On the Promenade

It’s amazing what can be achieved once people set their minds to it.

“It’s better to light one candle than to curse the darkness” is an old Chinese proverb and also the motto of The Christophers, an organization founded by Father James Keller in 1945, which works on the belief that every single individual — no matter how shy or obscure — can make a difference in the world and positively impact our collective future. The Christophers advises everyone to “emphasise what can be done, rather than what cannot, because complaining just wastes time and energy, and things improve only when more people build up and fewer tear down.”

Sadly, most of us – me included – continue to largely remain cursers of the darkness. Happily, though, there are many others who have begun to light candles. And the light is gradually shining right through, despite the seemingly desperate totality of the darkness all around us here in Bombay. It’s manifested in the Advanced Locality Management (ALM) units that have sprung up in many parts of the western suburbs (and some parts of the island city such as Colaba and Cuffe Parade). ALMs are basically small groups of determined citizens who have taken it upon themselves to improve their neigbourhoods, and this movement has the ‘blessings’ of the municipality.
Road with Character

There’s no better example of the transformation that’s possible than the Carter Road promenade in Bandra, and that’s thanks mainly due to the efforts of the Bandra West Residents’ Association. In Bombay, the majesty of the Marine Drive waterfront is of course unmatchable, but as waterfronts go, I personally prefer the Carter Road stretch, because it has much more character, variety and kind of a more homely feel to it.

Carter Road Promenade, Bandra, Mumbai (click any pic for larger image or slideshow)
100 for 100: Walking on Carter Road Promenade, Bandra, Mumbai

Wind Chill

100 for 100: Walking on Carter Road Promenade, Bandra, Mumbai

Rules Rule

100 for 100: Walking on Carter Road Promenade, Bandra, Mumbai

Mangroves

100 for 100: Walking on Carter Road Promenade, Bandra, Mumbai

Broad Walk

100 for 100: Walking on Carter Road Promenade, Bandra, Mumbai

Broader Walk

100 for 100: Walking on Carter Road Promenade, Bandra, Mumbai

Pedigree Park

100 for 100: Walking on Carter Road Promenade, Bandra, Mumbai

Eating Crow

100 for 100: Walking Walking on Carter Road Promenade, Bandra, Mumbai

Spotless in Bombay!

100 for 100: Walking on Carter Road Promenade, Bandra, Mumbai

Watching the Sun Set

100 for 100: Walking on Carter Road Promenade, Bandra, Mumbai

Rajesh Khanna Bungalow

100 for 100: Walking on Carter Road Promenade, Bandra, Mumbai

Double Decker

100 for 100: Walking on Carter Road Promenade, Bandra, Mumbai

Way to Live

Carter Road itself is today one of the cleanest and most well-maintained roads in Bombay. With the Khar-Danda fishing village at the northern end and the Chimbai fishing village at the southern, Carter Road is flanked by bungalows and fancy apartment blocks on the east and the rocky sea shore on the west, with generous helpings of mangroves in some parts. The rocks in different sections and at different times during the day serve different purposes – providing nooks and crannies for privacy-starved lovers to make out; providing washing and drying space for dhobis; and providing an open-air toilet with built-in plumbing for the fisherfolk and rickshaw drivers to crap on.

When US President Jimmy Carter’s mother Lillian visited Mumbai during his Presidency, it is said that an opportunistic local politician told her that Carter Road was named after her. That’s not true of course. Lillian’s visit was a bit of a homecoming actually, because as part of the Peace Corps she had worked for almost two years with the poor and sick at Godrej Colony in Vikhroli back in 1966. And it is true that Morarji Desai and Devi Lal actually renamed the village Chuma Kheragaon in Haryana as ‘Carterpuri’ in Jimmy Carter’s honour.

But it’s also not true that Carter Road got its name because of all the ‘carters’ (quarters, 180 ml bottles) of whisky and rum that were guzzled by myriad youth over the years in late-night weekend binges on its footpaths. Carter Road is in fact named for Carter Perry, a government official (“suburban collector” – whatever that means) during the days of British rule, who lived at the southern end; a man seemingly so important that both the roads leading to his house were named after him — Carter Road and Perry Road!

Incidentally, Carter Road was renamed Sangeet Samrat Naushad Ali Road in May 2008 — the famous (late) Hindi-movie music director Naushad lived in a bungalow there, as does Rajesh Khanna (from the promenade, you can see into the foyer of Khanna’s bungalow, Aashirwad; there’s a huge portrait of him in his younger days on the wall). Poor Naushad – Carter Road is one road that will always be known as that (or “Carter’s” in Bandraspeak) ; just as no one is ever going to replace Hill Road with Ramdas Nayak Marg.

Never a Dull Moment

The Carter Road promenade skirts the seashore and is quite delightful. One can walk up and down the approximately one-and-a-quarter kilometre stretch several times without getting bored and hardly feeling fatigued – there’s so much to see, so much activity all around, yet also the option to tune off and stare out into the sea for a heady dose of instant calm whenever one so desires.

Walking from the Otters Club end, the promenade starts off very pleasantly with a line of casuarina trees serving as windbreaks as well as providing welcome shade to those who prefer to sit on the benches below and chat away the early evenings. As one proceeds, the tiled path has a broader parapet on the waterfront side, which one can jump over onto a patch of humped land with a lawn, to plonk down and contemplate the ocean or soak up the sun.

But let’s walk on. The promenade now broadens into quite a wide section, tastefully landscaped with various varieties of palm trees, palm-leafed shrubs and ornamental cycads. At one point, large steps lead down to the rocks, and another stretch allows an uninterruped, panoramic view of the vast ocean. A couple of people sitting on the benches are doing pranayam (breathing exercises); others are chatting or reading; others are converged around a modern-looking sculpture that sleekly points to the sky, and still others are engrossed in their brisk evening constitutional. The shapes, the sizes, the features, the walking styles, the wide range of people from all walks of life, never cease to fascinate, although most rarely make eye contact with other promenaders, let alone making conversation.

Mangroves

Next comes a stretch of dense mangroves on the oceanside, with, unfortunately, quite a bit of plastic and other garbage entwined in the lower branches, possibly brought in by the last high tide. One can also see a narrow streak of  sewage water flowing from somewhere below the promenade down into the mangroves, undoubtedly from one of the vendor stalls across the road.

Further down, a section of the promenade is cordoned off into a play area for small children, all seemingly having a whale of a time — rich kids accompanied by ayahs or maids, and poorer kids with the privilege of having their own flesh-and-blood to escort them.

Dog’s Life

A little beyond the children’s play area is a fenced-off play area for dogs. This is definitely a first for Bombay. Of course, stray dogs are not allowed in; a romp in the grass is strictly restricted to the pedigreed buggers, with attendants in tow.

I’m not against dogs, but not madly pro dogs either – if people want to keep dogs or other pets, that’s their business, as long as they clean up the dog’s business on the streets too! There needs to be a law to enforce scooping of the pooping on the roads and footpaths. And as for strays, they’re quite a nuisance, and I think it’s pretty ridiculous how snooty ‘high-society types’ make a show of fussing over them on the streets, just as long as they don’t enter into their own compounds or houses (there are rare exceptions to this generalisation of mine of course). Stray dogs are always loitering around just near the Carter promenade dog park, not because they envy their more privileged cousins within, but because those same ‘high-society types’ throw food for them on the rocks nearby and generally create a mess all around. I don’t endorse cruelty to any living being, but a humane neutering programme for strays in Bombay is, in my opinion, the need of the day. They’d shoot stray dogs in Portuguese Goa back in the old days, don’t you know? (Read all about it on Saligao Serenade)

Promenade Extension

Walking ahead, the promenade further broadens out and there’s an elevated platform where cultural and other shows are held some evenings, usually on weekends. This is one of the venues of the Festival of Bandra, which is gaining in popularity and scope evey year, narrowing the gap with the older and much more prominent Mumbai Festival and Kala Ghoda Festival held in south Mumbai in Jan/Feb.

Further north on the promenade is a small landscaped garden with ornamental plants and a few benches. Until early 2009, the promenade ended a little ahead of this garden, approximately opposite the immensely popular Cafe Coffee Day outlet. It’s now been extended for another 200 metres or so, with a solar-powered gazebo, stone tables with chess-board tops, and some more plants.

On the opposite side, the lane near Cafe Coffee Day has developed into quite a hub for eating joints and hang-out places over the years. There’s Kareem’s, famous for its rolls and kababs; Kwik Wok, owned by Kareem’s and serving oriental cuisine; Tangy Tomato doing Italian and Mexican; Mae Be with continental; Sheesha with mughlai and hookah; Amore Gelato for Italian ice cream; Crepe Station, owned by model Dino Morea and reputed for its breakfast menu and strawberries and cream; and, in addition to several others that keep sprouting up, dying and resurrecting in different avatars, a walk further up the lane leads one to the famous (and horrendously upmarket) Olive and Shatranj.

I make a mental note to visit Crepe Station for breakfast one of these mornings. But for now, I’ll turn around and do the stretch back to Otters!

- Val Souza

Here’s the satellite map of the Carter Road promenade in Bandra. (Click the pic to go to the actual, manoeuvrable map on Wikimapia).

Satellite Map of Carter Road Promenade in Bandra, Mumbai

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