Town Center

You can travel all around the world. You can live in many different places. You can call that one place home; that one place which gives you peace, offers convenient commute tot work and leisure activities to engage yourself in. But every town, however rural or urban, will have a town center of sorts.

I’ve lived in Mumbai, the fast and sleepless city. I’ve lived in Staines, a town by the Thames which is an hour away from Central London. I now live in Sunnyvale, perfectly located in the Bay Area, California. All of these places had one thing in common: a central hub in the middle of the town where everything seemed to revolve around.

Mumbai is a vast city and one would think that the city limits keep expanding. But the towns within the city of Mumbai itself are independent in their own right and have a central hub, a town center, where most of the cultural and social happenings occur. I lived in a town called Vile-Parle. It was a good place to grow up. I have a brilliant assortment of memories of growing up in this town and loved my the apartment I call home. There wasn’t one landmark in Vile-Parle. It wasn’t a well planned town and therefore, there wasn’t a “town center” as such. The Western Local train map etched in the middle of Vile-Parle divided the town, as small as it already was, in to Vile-Parle East and Vile-Parle West. Vile-Parle is famous for its colleges and eateries. Anybody who has ever lived in Vile-Parle will tell you that Babu Vadapav-wala serves the best vadapav and samosa in the world! Some say there is another place in Dadar that holds a candle against Babu‘s shop. That’s an argument for another day. There’s a Ganesh temple which is magnificent and it was a brilliant experience to visit the temple at the time of the Ganesh Festival. Vile-Parle is also the home of the very popular Parle-G biscuits. There’s a Parle-G factory, still operational, which give us various treats and great variety of snacks. Then there’s the Dinanath Natyagruha, the places where all Marathi plays were glorified among the Maharastrians that lived in Vile-Parle. I’ve seen a few shows in that theater and some I liked, some I didn’t. There were a couple of stores which were famous for their selection of snacks and sweets, the one I particularly loved was a store called Ruchi. Maybe I should get my uncle to pack a few snacks and have him ship it here. All of these stores were located within a kilometer of the train station. I’d like to think that this area made it the unofficial center of Vile-Parle. I’ll always cherish the fond memories of the snacks I ate at the various stalls in Vile-Parle with my friends, the countless cups of chai on a rainy day and the people of the place.

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When I was 15, I moved to Staines, England. I remember saying this to my mum, years after we’d moved away from Staines, that if my memory were wiped away my mind would still retain the image of the Thames river running along Staines and the beauty of the river banks throughout the year and its seasons. I love Staines. It’s the place that gave me the general idea of England. Some might say that Staines is not exactly the place that one should remember when the word England comes up. But, I loved living in Staines. I went to school in Staines, I made some brilliant friends around the place and I have a variety of pictures of the Thames river that make me love that place even today. Unlike Mumbai, or the towns in Mumbai, Staines had a town center; a high street it was called. As best as I can put it, a high street is the official center of a town with the Town Hall, mall, Bus station and restaurants in a radius of a mile. There are shops and cafes and places to buy one’s groceries. I had to walk past the high street everyday to get to school.  I always liked Wednesdays and Saturdays because the flea market brought in many farmers and their products, and small shops of confectioneries and ornaments to the high street. The hustle-bustle of people flocking the small shops, bargaining and contemplating the choice of different cheese was always a sight of wonder for me. The weekends were always fun on high streets. Of course, if you strolled the high street after 6 PM one had to endure the drunken crowds that visited the local bar.
The best part was the small pathway leading up to the river. There were benches and a subtle patch of green banks where one could feed the ducks. If one had to visit England, Staines wouldn’t be on the list of places to visit. But living in Staines is an experience in itself.

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Six months ago, I moved to Sunnyvale, California. Today I decided to take a walk around the Sunnyvale Downtown area and took pictures of the flea market, the bars and restaurants, and the atmosphere on a Saturday afternoon. I saw a lot of faces, all happy, relaxed, and enjoying the weekend. I grabbed a cup of coffee sat outside the cafe and saw the various shops set up by local farmers to the mild tunes of the street performer playing the guitar. It’s nice to know the town one lives in. I want to be more involved in the Sunnyvale community than I was ever involved in Vile-Parle or Staines. A few months back, I’d visited Downtown, the Historic Murphy Avenue, for an Art and Wine Festival. I’d have enjoyed the wine more if it weren’t for the hot day that it was but the works of the local artists really did enthrall me. There’s a book fair in Downtown soon and there’s a fund raising event in the City Hall, which I hope to volunteer at.

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It’s funny, every placed I’ve ever lived, I’ve called it my home. Home is where the heart is. Can there be more than one place one can call home? Does that mean, one’s heart is torn in pieces or, one has a heart for the many places one lived  in? I like this town and I will like the town I live in next. I’ve taken the opportunity to volunteer in the activities of my community and I would like to encourage all my readers to take part in the activities in their local communities too. One has to love their home, after all.

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