I was scared.. there was stuff dripping on my head, stuff under my legs, and stuff staring at me. I was at Reay Road, Mumbai’s not-so-nice reality. This is what I wrote about it recently:

Here’s a riddle for those who think they know Mumbai inside-out.

Name the bridge: It is the only bridge in the city that has heritage status. It was built by the Bombay Port Trust in 1915. The area above and around the bridge is called chhota Bangladesh.

If you haven’t already guessed, it is the Reay Road bridge. Built in stone, the bridge is dotted with all that is anything but aesthetic. Slums, strong and crowded, are the strongest community of the Reay Road area. They almost seem like a parasite growing on the heritage structure that is Reay. Sheets of polythene and tyres hang off the old structure.

For the average Mumbaikar, walking on the bridge has become a health and safety hazard. “The bridge was built long ago for light vehicles. Now, there is the weight of slums and add to that heavy vehicles use this bridge all the time. I don’t think the bridge can take all this weight,” says Ashok Rawal, a worried commuter. Rawal, a motorist, says it’s impossible to walk over the bridge as both the footpaths have been hijacked by slum dwellers who he claims are of Bangladeshi origin. “Politicians want votes and they are not going to shift these refugees, even if the bridge is of heritage value,” he says narrating several instances of how muggers often attack ignorant commuters passing by. “It is better to avoid the area at night,” he says.

Ask former member of the heritage committee, Arup Sarbadhikary about the rusted and leaking underbelly of the bridge and he says that maintenance is a must. “Leakage and rust are negative signs. They signify the beginning of the downslide of a structure. How do you expect such an old structure to continue as if it was just built? Just like people need medicines when weak, bridges as old as 93 need to be regularly repaired.”

He goes on to point out that it is the younger concrete bridges that are falling apart faster than the British-built ones. “This is because Mumbai is highly polluted and corrosive elements like chlorides and gases in the air tend to cause damage,” he says. According to him regular surveillance is a must and since there is rapid deterioration, the authorities must be doubly careful.

So the next time you want to show your friends around the heritage structures of the city, don’t miss Reay Road bridge as it too, is of grade 1 status like the CST.