Sheer Melody

A mole's eye-view of the Cosmos

Bombay meri jaan

Last day in Bombay

A month back, I wrote a post - finding myself on a watershed. Today, I am in a different place; I have left Bombay and I find myself wandering. Not a minstrel yet, but close... Today, as I sit in my office on Cunningham Road and look out on the road, I feel strange... I feel an emptiness, a strange kind of a void... I feel strange at having left Bombay - I wanna sit back, relax and ponder on those amazing times. And I realize how wrong I was in actually believing that Bombay did not have a soul. Well, compared to some other cities in the country - it has oodles and oodles of it...

I spent close to three years in Bombay, and to be quite frank I was never in love with the city as are most of it's long-term residents. It's only today, as I sit in Bangalore, that I realize how much the city had become a part of me; and how tough it was to let go. That's when I realized that it's not a soul which endears a city to you, it's the people, and at some rather philosophically intrinsic level, the people of Bombay did endear themselves to me...

I find it logical and opportune at this point of time to edit my previous post on the few things which I feel defined Bombay, and made it all the more special...

Marine Drive: Over-rated, yet beautiful. The crowning charm of the city. Nothing comes close to a leisurely stroll along the promenade on a windy, rainy, stormy afternoon, the wind buffetting through your clothes, the spray on your face. Pausing to stop by Chowpatty to nibble on a bhutta, staring out at the ocean, and cursing the vagaries of life...

Cafe Mondegar: This is and will remain my favorite pub. The only place which comes close to it is Someplace Else in Calcutta, and probably Pecos in Bangalore. Leisurely summer and winter weekends spent with pitchers of beer, and surly waiters conspicous by their rudeness. Follow it up with a cab-ride up Marine Drive to Malabar Hill and back... Hog on the fish fingers and chips - and amaze at the way they melt in your mouth. Yuppie culture at its best. Intellectual conversation conflicting and co-existing with utterly banal crap. Minors drinking beers... on the house. The omnipresent queue at the entrace. The compulsory five minutes waiting time - stretching to fifteen or more... The inconspicuous juke-box at the corner. I still haven't managed to figure out why they have it there... A deeper philosophical question... one that requires an ample dose of Vitamin G.

NCPA: This was one of my favorite haunts in Bombay, and combined with the rather laid-back ambience of Prithvi theatre, these were the two places in Bombay which uphold and bolster quality theatre. As an art form, theatre has taken the back seat in a city, where Bollywood inspite of all its idiosyncracies holds ultimate sway. The experimental theatre never fails to transfer you to a different world, a utopian existence, an existence where acting is admired for its sheer merit, a world in which the force of a story is enough to captivate and enthrall you for two full hours, and a world in which the gaudy costumes, inane dances and glorious technicolor have no role at all.

Hotel New Bengal: This place is special for three people - me,
Arunava, and Sunil. Our first shelter in the tumultous city, the size of the rooms in this hotel never ceases to amaze me. Also, the big table fan on the ceiling. It never made sense then, it makes even lesser sense now. I remember the place for its balcony, overlooking the busy street adjoining Crawford Market, where the three of us sat on that lonely summer evening, smoked a pack of cigarettes, watching the buses pass, with child-like enthusiasm tinged with apprehension. I remember this place for the time I spent with my love, her first time in the city; when I finally realized how much I loved her.

Dance bars: A stay in Bombay is incomplete without a visit to one of these ubiquitious places. It was indeed a sad day for all of us when all of them shut down to appease the cheif ministers moral police. All said and done, Bombay's night life has and will always be defined by these places. I still remember those crazy times, starting with Guddi, continuing with Laxmi Palace, and ending with a rather anti-climactic trip to White House. The gaudy dresses, a few beautiful dancers, and gallons of beer combined to make some of those nights the most expensive and enjoyable times of our lives. Sometimes, we do chide ourselves for all the stupidity, but what the hell - it was an experience and definitely one worth having.

Local Trains: I still remember my first time in a Bombay local. Vile Parle station. The fast train comes in. It is chock-full, there does not seem to be an inch of space within. The people shout – “Khali train hai, array, khali train hai” (The train is empty, get on, the train is empty). We are dumbfounded and watch it pass, while the rest of the platform clamors into it, somehow and moves on. We wait for the next train; the platform crowds up all over again, and miss it too. Bombay locals give a true out-of-the-world experience. Nothing comes close to it.

Juhu at night: This is the place where everything happens. Whoring, drugging and gang-fighting. We did not see any of the third but we saw plenty of the first two. Girls in auto-rickshaws moving up and down the road, looking for prospective suitors (if such a word does justice); smoking marijuana in the middle of the street; this was the place where all rules just stopped making any sense. It still does, but seems toned down now. Possibly the dance bar ban has gone some way in enforcing morality on the people?

Goa Trip: Not related to Bombay in any way, but this remains and will forever remain the high point of my stay in this city. Plans made in a dead-drunk state in the middle of the night, these plans of going to Goa finally did materialize just after the tsunami struck. People did their level best to dissuade us but we persisted with what we had thought, and made the trip to heaven and back. It was one experience which will stay forever imprinted in the deeper recesses of my mind. This was a trip which gave me new friends, a new way of looking at life and a zest for living each moment for the sake of the moment.

Bombay has made me a different individual, it made me lose faith in love, and then it made me regain the same in a totally different manner. It made me understand the value of money, and the transparency of dreams. It made me feel for hundreds of people who make this city their home. It always amazes me how it finds a way out for every one of the teeming millions who stay here. Bombay never inspired me emotionally, and it only satiated me physically, to the limits of exhaustion. But it did make me a different person, less affected by emotional strife and a tougher response to situations. At some level, it did make me a better person.

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