If a stranger said to you, “Let’s meet in Paris next Saturday at 6pm” and you really wanted to meet them, where exactly in Paris would you go and wait? I would go to the Eiffel Tower. If it were New York, it would be Empire State, for London it might be Big Ben, for Seattle it’s probably the Space Needle and I think for LA it might actually be that strange and beautiful arched structure that’s just outside LAX airport. (I suppose that says something about LA, but let’s not digress!)
Walking on the overbridge at Dadar Terminus last summer, I felt that this might be the place for Bombay, at least for a certain segment of the population. There are other contenders of course, Gateway of India and the Taj, Juhu Beach, Marine Drive, perhaps others. But if the subway (or the local train, in this case) is the circulatory system of any major metropolitan area, this is surely the heart of Bombay’s local train network. Victoria Terminus, or VT (or CST if you prefer that name) may be its historical head, but the heart, where the Western and Central lines come together, only to diverge again, is Dadar.
Standing on that overbridge last summer, waiting for my train to be announced, I had the sense that all of humanity walks that bridge. The women with tobacco-stained mouths, selling flowers in their cane baskets, women buying those flowers to put in their hair, and still other women ignoring all this completely, because they have other things on their mind. Not to mention all the men, of course. This overbridge is the great equalizer, everyone on it is temporarily united in purpose because they are all trying to get somewhere, and the bridge will take them partway there, and while they are on it, other details fall away.
I think the bridge also safekeeps some of my past. I used that bridge many dozens of times when I was a student in Bombay, but I’ve been on it very little in the years since. It always feels reassuring to be on it again, as if it were evidence that some part of my past is still intact on it.
But more than my personal sense of nostalgia, what makes it a remarkable place is the energy on it, and that energy is always of the present. No one there walks slowly, no one takes any particular notice of how the bridge shudders when a train goes underneath it, there is a rhythm to everyone’s walk, and if you force them to break out of it by being too slow or by making any sudden moves, they will make their annoyance known.
I can’t but think that everyone on it must be feeling that energy, if only subconsciously, feeding off it, and feeding their own back in, like a giant self-organising perpetual motion machine. And this, I think, is what makes it the most Bombay-like place in Bombay.