The one season that Mumbaikars eagerly await — the monsoon — is beginning. Ignore the traffic disruptions, potholes and sewage problems, and Mumbai is certainly a place worth being in during the monsoon. Where else can you see the otherwise serene Marine Drive beset by the sound and fury of a monsoon high tide, or the picturesque Gateway of India through a watery haze, in which water droplets appear to travel hither and thither in the air? Each location has its own monsoon avatar.
The rains can intimidate a newcomer to the city. But if you are in the right place at the right time — well, you won’t want to be anywhere else.
The best first stop during the monsoon is Marine Drive. It is at its best during the first monsoon high tide. The big waves come crashing against the concrete tetrapods that protect the embankment, and fat drops of spray splash onlookers, and fly all the way across the road and onto buildings on the other side. Yes, there are police personnel posted all around to watch and make sure that you don’t go too close to the waves, but you can surely sneak forward for that one moment. Hundreds of others do the same.
Next stop, Colaba, which is within walking distance. In the cloudy gloom the Gateway of India and the neighbourhood shopping area, Colaba Causeway, may look unappealing. But this is a good place to spend a rainy afternoon. The sea swells up and wets the entire pathway, and people go walking. Do as they do and patronise one of the many hawkers and snack-sellers offering everything from a cup of hot, sweet tea to roast groundnuts and roast corn-on-the-cob.
If you are adventurous, take a boat ride across Bombay Harbour. If the boats operate — they stop during rough weather — and you have a day at your disposal, the ferry ride to Elephanta Island is worth a try. With the rain dimming the atmosphere, the sight of the Taj Mahal Hotel and the Gateway of India may appear magically obscured a few minutes after the boat leaves its mooring at Apollo Bunder.
Worli Seaface faces straight across the Arabian Sea, with no land between it and Oman. Rows of bungalows and expensive apartments overlook the sea. In the late afternoons, this is a place for daydreamers. The sun is coming down and the day looks as if it is just beginning, as people take their evening walks and rendezvous with friends. There are amusement rides for children, streetside eateries for teenagers, and benches for seniors. During the monsoon the most coveted seat is the one right next to the statue of the Common Man (from R K Laxman’s cartoons).
Haji Ali, the next location, is a 10-minute ride in an open-top BEST bus from Worli. At Haji Ali is the popular dargah constructed in memory of the Muslim saint Sayyed Peer Haji Ali Shah Bukhari. The dargah is connected to land by a narrow causeway — which makes the monsoon-time walk out to the shrine a project to be attempted with care. A glass of juice at the Haji Ali Juice Centre overlooking the sea completes the perfect evening.
Couples in search of privacy often sit on the rocks at Bandstand, on the Bandra seafront. Although people do sit here and watch traffic whizz past even during heavy rains, it is much nicer, and much drier, to be inside an eatery and looking out through glass at the street and the sea. The seaside café at Bandstand is a good place to do this. The food is not bad, but the view makes the experience worthwhile.
The Mumbai monsoon is an experience, but monsoon weather is often unpredictable. What begins as a mild rain may suddenly turn into a heavy downpour. Then it is no longer safe to be near the sea. The tide is strong enough to pull a person into the sea and away from the shore. During the worst weather, a hot, sweet cutting chai and crunchy, salty, home-made bhajias complete the monsoon experience. They are best enjoyed in one’s own home.