Marine Drive is part of the land reclaimed from the backwaters in the 70s. This buzzing city nerve-centre takes on varied shades during the day.

Morning has broken. The white sky above has had its face washed clean by the night’s showers; the backwaters below are a calm blue where boats softly bob. Night lights from the ships at the faraway harbour still twinkle in the distance. Hemmed in by the Vallarpadam Bridge at one end and the Boat Jetty at the other, Marine Drive, this dawn is a wet, silent stretch of sleeping apartments. As the last of the cricket cries fade away, the squelch of walkers’ shoes against wet tiles begins. They flock in — old couples, young athletes, solitary aunties and shouting uncles — their arms flailing back and forth like ship sails. Some come with their lungis folded up, others fortified by umbrellas, and still others with their ears plugged and eyes squinted at the clouds, daring it to rain again.

They talk of the morning’s newspaper and last night’s reality show, of the maid who ditched yesterday and the office meeting tomorrow. Between push ups and sit ups, crunches and sweat beads, calls are made and radios blared. Just before the new Kettuvallapalam (bridge), the first ferry of the day docks in, and unloads its people cargo who rush off with packed lunch boxes and full handbags. A rag-picker meanders among them, laden with a large sack, picking up today’s treasure from yesterday’s trash. At the shore, water hyacinth heaves and sighs with the water’s ebb and tide. In rhythm, empty sunset-cruise boats rise and fall — ‘Bay Queen’ beside ‘Sea King’, ‘Lady of Ransom’ with ‘High Spirits’, ‘Child Jesus’, ‘John’, ‘James’, ‘Joseph’, ‘Mark’ and the whole host of saints.

As the day grows into its fullness, it is business at its best. The first flute-seller arrives enticing buyers with ‘Kal Ho Na Ho’. Rajasthani women, their babies and toddlers in tow, spread tarpaulin sheets along the pavement and spread out their wares — necklaces, bracelets, friendship bands and finger rings. Then reach the palm readers and their magnifying glasses, with promises of long life, love and prosperity. Soon come the tattoo artists and charity money collectors, the gospel tract distributors and ice cream vendors. Shop shutters rise, street stalls open and shouts of ‘masala manga, pulli manga, uppilitta manga!’ fill the air.

On this hot, sultry afternoon, while many choose a quiet siesta beneath leafy trees by the backwaters, elderly women sweep the sidewalk and wipe the hoardings clean. College couples stroll along, casting quick glances at photographers capturing to-be-weds on the Cheenavala Palam. Peep under the iconic bridge and you’ll see sufficient proof of affection in the graffiti that proliferates — hearts with arrows piercing through, marked by lovers’ names and their numbers. Beneath, thick waters choked by plastic bottles, lost shoes, chips packets and egg crates, empty from the canal into the backwaters. As the sun rises to its hilt, its blinding rays reflect down the waters turning them into a thousand gleaming freckles. It is now that Marine Drive is at its laziest.

With the sun slowly sinking toward the sea’s edge, the sky turns into a sea of blue and white, with streaks of purple and pink. Leisurely, the sun slips away into a shelf of orange sky, and life resumes along the walkway. Boat operators spring into action peddling rides into the sunset for Rs. 50 and upwards, with a quick history lesson of the islands around included. Seated on the Drive’s many wrought-iron chairs, a hub of senior citizens discuss the politics of this age; office-goers drop by to retire after a tiring workday, and children run along playing with balloons and stuffed toys. Eavesdrop on the myriad conversations around and you’ll hear Arabic, Hindi, Marathi, Gujarati, Tamil, Kannada and a smattering of Malayalam’s every dialect.

By late evening though, the activity winds down and the Drive empties out. Against the blackened sky, light markers in the sea begin blinking and the horizon turns into a string of hazy ship shapes, their contours defined by yellow lights. Flood lamps on all three bridges on the Drive come on and a gentle wind lifts the remainders of a busy day — newspaper bits, chocolate wrappers and bus tickets. They await the stirrings of a new day.

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