I landed in Mumbai early in the morning and the city’s daily rhythm was already underway. It was wide awake and its urban charm was beginning to unravel. The driver took me over the new Bandra – Worli Sealink as we drove to my hotel, Abode, Bombay. Our route to the hotel took us through some of the most prominent quarters of the city and the hotel’s location was in its commercial heart, right by the iconic landmarks of Mumbai. The moment you enter Abode, you can sense the informal, yet extremely professional demeanour of the hotel’s staff. There was no ‘reception’ or ‘concierge’ per se, but the warmth with which the clique of young men and women greet you and attend to you is very pleasant. The hotel is located in the Colaba area of Mumbai, in the shadow of the behemoths of the hospitality industry and about a four-minute walk from the Gateway of India.
An old restored colonial building, which once served as a private residence of one of Mumbai’s greatest entrepreneurs from the nineteenth century, David Sassoon, the apartments on the first floor then passed over the years to a family dealing with antiques in 1982 and served as a guest house. Less than a year ago, it was turned into an aesthetically designed, charming boutique hotel.
My first impressions of Abode were just as lovely as those of the city of Mumbai – welcoming and classy. I also had the privilege of meeting the couple, whose passion for India and travelling brought forth kamalan – Rosenda and Jan Meer. They were in Mumbai for a couple of days and suggested I choose Abode for my stay. They greeted me in the hotel’s cafe, where we had a pleasant conversation and a hearty breakfast. I checked into my room which was no different from the rest of the hotel's constant underlying theme – Mumbai. You can see the city unleashed in pictures, paintings and decorations.
The Meers and I went about the city exploring its nuances and intricacies. We explored the area around the hotel and walked into a Parsi colony, which had a Zoroastrian ‘Atashgah’ or ‘Fire Temple’, the jewel-studded amidst the ring of houses. The residents were welcoming, letting us click a few pictures, telling us stories. We learned that the Parsis are a small group of Iranian immigrants practising the Zoroastrian religion who took refuge in India to escape persecution in their homeland centuries ago. Over time they blended in and with their sharp business acumen, rebuilt their lives.
We continued our journey as we stopped by the little known Banganga Lake near Malabar Hill, where legend says that Lord Rama quenched his thirst while on a mission to find his abducted wife after his brother shot an arrow into the earth which made water sprout from its bosom. When we ventured into the artistic quarters of the Kala Ghoda area, I learnt that there was once a bronze statue of King Edward VII riding a black horse in the central circle, which was removed in 1965 to make way for the Byculla Zoo, but the name Kala Ghoda, meaning Black Horse, stuck.
We later took the ‘local’ from the Churchgate Station, where we encountered the globally renowned cadre of lunch-box delivery men, the dabbawalas. The modest group of men whose efficiency has been the topic of discourse for major management gurus was silently but nimbly going about their business in the midst of wondrously staring foreign visitors’ eyes. We took the local suburban train to Mahalakshmi, known for Asia’s largest open-air laundromat, from where we drove to Gandhi Mani Bhavan, Mahatma Gandhi’s home in Mumbai which is now a museum in his memory.
As a professor of mathematics in the United States, specializing in Number Theory, I had rattled on to my students about the contributions of Indians to my field of study. My journey through India was one of rediscovering the land that taught the world how to count and I was in awe of its beauty and complexity. My observation of the complexity of this vast and magnificent land began with its microcosm, Mumbai. Its fractal nature and vibrant beauty were mine to deliberate upon.