EAST OF EAST: A TRAVELOGUE

Photographs by Nihit Mhatre and Swayam Mohapatra

Mumbai’s Harbour Line is like Garfield’s Odie – Jumps up and down (between alternately elevated and ground-level stations), and is irrepressibly curious (as it meanders along its crazily tortuous route). North of Wadala are unremarkable suburbs; South of Masjid is well-trodden Bombay – one Sunday afternoon, we decided to explore what lies between.

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What can the Monorail looming over desolate Sewri station transport? Flamingos exhausted by trying to find landing-space at the fast disappearing mudflats? I wonder.

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It would perhaps serve better, ferrying oil-laden wagons instead. Sewri’s answer to Vasai’s saltpans, mammoth petroleum distilleries gleam in the three o’clock sun.

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On a condemned foot-overbridge, we try persuading two brown-haired urchins to let us photograph them.

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They refuse.

Nadeem, Nishaan and Aadib are more enthusiastic.

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Enthusiastic enough to volunteer themselves as our guides. Walking with them, we spot an abandoned Bombay Port Trust building being hammered to the earth.

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Few people actually live here. The windows of these ghost apartments are picturesquely broken.

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With a toothy grin, Nadeem pipes up – ‘Hum log ne hi todey sab’.

Now reduced to witnessing ‘bat-ball’ matches, Sewri fort offers a breathtaking, mangrove-lined view of the sea.

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It also showcases some daredevil stunts.

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We add Nadeem as a Facebook friend, and depart to the drone of the 4.45 azaan. Meanwhile, our three new friends are plotting to kill a man dead.

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This building has the most easily memorisable address ever – Cotton Association of India, Cotton Exchange Building, opposite Cotton Green station, Cotton Green.

The world seems to have forgotten everything else about the place.

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Hulking masses of industries in the distance show no signs of activity. A sun-bleached wall is all that remains of what was probably a godown once.

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The Bombay Fire Salvage Corps (established 1907) building is faded and forgotten – where’s the fire?

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Driverless trucks laden with rusting metal are parked everywhere. Through a tiny window, I enter a derelict factory reminiscent of Kaagaz Ke Phool’s legendary studio shots – dust-sheeted floors, sunlight streaming in through ceiling shutters, and the air thick with pigeon feathers.

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Cotton Green is centrally located and has acres of land available for development. I wonder what keeps the realty sharks away.

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As we walk to Reay Road, the sun begins to set.

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We clamber onto a side platform laden with hundreds of sacks of JK Lakshmi cement. The track alongside appears disused. What will they help build? Who will pick them up? When?

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From Dockyard Road, we walk to the foot of the imposing yellow arch of Mazagaon Docks Limited (Shipbuilders to the Nation). Photography is ominously prohibited. So we just hang around, and look.

At Sandhurst Road, we watch zooming Bombay traffic from a vantage point.

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We are tired. So are some others.

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We’ve seen these places before. But from train windows. There is so much left to explore. The hilltop garden next to Dockyard Road station. The Sandhurst Road shunting yard that excites train enthusiasts like me to delirium.

So we will be back. Some day.

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