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Pali Hill At Noon And Night

Pali Hill At Noon And Night

January 04, 2011

An exclusive area of Mumbai is a restless home for people at all ends of the spectrum.


As I step out of the Big Apartment Block, the quietness of the cosy 17th floor haven I've just left fades into a cacophony of autorickshaw buzz, motorcycle splutter and BMW 5 Series hum. All horns are poised and ready for action, if not already blasting into life every few seconds. Bandra's streets are only wide enough for two cars to pass by one another, a reflection of the enormous premium on space in this particularly elite part of Mumbai, but that doesn't mean those cars can't be driven by people from opposite ends of the social ladder.

Going left up the hill, it's only a few steps to the next junction, but the way is marked by multiple holes and loose stones in the pavement - and a little brown pile indicating that a dog has recently passed by. The sun is high in a near-cloudless sky, and it's warm but not aggressively so, this being December and the middle of so-called winter.

Pali Market is a right from the junction. It's not unlike a regular small-town market: piles of red tomatoes, bundles of fragrant coriander, fresh fish laid out on tables. The vendors call to me as I walk by. "Sir, you like some nice fish?" "Hello! yes! vegetables!" The obvious difference between this and a village a hundred kilometres away is that the traditional, open-air style market part of Pali Market extends along only half the street's length and is bookended by fancy wine stores, up-market delis and cute cafes like A Chocolate Affair. Their staff are packed away behind air-conditioned behind glass doors and unlikely even to greet you as you enter, let alone holler at you in the street.

Around the corner from the end of the market, a number of dining and drinking establishments dot both sides of the street. There's Italian and French cuisine and all manner of restaurants & cafes serving Indian food. The previous day, we sat in a renowned Punjabi-style place and shovelled in plates of chole, pav and eggs while gawking at John Abraham as he exited Gold's Gym opposite. My hosts informed me that the reputation of this dhaba is such that on another day, he could have been sitting in the cafe beside us.

Coming back to the apartment block, having ventured no further than five hundred metres from it, I see a rickshaw parked by a hole-in-the-wall that appears to be occupied by an electronics repair expert. Two men in dhotis are carefully manoeuvring an enormous plasma screen television out of the back seat and into the man's shop, while another five look on and offer a barrage of instructions in Hindi. Just in front of the rickshaw, two sharply dressed men stand beside a shiny Mercedes and converse in loud, clipped English. They seem to be discussing plans for the evening, and while this is a casual topic, their elocution is as crisp and clear as if they were delivering a speech in a high school contest.

Everybody seems to be moving in some way, even if it's only in their minds, and for the most basic and most sophisticated of reasons - and everything in-between. Getting back inside the building and up to the 17th floor doesn't quite allow a total reprieve from the sounds of the city - autorickshaw engine noise travels surprisingly far, and construction machinery hammers away in the distance - but it's a comparative oasis of calm rising above patterns of ordered chaos.


We're setting off for a late evening wander 12 hours later, no particular destination in mind, just to see what the streets are like on this Sunday night. The traffic noise may have receded from what it was during the day, but we still have to dodge the odd rickshaw (who is making a killing now that he can charge according to the night rates card). The luxury vehicles are all but gone, parked away in the apartment block garages far below their sleeping owners, or back at the hire garage; wherever each car is, there's a good chance the driver is fast asleep inside.

The market is closed, obviously, and almost all signs of its existence have disappeared. No more brightly coloured vegetables, nor even the large wooden trays they were presented in. The swiftness with which structures can be erected and dismantled in India always surprises me. Looking a little closer, we see that the poles, tables and carts may have been dragged away, but each shopkeeper (and often his family) is still there, lying on bedrolls on the concrete, trying to get some sleep before doing it all again tomorrow.

Intruding on the stillness of the market area, Soul Fry is the first of Pali Hill's bars to make its presence felt. It had been so dormant during the day that I hadn't even noticed it; 'pumping' isn't the correct word, but 'lively' is. There's a decent crowd inside... but this isn't about Mumbai's nightlife. That'll come in another post. My focus here is on the streets, and that's where two middle-aged, immaculately turned out guys chat about the evening next to a new Chevrolet. They could be the same two men I saw by the Mercedes earlier in the day.

Further on, Hawaiian Shack is just closing and the night's patrons - mostly young twentysomethings - are spilling out into the streets. They are beautiful, extremely well-dressed and quite intoxicated. Girls scream fake cries of anguish and walk with toes pointed inwards; boys bark questions into their mobiles. Every other line is punctuated with an expletive - "Where the **** are you, dude?" - or two, if possible - "My ******* mobile gets such ****** coverage in this area." Their accents, however, display none of the alcohol-induced degradation that their vocab does. Like those two men earlier, their elocution is so exceptional that even the swear words could be lifted from a poetry reading.

It's time to head home; time to get off the ever-quieter streets and get some rest ourselves. Pali Hill may be known as the Beverly Hills of Mumbai, but its streets show that it isn't reserved solely for the extremely richPeople from every level of society live their lives here, all with their own purpose, at all ends of the spectrum. It's a place where one man may be focused solely on earning enough for his mother to get medical care, while the guy in his back seat has his mind fixed on figuring out how best to prolong the night a little longer - while the city sleeps restlessly around them.


  • Barnaby Haszard Morris
    Barnaby Haszard Morris
    20.02.11 03:35 PM
    Cheers, Shravan! Are you presently in a Pali Hill phase or an NRI phase? And yes, I think those midnight phone conversations were my favourite detail of the two walks.
  • Shravan Bhat
    Shravan Bhat
    10.02.11 03:28 PM
    As a Pali Hill resident and NRI myself, this gets a big thumbs up! You have a great eye for detail (the midnight phone conversations are so true) and yet your descriptions seem to avoid 'judging' the windy Bandra roads! Great post - you've got yourself a follower :)
  • Arvind
    09.02.11 03:47 AM
    Absolutely loved it!

    There's a gem of a thought in there when you said, "Everybody seems to be moving in some way, even if it’s only in their minds". I think I am going to remember that for a long time!
  • Meelogsin
    18.01.11 10:55 AM
    O yes! Interested observer attempts to dig some, beyond superficiality:)
  • Barnaby Haszard Morris
    Barnaby Haszard Morris
    17.01.11 05:30 PM
    @Meelogsin, for sure you would know the place much better than me having lived there for a long time - I hope you mean 'interested observer' is a good thing! I hope to be able to spend a lot more time in Mumbai and get to know these places on a much deeper level. By the way, don't mistake my equation of those swear words with poetry for an endorsement - I couldn't wait to get away from them!

    @The Sorcerer - how exactly has it changed since the 90s, esp Linking Rd & Hill Rd? I'm really interested to know! I would love to have seen it then.
  • The Sorcerer
    The Sorcerer
    17.01.11 01:04 AM
    Ha! I live in 24th road and its worse. To make things sound exotic, I live on the first floor. I wish I could shift to a better area but unfortunatly there are many societies that don't allow muslims despite being in Bandra for about 2 generations.

    I miss the old 90s. Linking road was linking road, hill road was hill road and always liked the learners academy area.
  • Meelogsin
    16.01.11 11:26 AM
    I made my way to this post (saw it on ur twitter status this morning) with curiosity, wanting to know how you perceive the place I reside in versus me who has been living here. My initial 'critique and cyniscim' gave way and I was quickly drawn in to seeing things from your eyes.

    While you see the road as a reflection of real estate premium and hence narrow - I see it is as lack of Govt investment and inclination to expand infrastructure. You see the 20 n 30 somethings speak clipped english punctuated with swear words that sound like poetery, I see it as nothing but bad behavior of those trying very hard to look cool n who've perhaps not had to work hard for a days living!:)

    The veg vendors are way smarter than their country living folks. Perhaps even own a car or small flat in Bombay.

    I know perspectives will vary for sure- you have captured an element of reality, tho my own sense says there is much more to unearth, if you are courageous to go beyond n deeper:)

    You saw these 24hrs as an interested observer, not as an outsider that is clear. But to my mind ( pls pardon me if I am wrong) perhaps because I have lived here forever I feel I tend to see much more than a normal passerby would. Deeper alignment I guess:)
  • Barnaby Haszard Morris
    Barnaby Haszard Morris
    09.01.11 05:54 PM
    Thank you to both Umas! I'm honoured by your kind words. I'll check out both of your blogs, too.
  • uma.a
    08.01.11 09:15 PM
    Lovely picture and a wonderful article on Pali Hill
  • umashankar
    08.01.11 09:03 PM
    A powerful narration, indeed: I almost walked right through the bazaar twice. And a well exposed shot too.
  • Barnaby Haszard Morris
    Barnaby Haszard Morris
    05.01.11 08:11 PM
    Mathew, no doubt Bandra has a totally different face from how it looked in those days. I, for one, would like to go BACK in time and experience the Mumbai that you once knew!

    Sacha, that means a lot to me - thank you very much. There's always a fine line between being an interested observer and a condemning outsider, and I try hard to align myself with the former perspective.
  • Sacha Gomez
    Sacha Gomez
    05.01.11 03:21 PM
    Barns, when I saw the title of this article on Facebook, I assumed it would be another typical western-eyed article on the contrasting lifestyles of the Indian rich and the poor, but was pleasantly surprised by this article (especially the last para) with its balanced and keen observation. Great writing Barns! A pleasure to read and one of your best ones yet, in terms of your thought process.
  • Mathew Mathew
    Mathew Mathew
    05.01.11 02:34 AM
    This is one place I'd want to go back to: a place I left some 40 years ago after graduating fromt Sir JJ Institute of Applied Art! In those days Bandra was just a sleepy nook that became a party town only during the Mt. Mary festival from September 1st to 8th.

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