The ABC’s of What Makes Mumbai, Bombay…

Bombay vs. Mumbai is a topic oft-debated.

As some who grew up in Bombay before Mumbai came to stick, the answer is fairly simple.

“Mumbai is the city… But Bombay is the emotion.”

This is a city of ceaseless charm and steadfast spunk. Of timeless traditions, moving with a modern train of thought. A melting pot of cultures, manifesting in a liberal and spirited zest for life.

I could go on forever waxing poetic in favour of the Maximum City… But instead, here’s spelling out the ABC’s of all that makes Mumbai, quintessentially Bombay.

A… Art Deco

With over 200 buildings and structures fashioned in this architectural style (many of which were built between the 1920’s – ’40s), Bombay has the largest concentration of Art Deco buildings after Miami!

It’s not a phenomenon limited to just the residential buildings breezily lining Marine Drive – but also visible in landmarks from Eros Cinema to the India Assurance Building.

B… Bollywood

It’s all in the name, coined by combining Bombay (the epi-centre of Indian cinema) and Hollywood. I’m hard-pressed to think of a recent conversation in the city which didn’t give time to the latest B-town gossip.

C… Cutting Chai

Whether labouring on-the-ground or toiling away in a high-rise office, the productivity of workers across the city is potently powered by these half-glasses of milky tea, providing a sweet respite in the middle of the working day.

While the term “cutting” is mostly associated with the half portion serving (cut off at half a glass), others argue that it’s telling of the sharp strength and flavour of the tea, brewed and sold at street-side stalls for as little as Rs. 7 (less than ten pence!).

D… Drives

Also ritualistic (and terrifically therapeutic), are late night drives with friends – inevitably always accompanied by a pitstop for paan, ice cream or both!

Of course, D could also stand for Dhobi Ghaat (the world’s largest outdoor laundry which has been in manual operation for over 140 years), or the 5,000-strong army of Dabbawalas’ responsible for delivering warm home-cooked meals to almost 200,000 citizens. So meticulous is their mode of operation, that it’s been the subject of a Harvard Case Study!

E… Eggs Kejriwal

This simple combination of a fried egg and cheese on toast (with a sprinkling of chopped green chillies on top), was created at the Willingdon Club on the behest of one of its members, Mr. Devi Prasad Kejriwal (he was denied the eggstatic pleasure within the walls of his conservative Marwari household).

Little did he know that the sandwich named after him would rise to a cult-status, appearing across trendy restaurants both in and outside of Bombay (give it a try at Dishoom in London, next time!).

F… Fashion Street

This concentrated line-up of clothing stalls near Azad Maidan, is one of several cost-friendly and bargain-worthy fashion hubs, holding particular appeal to budget-conscious students and college-goers (other favourites include Colaba Causeway and Linking Road in Bandra).

G… Gymkhanas

Tracing their origins to colonial times, Bombay’s gallimaufry of gymkhanas were originally established as medium for sporting and social events… A purpose which they faithfully fulfil to date, from the golfing draws of Willingdon Club to the cricketing charms of C.C.I. and (in)famous Bar Nights at Bombay Gymkhana!

H… Haji Ali Mosque 

Situated on its own islet leading off Worli, the iconic shrine of Haji Ali (a wealthy merchant turned sufi), is worth a visit alone for its breathtaking setting on the sea.

I… Irani Café Culture

Harking back to the time when Zoroastrian Iranian immigrants made their way to colonial Bombay (back in the early 20th century), Irani cafés are a portal into a bygone era.

While there were almost 400 in existence during the swinging ’60s, today less than 30 remain – their peeling walls still lined with jars brimming with sweets, while city-dwellers converse around marble-topped tables over cups of chai and bun-maska. The timeless tradition of dipping the soft buttery bun in tea, is one as entrenched in the social fabric of the city as the café culture which birthed it!

J… Jehangir Art Gallery

Founded by another Parsi community leader, Bombay’s oldest art institution has led the transformation of its neighbourhood, Kala Ghoda, into an arts and culture hub…

K… Kala Ghoda

Literally translating to Black Horse, Kala Ghoda is an area well-trodden its avant-garde art galleries, beautiful boutiques (from Sabyasachi’s sultry store to Sancha’s tea haven), cosily charming cafes (Kala Ghoda Cafe and The Nutcracker remain perennial favourites) and historic structures (including the fairytale-like Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue). Oh and lest I forget, there’s also the eponymous art and cultural festival which takes place here annually! Explore more, here.

L… Lalbagcha Raja

Falling each year on the fourth day of the waxing moon, Ganesh Chaturthi is the most joyously celebrated festival in Mahrashtra… And at a height of 12 feet and involving 1,500 kg of  iron, Lalbaugcha Raja is the most revered pandal (temporary shrine) – occupying a throne which is eight feet long and eight feet wide!


Devotees of Ganesha come from all corners of the State for darshan of their most beloved deity, with the festival culminating in the immersion of the idols in the sea.

M… Mylapore of Mumbai

Matunga is yet another example of the myriad cultures making up Bombay, bringing a bit of Mylapore to the city with its South Indian eateries.

Famously churning out as many as 60 fluffy idlis in 8 minutes flat, Cafe Mysore is my top pick of where to eat here on a lazy Sunday afternoon, finishing off with a round of traditional filter kaapi. It’s inevitably back home and under the covers afterwards.

N… NCPA Theatre

The first multi-venue, multi-genre cultural centre in South Asia, the NCPA is also India’s largest and most comprehensive performing arts centre, hosting over 700 events each year (including performances by its in-house orchestra).

O… Opera House

A recent revival of this cultural cornerstone has seen India’s only surviving opera house restored to its former glory. From the striking architecture (featuring original Baroque styles fused with European designs and Indian details) to the majestic interiors – the old-world splendour of this institution holds as much draw as  the line-up of contemporary performances taking place here. Read more, here


P… Prince of Wales Museum

More formally known as Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS Museum) in our politically correct times, the Prince of Wales Museum is a treasure trove of relics, sculptures, textiles and artefacts – collectively redolent of India’s rich heritage.

The Indi-Saracenic design of the museum building (showcasing Gujarati and Islamic influences from the 15th and 16th century, against English brickwork) is a work of art in itself too.



Q… Queens Necklace 

The moniker given to the gracefully curving beauty of Marine Drive in South Bombay, by the author R B Karkera in his book, ‘Charms of Bombay.’ To see why, head to Dome – the rooftop bar at The InterContinental – by nightfall. Clad only by the glow of the street lamps, the ethereal view of the Arabian Sea is not unlike a string of pearls in a necklace!

R… Roadside Eats

From bhel puri to bhutta (roasted corn on the cob), frankies to grilled sandwiches and more, each and every corner of the city is bursting with all manners of scrummy street snacks! (Full roundup coming soon, #WatchThisSpace).

S… Stock Exchange

Everyone dabbles in it.

T… Tajness

Another stalwart of Bombay’s storied past, the landmark Taj Mahal Palace is emblematic of that certain Tajness – both a quality and an emotion which manifests in a comforting familiarity within these hallowed walls.

U… Unshakeable 

Because if history has taught us anything, it is that the spirit of the city is indomitable.

V… Victoria Terminus

Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this old-world railway station continues to faithfully serve millions of residents daily, bridging the divide between suburban pockets and the urban hive of activity. It’s now called Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus.

W… Woodside Inn

Going strong since our parents’ college days, this decades-old pub in Colaba staunchly remains a sought-out bolthole for a chilled beer and a burger.

X… Xavier’s

One of the country’s most iconic colleges, founded by a 16th century Spanish Jesuit saint, Francis Xavier.

Y… Yacht Club

A wonderfully quaint clubhouse which lays claim to having hosted royalty – both English and American (everyone from H.R.H. Prince Arthur, to the yachting enthusiast William Kissam Vanderbilt has stayed here!). With its terrazzo flooring and Minton tiles, regally winding staircase and lush gardens – it’s all too easy to spend the good part of any free afternoon here!

Z… Zaffran

Open until 4 a.m., this laid-back diner is symbolic of the late-night culture & revelry of the Maximum City.

For more on where & what to eat in Bombay, have a browse here

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