow. The queen of the suburbs lays out the stench of a creek as you approach. And Borivali makes you walk the length of two train platforms just to exit the station. But only one place greets you with an appetising whiff of sweet biscuits.
Welcome to Vileparle, home to Parle-G. And also sabzi mandi and fish markets. Midway between the meat-loving Maka pao land of Mahim and the stern vegetarianism of Ma-ka-bo. You know, Malad-Kandivali-Borivali. Vileparle tells you in this city, you’ll find home. East and West, the two cultural faces of this city – a financial capital birthed in the union of Maharashtrian hard work & Gujarati enterprise. Both states vying for this piece of Annapoorna’s blessing. In Vileparle they reside together peaceably. Not like Godse and Gandhi. More like Thackaray and Modi. Mumbai’s two origin cultures, both call Vileparle home.
Being an Andheri girl, I knew Vileparle like I knew my neighbors – familiar as my mother’s Sahakari Bhandar shopping bags. But as adolescence hit, a new landscape unfurled. Coaching classes, tutorials and colleges – I joined hundreds of teenagers in ill-fitting clothes & badly applied makeup. Say alma mater and most western suburbanites will think Vileparle. We learnt to navigate adolescence between its layers as they occupied different hours of the day and moved smoothly to make way for the next.
Mornings belong to the Mumbai poet. The one humming as he washes a car belonging to someone else. The bus conducter clicking tickets in a rhythm and sounding out Irla-Irla-Irla-next stop Parla! And a student showing up early to watch the sunrise over the skyline from an empty top floor classroom.
As morning matured into day, the city would be open for business. And since everyone here is peddling something, Vileparle would be a burst of fresh vegetables, ties knotted on the run, mannequins being dressed, pills, snacks, gadgets, sandwiches, vada pao chains and people. From vegetable vendors to Archies gallery, spiced with an celebratory burger amid the daily dabeli-pao, Vileparle opens up the world for a youngster, inch by familiar inch, experience by novelty.
In the afternoons, the balance of Vileparle tilts from markets to the colleges & schools. Students everywhere, in a quest for food and validation (never education). Since no college here has an actual campus, we’d swarm the main roads and picnic on dividers. But if you should be so inclined, Vileparle also has secret nooks for the shy and the surreptitious. Winding back roads quiet on hot afternoons, only ancient trees keeping you company as the equally ancient inhabitants of homes, sleep. Romance might walk the hallowed lanes of Juhu. But you never know because drama might leap out as a filmstar’s car pull out of a house. And across the road, a graffitteed sign screaming J-Boyz reminded us we lived in urbania. Vileparle after all, is also home to the larger-than-life. Jalsa, Prateeksha, you say AB, I say Bollywood, baby.
By evening, the neon lights come on. Morning’s sandwich stall, now a juice center fronting a drug ring. I learnt of it, when a boy I liked, a senior spoke to me and didn’t give me a second look the next day because as his friend later told me, he had been high as a rocket on juice the previous evening. As I walked to the bus stop with blurring eyes, the street lights caught the fresh fruits lining the shelves at the signal. And before them, the ladies of the night displaying their wares. Open for business. As the morning’s routine reversed with other people returning homeward bound. Mumbaikers, we blur social boundaries without quite erasing them.
Years, many years later, I find myself responding even mid nap to the pull of Vileparle. Maybe it’s just my finely tuned train traveler instincts that rouse me from slumber exactly one station before mine. In the ladies compartment of an Andheri local, a ball of yarn unravels to the rhythm of daily gossip, punctuated by the click of knitting needles. Two bogeys away, the clatter of tin cans painted with a coloured stripe and carrying empty tiffin boxes, adds cadence. Eyes dart to windows, catching familiar but untouchable signals. The towers rise and dip into flats, chawls, unfinished construction, incomplete business. We throng in millions. We throb as one. Make room for a fourth seat, make time for one click more. Everyone is welcome here, except loneliness.
Vileparle says welcome to Mumbai.