City Lights: VW Jetta midnight drives

Team Evo India

Words: Dipayan Dutta

Photography: Gaurav S Thombre

Come dawn, mumbai sets off like a bat out of hell; things happen so fast that blink and you’ll miss it. A million people pouring in to the heart of the city from every imaginable direction to have a slice of what the commercial capital of the country has to offer. Horns honk in frustration, people run helter-skelter like a well rehearsed act of synchronised chaotic confusion. The bedlam is hypnotic; it fills your mind and before you realise it, the day and the city has passed you by. As night falls, the soothing evening breeze sweeps in a blanket of calm, the hustle turns to a murmur and the traffic drops to a trickle. It is then that Mumbai comes in to its own and you notice things that passed you by in the midst of the stifling sun. Mumbai is classic and timeless, yet contemporary and ever evolving; and while on the subject, this probably describes the car we chose to wander her streets.

Like a well tailored suit the Volkswagen Jetta is sharp, classic, and timeless. Yet, in keeping with the times, the Jetta’s suit is crisp and well-fitted – all muscle and visual tension. And there’s a bit of jewellery, particularly with the eye-catching LED daytime running lamps. The drive to Mumbai from Pune that evening had been quite out of character for me; there was no record breaking (not that there were any records to be broken to begin with), no calisthenics around corners in the ghats, and the angry rap music that usually tears its way through the speaker membranes had been replaced by something softer and more melodic. Strange as it may sound, the Jetta had pulled the maniac straight out of me.

In fact, as we passed through the Lonavala ghats, the music was dropped entirely and replaced by pensive thoughts of life to the sight of the gently setting sun. We entered Mumbai just as the evening rush hour had reduced to a trickle, and made our way straight to the Gateway of India. No reason as such, it’s just the most obvious and aesthetically appealing landmark to begin our rendezvous with Mumbai by night – the most accessible too thanks to the new Eastern freeway that starts at Chembur and spits you out behind the iconic CST station in 15 minutes. The Gateway, as you can imagine, is heavily patrolled and we have a brief run in with the rozzers for parking right in front of the iconic monument. Best we be on our way then before our night drive is spent inside a police van.

Our plan is to grab dinner at one of Mumbai’s most famous night time eateries – Bademiya – which is just behind the Gateway. But since we were in no particular hurry and there wasn’t any traffic we decide to take the scenic route through South Mumbai. Soft tunes were brought back on, and we trundled past the Asiatic library at Horniman Circle, the magnificent art-deco structure nestled in the uber fancy part of Mumbai. It has now been turned in to Mumbai’s town hall and the iconic steps leading to the massive structure is a strange contrast – it stands out from the surroundings yet seems like an irreplaceable part of the landscape. We park up and admire this grand structure for a bit, something that you can only do at night when the notorious traffic in these parts has thinned down. The building is also beautifully lit at night, making it quite a sight.

Turning off the main road from Horniman circle are rows of old Victorian-style apartments and the broadwalk is filled with ultra premium brands that have set up stores that compliment the gorgeous white pillared buildings. Next stop, Bademiya, which in itself is an interesting phenomenon. Bademiya is on a street which is otherwise bustling with activity during the day, but by nine is almost entirely taken over by the restaurant and its customers who show up to enjoy some of the best kebabs the city has to offer. After gormandising our way through half of the menu, we decided the best way to end our city trip was with some ice cream by the bay at Carter road.

We cruised down the queen’s necklace as slowly as we could, hoping to digest some of the food and create a tiny nook for the ice cream to fit. From Marine Drive it is down Haji Ali and then to Worli and on to the sealink, four lanes of architectural brilliance that connects SoBo (which is what I’m told you have to call South Mumbai, if you want to be cool) to the ’burbs. The maniac returned briefly, as soon as we got on to the sealink, courtesy the punchy 2-litre turbo diesel engine with its 140 horses. There’s a mountain of torque and mated to the lovely manual gearbox the Jetta is a surprisingly quick car. Inside the cabin though everything remained as calm and poised, as while cruising down Marine Drive. The Jetta may be best enjoyed at cruising speeds but when the red mist descends it goes like it means it and also handles like a razor blade.

As we turned off the sealink, we pass the Shivaji park which has given us our greatest cricketing icon and then on to Carter road where a monument to Tendulkar’s cricket bat inspires scores of youngsters. Enroute we encouter Mumbai’s world famous potholes and the Jetta takes everything in its stride, gliding over the potholed roads like a ballerina on Swan Lake. It was past midnight by the time we reached Carter road, but judging by the traffic you might be led to believe it’s not a minute past six. Maximum city does not sleep! Half of Mumbai’s youth were there in everything from supercars to superbikes with the odd cycle thrown in. We sit under Sachin’s bat of honour, licking our Cornettos and let our minds wander as the waves gently hit the shore.

Here was Mumbai in an all new light. I’ll admit the city is not always so nice, most days it is humid, it reeks a pungent odour that no one can really identify and the traffic is horrible, but on this mid-monsoon night, I lost a bit of my heart to the city that does not sleep. The rest of my heart however went to the Jetta in that head-turning blue garb, that gentle but sturdy ride, the way it just glides over even the worst roads that Mumbai could throw at us, the way it effortlessly switches from stately sedan to precision attack tool the moment the right foot hits the throttle. Mumbai and the Jetta are a great match – timeless, stylish and classic. The best of both worlds!

Evo India