One of my earliest memories of an ‘English’ film (all Hollywood films were lumped under this category while growing up) was a sequence involving two sappy characters who couldn’t decide if they were in love with each other. Throughout the movie they kept on arguing about something or the other while running a bakery. Or was it a morgue? In an era where subtitles didn’t exist and the ear wasn’t trained enough to decipher hurried exchanges in ‘Americanese’, I was more than a little disappointed in my neighbour’s choice of film. I was more than ready to watch ‘Bloodsport’ for the 15th time. And it was available at the video store too. But then this neighbor who was almost sprouting a moustache decided to get this movie thinking there were a couple of, well, interesting scenes of an intimate nature. I didn’t have any money to contribute. So all I had to do was sit in front of the only colour TV in the building. And hope that the tape would get stuck inside and he’ll have to change the movie for something else. Maybe Bloodsport.
I took some pleasure at the loud oath uttered by my neighbor when the end credits started rolling as soon as the warring couple finally decided to kiss. After 90 minutes. Camera zooms out turning the couple into two specks and in the process reveals the magnificent Manhattan skyline, lit up by the incandescent rays of the setting sun. And thus started my love affair with city skylines. Forget love. It had become an obsession. There was something about these skyscrapers that stood tall and proud. The thing is I could never imagine myself living in these steel and glass structures. They were too aseptic for me. Or, maybe I was afraid of the unbridled ambition that lurks in each one of them. But I was still fascinated by them.
There was a time when I could reel off facts and figures of some of the world’s most celebrated skylines with the flair of a magician. Won a tiebreaker at a quiz once. The world’s most vertical city? Nope. Not NY. Hong Kong. When I started working in Bombay, I often ended up jumping into a ferry to Mandhwa Jetty or Elephanta Island on weekends or during Diwali to escape the crowds. I’d head straight for the upper deck and enjoy the cool breeze while watching Bombay’s skyline disappear. And during the return journey later in the evening, refreshed and eager to start another week, I eagerly watched out for the twinkling lights of the skyline stretching from Nariman Point to Worli. I used to get into a Bhiku Mhatre kind of mode - Mumbai ka king kaun? For all of five seconds.
Dubai happened a decade ago. The day I landed, I was received at the airport by the Man Friday of the ad agency I joined. I was then driven straight to the agency at the other end of town. A journey that necessitated hurtling straight down Sheikh Zayed Road. I had read a lot about the famed Dubai skyline. But still wasn’t prepared as the jaw-dropping skyline came into view. I almost felt like I was in an ‘English’ film.As I gushed about Dubai’s tall spires jutting proudly into the sky, the Dubai veterans, the ones who came before the Sheikh Zayed stretch was built, smiled patronizingly and sort of conveyed the message that I came a decade late. Enjoy the view. We, however, watched this view being built.
It was around 2005 when I heard rumours of massive skyscrapers being built along a stretch called Dubai Marina and JBR. ‘It’s going to be spectacular’. A friend who saw the architectural renditions murmured helpfully. So, one fine Friday afternoon, I set out for this location, which was apparently very difficult to find. I switched on my inner GPS and after just a couple of wrong turns, found myself at a location, which is now referred to as the JBR Beach. I parked the car and walked a little further down the beach, right to the water’s edge. I watched as gigantic cranes transported construction material swiftly and precisely to a series of half-constructed high rises. Tiny figures, high above, strode around purposefully in the manner of worker ants. After almost an hour, a man wearing a hard hat and a scowl approached me and told me in no uncertain terms that I was in dangerous territory. I assured him that I had no intention of troubling my medical insurance provider. I strode away with a happy heart. I knew the way to this place. And I know how to befriend people. So, there was no way I am going to miss seeing a spectacular skyline being created.
(This photo of the Dubai Marina and JBR skyline was taken in 2015. From the Palm Jumeirah. Two iconic developments that I’ve been a part of. Now, that makes me a Dubai veteran too, I guess.)