The air is heavy with sound here in Mohammad Ali Road. Shrill beeps mingle with more robust honks as they try to drown out the sound of the human traffic: the loaders, and lifters and peddlers and hawkers. Once a traders hub, situated next to Crawford Market in South Bombay, this heavily crowded street features incredibly large buildings that houses two-hundred (or more) families packed together like sardines in one- or two-bedroom apartments. The place has changed much over the three decades since my mother lived here, for one a big bridge now eclipses the bazaar from the topside and giant columns anchor it to the floor. In typical Mumbai style, the shelter provided by the bridge is viewed as a disguised blessing and people gravitate around the pillars to set up make-shift houses where they will undoubtedly proceed to live with their next few generations. Because that is what people who flock to this city do - like insects they are everywhere, sprawled on the pavements, scattered along the sidewalks, nestled under building-stairs. I suspect that they would stretch across the streets too were it not for the fact that the heavy traffic would make human-pancakes out of them.
Crossing the road is in itself an art that you need to master if you decided to spend any length of time in this city. First you timidly wait by the side of the road for the traffic to come to a halt. You realize soon enough that nothing of the sort is going to happen. You gesture to drivers expecting them to politely give-way, except that is also an exercise in futility. Eventually you give in, and understand - as all Bombay-pedestrians do - that life is but a slow dance with death, close your eyes and dive into the traffic. As you dodge eager bikes, and stodgy (but strangely agile) double-decker buses, waltz with Taxis and almost get run over by loader-coolies, you realize that there is a strange sort of thrill in this madness. Possibly the kind that lonely mountain climbers get when they balance off a narrow ledge and stare straight down into the yawning-face-of-possible-death. Or in this case a heavily moustached taxi driver with a new-found mission to run-you-over.