FLAMINGO WATCHING AT SEWRI JETTY
WORDS AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY MRIGANK WARRIER
Mrigank Warrier finds solitude amongst the flamingos at sewri jetty.
Three friends squinted down the length of Sewri Jetty, blinking into the summer sun. Skirting around a sleepy police chowki, they padded down an unnamed path in the shadow of a Mumbai Port Trust container yard. An alluring diversion appeared – a rocky trail laid over a misshapen bund, with mangroves to one side and marshes on the other, leading straight to the sea. Mangroves are queer trees. The subdued green of their foliage is unrelieved by visible flower or fruit. They crouch low to the ground, yet tower over the average human. Entire copses swish and sway in the mildest gust. And their roots breathe.
If this was The Hungry Tide fan fiction, there’d be rumours of royal Bengal tigers lurking in the swamps and prayers to Bon Bibi, the spirit of the forest. But in this protected Mangrove Park buttressing the city, the friends’ only fear was arrest by a suspicious policeman.
One friend rolled up his pants, stripped off his shoes and socks and waded into the muck to shoot a close-up of a bird he identified as a sand-plower. Another picked his way between mud and water to photograph another fine specimen, which refused to co-operate and flew away.
The third leaned against a rock, and gazed at the sea. In a city by the sea, everyone competes for their own private spot to look upon it. Far from the madding, littering, selfie-taking crowd, this was his.
If this was The Hungry Tide fan fiction, there’d be rumours of royal Bengal tigers lurking in the swamps and prayers to Bon Bibi, the spirit of the forest.
Every winter, photographers of every lens and hue navigate an industrial neighbourhood lined by snoozing cabbies, avoid the craters on a wide, gloriously ruined road and deposit tons of equipment on an unsuspecting jetty. The Bombay Natural History Society even operates a shuttle from Sewri station to ferry them to their appointment: an audience with thousands of Lesser Flamingos that migrate here all the way from the Rann of Kutch.
Tripods as tall as my mum are set up. Some shutterbugs hop from barge to obliging barge, trying to get just a little closer to the winged celebrities. My friend and I can request one of them to let us look though his viewfinder, but even without binoculars, manual settings and post-production, the birds are elegant, pink and beautiful.
They fly together as a squadron; no one is left behind. Taking off from the foreground of the ship-breaking yards of Darukhana, they soar above the oil containers of Butcher Island, flash fire over Elephanta, begin their descent over Vashi bridge, cross Thane creek, renew their glow from the pinpoint flames flickering atop the orange-white-grey chimneys of Trombay refinery and land gracefully in the waters lapping against the thin green crescent of mangroves abutting the eastern suburbs.
Or so it seems. If the mangroves are sacrificed to make way for the Nhava-Sheva Trans-Harbour Link, the flamingos won’t come back. And the only remaining subjects for photography will be the leery young men who use the artfully decaying barges as backdrop for a low-budget photoshoot.
In a city by the sea, everyone competes for their own private spot to look upon it. Far from the madding, littering, selfie-taking crowd, this was his.
Can you recall the shade of gloop left in the biggest trough of your high-school palette at the end of an art class in which you’d repeatedly “wash” your brush in a small cup of water? Mine was always a runny blue-grey; so is the monsoon vista visible from Sewri Jetty. The sky and sea are one, and the horizon is an imaginary line wiped off by the rain.
At the jetty, the dominant colour is rust. Corroded by the salt in the air and sea, scores of brown trawlers float triple-parked by the shore, gently heaving on the breast of the tide, their pennants fluttering merrily. Twisted wet ropes tether boats with maritime names like Hemant Sagar and Ocean Pride to formidable metal moorings driven deep into concrete. Monsoons are for maintenance; grim-faced men in greasy jumpsuits tinker with motors hoisted onto the dock by a giant yellow crane. One mechanic responds to the call of “screw-paana leke aa re!” by emerging from a pile of mattresses and getting to work. Mumbai was Bombay, and Bombay comes from bom baim: good bay. For some, it remains just that.
I settle at the very edge of the jetty, my eyes squinting against flying flecks of rain, my feet dangling a few feet above the watermark, my ears awash with the gurgle of the tide slapping against man’s claim on the sea. In a city obsessed with its western waterfront, I claim the east for myself.
Sewri Flamingo Point, MPT, Sewri, Mumbai 400 015