Half of Bombay lives at ground-level, mostly on pavements, in gutters, on empty plots, old crumbling buildings; the other half lives in the skies, in high-rise buildings, 20 and 30 floors above their fellow citizens. This piece is on the citizens who live in the skies.
Yesterday, a friend invited me to his flat in Grand Paradi, not the topmost floor but very near the top.
From Kemp's Corner, you turn into a small lane adjoining the kitchens and service rooms of Shalimar Hotel. It is a private road, badly kept, half dug or never laid our, cars. Parked carelessly around. You drive up the Cumballa Hill, past buildings badly in need of a fresh paint.
Grand Paradi, as everybody knows, is a set of three buildings, tall and pointing to the skies, like the triumvirate at Elephanta. Outside the Nariman Point comples, they dominate the Bombay skyline as few other buildings do.
We went through a long garage underneath the three buildings, connecting one to the other, the parking lot filled with foreign cars, or Indian-made-foreign-cars, like the Maruti. Outside the security office was blackboard announcing: "No water cut for Blocks A and B today and tomorrow." There were three spelling mistakes in the announcement, but just because you are employing them from Grand Paradi, you do not get educated security officers or janitors or mangers.
The lift was like Goderj cupboard, very safe but not elegant, the indicator showing its progress from floor to floor was missing, but a light flashed around still, on a blank disc. A young liftman sat on a stool, his nose in a Marathi magazine, absent-mindedly operating the lift. There were three servants, a tiny but gingery dog, and two children in the lift, besides us.
Upstairs, it was all bright and sunshine and the city spread below like the view from the morning Bangalore flight coming into Bombay, sunshine spread into the flat through its several windows and balcones and wind breezed through the cross-ventilation, like a series of guests in a hurry.
It was all rather impressive: the white tiles of thelfat, the shimmering sea of Berach Candy and the Chowpatty Bay, the high-rise towers around, fading into the final SeaRock Hotel tower at Bandra, the terraces of the smaller buildings with the TV antennae, and, right below, the green tropical jungle that is Malabar Hill and whose size and depth you only realise when you look at it from above.
Opposite us were the grounds for the disposal of the Parsi dead. A cluster of funeral parlours, looking like weekend cottages in Mahableshwar, cars of the relations of the deceased parked in one corner.
A funeral was on and soon the body of the deceased would be ceremoniously taken further up the hill, disappearing under the trees. I could not see any vultures, but there were large kites flying laziley over the green hill.
After that there was only one way to proceed Ė take the lift and come down to earth.