South of South Mumbai!! How often do we visit this prized part of the city? If only we had meetings with government or had reason to stay at any of the two most iconic hotels of Mumbai – The Taj Mahal Palace, Mumbai and The Oberoi. A larger part of visitors come for business and stay which ever part of the city beckons them, and they stay adjacent to where the business is. And the South essentially remains connected with the state government, the mantralya. A close friend’s son’s wedding took me to the South, as he is a true blooded Parsi and the ceremonies retained their distinctive community flavours. And this too is where the South finds favour. We were booked at Vivanta President, Mumbai on Cuffe Parade, formerly the President. One evening we had the dinner out among family and friends, at the Yacht Club, passed by the Afghan Church for the actual wedding, sat out the hallowed Parsi Temple, as non Parsis had to stay away, but witnessed the pageantry and solemnity of the community wedding.
While making it to Yacht Club, on a Sunday evening, walked past streams of tourists, who are hardly to be seen anywhere else in the city. This is the tourist citadel, this is the historic Kala Ghoda area and much of whatever old-time visitors would treasure of the city. This is history preserved and enhanced and treasured by well-heeled tourists and city folks alike. The Yacht Club in itself was an experience with its rampart like appearances and old-world service charms. We dined at the Anchorage Room, sitting on its almost antique furniture, and relished every bit of it, including the food.
So, what did I make of it? That this is the traditional Mumbai one had seen in the good old days. But today the city has grown out of its seams. Must be a small sprinkling of the city visitors hardly ever get to the South, much less even get a chance to savor it. It is story seldom told today. And the tragedy is that much of this story has been lost within the industry itself, too. Is it fast becoming a lost cause? Possibly so, unless some of us wake up to this growing reality and at least do not vacate the space totally, be seen in it, keep it alive, the flicker must not die altogether.
But what is happening on the ground? I stayed at Vivanta President, Mumbai and it was an experience that I was totally unprepared for. I was told it was renovated some 8 years ago. Everything about it was an impressive blend of technology and tradition. Indian history from the Konkan and much of the coast had been re-written in the creative interiors. The service was impeccably Taj. Eating out was a delightful experience. I am sure they are doing well on the business traveler account, but what about tourism? The Oberoi remains easily the most sublime statement on understated luxury in our country. Its atrium lobby is a place where one can sit and labour over cups of endless coffee. It is what I read makes the eternal classic, a design that stands etched in time. But here again the tourism story is no different.
The story, in fact, is not being told anymore. Neither by the Maharashtra Tourism guys, who have a larger canvas to pursue, including the lesser known state to be sold. Never mind if what was known is being forgotten in the process. Each one is on his own, and why not? There are targets to be met, balance sheets to be reckoned with. The two big guys of hospitality have equally outgrown this small portfolio sitting in their backyard, even though their story started from these very same iconic properties themselves.
But like I said the flame must continue to flicker, and why not shine on forever. It is another issue which demands a wake-up call. These same protagonists must put their heads together. Start a conscious workplan that keeps the South of South Mumbai uppermost in every tourist mind, across the country and the world. The spirit of Mumbai is most invaluable and is here to stay, forever, and the mantle lies squarely on the heads of those who are the essential stakeholders of this infinite spirit.