Verve Magazine, Scapes, November 2010

Quiet, clean environs and tree-lined avenues…old-world bungalows and landscaped condos…swanky wheels and round-the-clock security…. Verve stops by at the luxe locales of Mumbai, New Delhi, Chennai and Kolkata

The pecking order

Old money, sky-rise penthouses, the crème de la crème of Mumbai’s business society, South Mumbai has it all….

Despite the scoffing at the incessant comparisons between the pulse of South Mumbai and Manhattan, there is something that runs as a common thread: a social hierarchy. SoBo (acronym for South Mumbai – are you snickering?) packs the crème de la crème of Mumbai’s business society (the filmi kind are found largely in the suburban elite areas). Wrapped around the country’s financial district, it is all about old money – and while SoBo represents old wealth in its bungalows, sky-rise penthouses and grossly overpriced sardine-can apartments, there is a very specific pecking order which is linked to the part of ‘town’ that you live in.

Malabar Hill is the premium territory, where flats can go for over a lakh per square foot. The original area of moneyed settlers, where the prongs spread to the classy sea-hugging stretch of Nepean Sea Road, on one foothill of the Hill, filled with a mix of wealthy Gujaratis, Marwaris and a smattering of an eclectic crowd, peppered with prestigious government bungalows (think helipads). On the other side facing the Queen’s Necklace, Walkeshwar is predominated by older settlements of traditional Gujarati business families, where the Walkeshwar Temple and Banganga Tank date to the 10th and 12th century respectively and the older dilapidated buildings are rapidly being replaced by spanking new ones. This is the area of pure vegetarian food, Italian marble in homes, diamonds on the neck, and an uneasy transition to a cosmopolitan outlook on life.

In sharp contrast are Cuffe Parade and Nariman Point, reclaimed and developed in the ‘60s. Consisting of a hugely cosmopolitan lot, there is a racy headiness associated with what is known as the ‘Cuffe crowd’. There is a mix of old and new money in this area. The youth of the Hill and Cuffe do not mix until they reach the dating stage – when it’s a grudging marriage of two important areas of geography, except among the more conservative families who can’t quite digest the categorical transition away from home ground.

Altamount Road and Carmichael Road form the other major Hill area, dominated by a quieter moneyed crowd, the sprawling bungalows and buildings interspersed with consular settlements. Possibly the only thing bringing down its stock is the lack of SoBo’s trump card – a sea view. Walking up and down this tree-lined avenue is all about getting noticed – whether you’re in a Lamborghini or outside one. Incidentally, this is where the older Ambani brother has chosen to build his towering monument of success.

While the by-lanes of Breach Candy and Pedder Road house many affluent families, you would find their own little nesting areas of the youth – like Scandal Point of yore or the Sophia College Lane. Breach Candy forms an extension of Nepean Sea Road, hugging the same stretch of sea.

Worli Sea Face doesn’t quite make it to the cream of SoBo residential areas, despite rapidly being replaced as the area of new money by the rather nouveau riche Lower Parel. Its microcosmic world of the sea face walk and spacious houses boasts a mixed crowd that is probably losing grace due to its proximity to the suburbs.

Marine Drive – facing the famed Queen’s Necklace – is all about a time of art deco and a sense of nostalgia. With airy flats lined in a grid leading off the main sea-way, Marine Drive still continues to host a majority of its original settlers. Their claim to fame is the walk/jogging community on the Drive, crowded and in view of the entire office-going traffic.