The filmmaker and photographer Sooni Taraporevala finds inspiration and connection during her daily speed-walks along the promenade
The lovers are out, even at seven in the morning, their backs to the world carving intimacy and privacy out of the most public of spaces, sharing the sea view with an assortment of stray dogs and fiendishly clever crows. I have been ordered to walk by my doctor. Unlike my exercise junkie father walking bores me, so I make it palatable by going to my beloved Marine Drive.
I grew up at Gowalia Tank, near the Chowpatty part of Marine Drive. For us “town” consisted of Fort and Colaba, and the roads to get there were either the “inside” road or the “outside” road.
Taking the outside road – Marine Drive –was always a treat. Whether sandwiched between my parents on my father’s Vespa scooter, or sitting in an uncle’s car coming back from an evening in town, I found the neon advertisement on the Drive a source of endless fascination – a cold drink bottle emptying its contents into a glass that filled. Then the glass would empty and the bottle would fill. On and on in glistening shiny technicolour. It was the only neon adver- tisement in Bombay. Now, of course, neon ads are like wallpaper, ubiquitous and unremarkable.
The first time I set out on my morning walks I have my iPhone with me. I see a bunch of nursery-school children in uniform on the seawall excitedly looking at the sea. Without having to break my stride I take a picture. Or, as the art establishment would say, I make a photograph. And another and another. Still walking I share them on Instagram. In the old days unless you had an exhibition or published a book there was no way of sharing photographs, so for me Instagram is addictive. Who would have imagined that I could take a photograph on Marine Drive and instantly share it with friends in Parel, Los Angeles, New York?
In the old days when I was a constant photographer I always intended to carry my 35mm camera with me everywhere. Though the spirit was willing, the flesh was weak and more often than not the camera remained in its case at home. Now, thanks to the late Mr Jobs, I have a decent camera with me always. The famous photographer Annie Leibowitz was so right when she named the iPhone the best point-and-shoot camera for this very reason.
Marine Drive mornings have become an enjoyable routine. The promenade reveals itself to be every bit as cosmopolitan as the city is, and as egalitarian as the city is not. Ladies in black burqas stride along- side Marwari matrons in starched saris and sneakers; a Sikh man in a Swiss flag T- shirt sings kirtans; boys who I imagine are from a madrassa read the morning paper.
And there’s always an amusing range of weird and wonderful exercise routines, involving flapping arms, nose sniffs or head twists, as well as the serious athletes training for the marathon.
Marine Drive is not only for us, the well- off leisure class who eat so much we have to lose weight and lower our cholesterol. It is also occupied by the poor and the weary. Every day I see a young woman, on the sea wall, near the Princess Street flyover with her baby and a dog guarding them. She seems to be homeless but happy with her baby, unlike the man I see asleep next to his dog – both of them wounded. Another man is curled up in the middle of the pavement, his possessions in a plastic bag next to him. He has no shirt, no shoes; I catch a glimpse of his running shorts. I’m told he’s a drug addict. Was he once a sportsman before he fell by the wayside?
I’m happy that Marine Drive belongs to everybody, but most of all to the animals and birds who allow humans to coexist on their turf. I’m sure generations of their ancestors were there before us and I’m sure their descendants will still be around when all of us are gone.
But most of all I’m just so happy that Marine Drive hasn’t been renamed Chhatrapati Shivaji Marg.
Sooni Taraporevala is a filmmaker, photographer and screenwriter living in Mumbai. Her scripts include Mississippi Masala,The Namesake and Oscar-nominated Salaam Bombay, all directed by Mira Nair. She directed her first feature film entitled Little Zizou in 2007. She is also the author of the first-ever visual work on India’s Parsi Zoroastrian community.