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Sunday, April 21, 2024

The Shrinking Sea And I


{Photograph} by Naomi Shah

Once I first traversed the Bandra-Worli Sea Hyperlink, it was additionally the primary time I had come so near the Arabian Sea. Though it had been inside attain all my life, I had by no means been surrounded by it so, whereas nonetheless staying on land. For individuals who dwell in and love Mumbai, as I do, the rippling, muddy, gray waters of the Arabian Sea are the one fixed among the many adjustments within the metropolis, pure or man-made. The sweeping arc of Marine Drive and the celebrity-lined Bandra promenade kiss the waters we’re so grateful for however proceed to neglect. Joggers on Worli Sea Face, maintaining time with the ebb and stream of the tides, most likely consider it as not more than a well-recognized shoreline which they reflexively comply with as whether it is an athletic monitor.

When the Sea Hyperlink was first constructed, I by no means imagined that this big building in the course of the ocean would really fill me with such awe about residing in a coastal metropolis. It was certainly one of our first steps in the direction of constructing a contemporary, 21st-century infrastructure that usually offers nature a tough punch, however there I used to be atop a man-made highway — and never a ship — marvelling on the horizon, the open sky and waters.

For the fishing neighborhood, residing simply off the Worli Sea Face with unobstructed views, this have to be a significant eyesore. However commuting is the lifeline of bustling Bombay, regardless of the livelihood, and so we have now the coastal highway to stay up for in Could 2024, and with that the ocean will probably be remoulded yet one more time. It would imply the fisherfolk can have no selection however to tune in to the mixed sounds of dashing vehicles and lapping waves alongside longer stretches of the shoreline than they’ve been used to up to now. Their shoals of fish are additionally more likely to migrate otherwise, and they also would maybe have to solid their nets wider, into uncharted territory. Let’s hope that within the identify of survival (they’re town’s oldest inhabitants), they may as soon as once more rise to the event and develop new talent units to sail by means of the altering water currents, to say the least. Maybe, the Gen Subsequent of the Koli neighborhood are already using ChatGPT to determine the perfect areas for his or her native catch. And who is aware of if Bombay duck will conspire with scientifically generated algae transplants and multiply in numbers to maintain the stomachs and souls of Mumbai alive.

The alteration, of not solely their fishing ecological system but additionally their residing situations, because of the ongoing infrastructural work, has most likely led to unprecedented occurrences of their households and houses. The colourfully painted canoe-shaped boats we spot on dry dock might have been deserted even earlier than the expectation of rain showers. Optimum fishing has, in any case, taken a success with shrinking water attributable to air pollution and local weather change, and now fisherfolk should skirt the coastal highway to get to the fishing waters and breeding areas. Maybe ChatGPT got here up with ominous predictions for marine life, and so lots of the youthful Kolis have already sought greener pastures, on terra firma as an alternative. This marks a shift — regardless of weathering altering rulers, from the Portuguese and the British to the Hindu and the Muslim for 2 centuries — the seafarers had beforehand at all times managed to maintain their heads above water.

For individuals who don’t rely upon the ocean for his or her day by day brun maska (crunchy bread and butter), the impact of the adjustments is more likely to be extra psychological, starting from disorientation and nostalgia to a way of deep loss. Our acquainted sightings of the Haji Ali Dargah — a lone island mosque — Mahim Creek and Sewri’s wetlands will tackle new shapes because of the flyovers and overpasses being constructed for commuters crossing from one tip of the metropolis to the opposite. The ocean and I’ll develop into the ocean and man’s intervention to beat limitations created by progress and, in flip or conversely, hopefully create additional progress and growth. Because the coastal highway challenge inches to completion, life in Mumbai will transfer on the pace of sound, with the easing of site visitors jams, and a number of highways lengthening throughout our elongated land mass. And the bubbling rocking of the waves will solely linger in our unconscious as in the event that they have been sounds in an outdated half-forgotten dream.

Neighbourhoods that we frequently used to cross in automobiles will probably be bypassed, by new fast-paced routes, and that nook vada-pav stall or the slowly disappearing Irani cafe we at all times noticed, whereas ready at indicators, will not be a part of the day by day surroundings.

There’s a lot anticipation of this second: when Mumbai too begins to resemble New York, Sydney or Shanghai, lengthy overdue since Massive Mac made its entry into town just a few a long time in the past, within the mid-Nineteen Nineties. We now have our malls, eating places, our ritzy motels and plush skyscrapers, however what in regards to the lack of infrastructure that has been our lament? Now that day is nigh, with the breakthrough of the second tunnel underneath the seabed having been accomplished and the BMC officers asserting a D-Day. However the sea shouldn’t be our sea anymore; we have now watched the shoreline being barricaded and overtaken with ominous-looking cranes and blinding halogen lights that enable work to proceed by means of the evening.

Unable to fathom the extent of transformation behind these corrugated sheets, we have now watched this sci-fication of our metropolis. The disclosing will certainly create shock, and aftershock, just like the sudden tremors of an imminent earthquake, following the one which has simply handed. With the emphasis on zooming from one vacation spot to the opposite, will any of us cease on the kerbside to marvel on the day by day catch and choose up a pomfret or two for our night repast? Fiercely protecting about maintaining the Mumbaikar well-fed together with his favorite barbecue and prawn Koliwada, the Koli elders managed to intervene and negotiated a wider hole between the coastal-road pillars, to permit their boats to navigate the waters extra simply. Whereas our menus and tables won’t be instantly disadvantaged of fish curry and different sea-food favourites, their web must be solid deeper and with diminishing returns.

For the land-faring locals, the pit stops, or “paan stops”, may develop into an anachronism, for the reason that indicators will now learn, “Detours not allowed” or “No blocking site visitors”. Used to the mayhem of an omnipresent but vanishing road life — the smiling road urchin, the stray canine or the gajra (flower garland) vendor — we might want to reorient our rhythms of mobility, now geared towards reaching the goalpost. The ocean’s horizontal orientation, with the wideness of steady motion from horizon to shore with waves lashing forwards and backwards, will probably be in opposition to our linear tectonic actions on concrete arterial roadways and interchanges. The dual tunnels will heave with our urgency to satisfy appointments and conferences, creating a brand new tide of life that’s unrelated to the gravitational stream of the ocean’s tides.

Environmentalists have been outvoted and outnumbered by native civic our bodies, as that is the necessity of the hour; in any other case, we will probably be doomed to overhaul Bangkok as one of many cities with the worst site visitors in Asia. Proper as they could have been of their outcries, the extra sensible ideologues have additionally helped to seek out new properties for the displaced natural world, with the heavy coronary heart of oldsters leaving their offspring at a brand new boarding faculty.

On the inauguration speech, the powers that be will certainly declare that they’ve saved Aamchi Mumbai from the brink of catastrophe. The transplanted coconut bushes and uncommon peacock sightings at Raj Bhavan however, that is the 12 months of introducing a brand new sense of time and place. However in accordance with custom, maybe a coconut will probably be provided as the primary automotive is flagged off on the newly minted freeway.

And this August, because the fisherfolk observe the annual Narali Purnima (a ceremonial day noticed by fishing communities in Maharashtra) and put together to exit at sea after the monsoon, they may supply a particular prayer with coconuts and flowers to the god of oceans and waters, Lord Varuna, to hunt his blessing to maintain the Arabian Sea calm and free from pure calamities. A easy paean that has additionally held these unique settlers of town in good stead by means of the tsunami of invaders and settlers who’ve repeatedly reoriented Bombay’s compass and shoreline, and therefore marine ecosystem and life.

As their coconuts bob alongside the banks of Worli and Juhu or the Chimbai fishing village in Bandra (West) or Versova’s piers, it is going to be troublesome to inform the place the waters merged, blurring the boundaries between one 200-year-old habitat and the following.

Bombay it was, till its patron goddess, Mumba Devi, was resurrected to offer delivery to “Mumbai”. Now, there’s a new rigidity, because the identify rings within the native, and the island metropolis, reclaimed over and over, hurtles headlong into the sameness and monotony of the worldwide with this main and dramatic city redevelopment train. The polemics in opposition to growth will solely develop stronger with the burgeoning aspirations of an almost 76-year-old Unbiased India, at the same time as we proceed to protect and beautify our Queen’s Necklace at Marine Drive — whose identify had been proposed for the UNESCO World Heritage web site tag.

The zillion specks of cement spewing out of the barrels and the equipment will irrevocably alter that acquainted — if fishy — scent of the Arabian Sea.

But solely yesterday, throughout a North to South Mumbai run, as I marvelled as soon as extra on the seamless sky-to-sea view on the Sea Hyperlink — like a celestial canvas for my reveries — just a few triangular multicoloured flags fluttering atop the coastal properties of Worli’s fishing village caught the periphery of my eye. They jogged my memory of palimpsests of a misplaced civilisation.

And I questioned whether or not the butterfly gardens which might be being promised as a part of the Coastal Highway Challenge sights will sign an unprecedented renewal of our beloved metropolis of desires.

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