Bombay Velvet (Vol. I)


Recently some guy with strong views and a weak vocabulary commented on a post that what I try to pass off as serious writing (specifically in reference to one particular book review) on my blog is little more than a load of smartly packaged manure typical of wannabe bloggers. That comment has affected me immensely and so in response to him/her/it I've decided to indulge in further blogging, as opposed to writing that is!

I've recently shifted from Bombay to Delhi and so a frequent set of questions that i face is: Do you like Delhi? But you must be missing Bombay? The answer to both these questions is as may be expected in the affirmative. So this post is nothing more than me reminiscing about the good things in Bombay.

So, what do I really miss about Bombay?

There is a something very primeval about man's fascination with water bodies. This is why since ever rivers, seas, water falls and lakes have attracted people. Not just because they give water which of course is useful but because there is something inherently beautiful in looking at water. So I liked Bombay because of (and despite as rural as it may sound), of the sea. Marine Drive is something. Every day for two years, I crossed it at least twice and yet never grew tired of looking at it. Sitting there. Sleeping there, once till three o clock in the morning. I loved how glamorous the concrete wave breakers make the shore look. I really liked how different it looked during the day and in the night when the lights came on in the buildings and the road all around it. I quite liked seeing the people sitting there. How easy it was really to make out the locals from the tourist. For the tourists, Marine Drive was an amusement, a monument. They’d be clicking pictures, turning their heads around every now and then so quickly as if the view would have changed while they were looking the other way. The regulars would of course be sitting there because it’s a good place to sit and talk or simply sit. There aren’t too many in Bombay and at least not too many that are this good and certainly not too many that are this good and still free. I liked the way there would be rows and rows of couples, in varying degrees of intimacy, all of them lost in their own world as if they could not see beyond the circumference of four feet which they occupied and no one could see them. I liked going pass the Marine Drive ten thirty in the morning and seeing school or probably college couples in varying states of arguments, discussions and other coupling rituals. Also, for some strange reason there would be an inexplicably frequent number of sightings of couples involving burqua clad women at that point of time in the morning. I racked my brains every time I saw one but could not fathom the link there.

I liked seeing the joggers, the evening joggers, the really late night joggers and the foreigners who would be jogging at 11 in the morning with a hard sun beating upon them. I really liked feeling the wind in my face being driven back in a kaali peeli at three in the morning. I found amusing the wannabe drag racers who came out in their fancy cars way past midnight on the weekends, speeding with howling music and sometimes screaming vocals in open roof cars.

I liked sitting and eating in the Pizzeria at Marine Drive. I even liked walking past it. With broad windows which open up on the footpath, it gives the feel of the road side cafes that the some of the most hep cities in the world are known for. When you are inside you can keep looking at the people outside, who for some strange reason always appear to be visuals better than the inside ones. When you are walking past it from the outside, you can walk right past the fancy people enjoying their fancy meals and more often than not you get a whiff of their fancy perfumes and the food’s aroma is always lingering there as well.

I miss the sea. I miss looking at the sea from my balcony. I really liked seeing the black rocks along the shore and how in a matter of a couple of hours they would disappear when the tide came in. I really liked seeing the sun set and the fact that I could never actually wait till the precise moment when it disappears completely in the water. I really liked seeing the tiny faint lights of the fishing boats in a sea of complete darkness. I loved looking at the sea in full moon nights. A flickering carpet of silver would be laid down when the water reflected the glow of the moon. I miss hearing the crashing waves when I went to sleep. I miss the windy rainy nights when it seemed quite possible even though illogical that the windows and doors would get blown away.I miss looking from my other balcony at a skyscraper coming up there. I liked looking at the laborers, engineers working precariously balanced on the edges of its high floors. I liked looking at the flares shooting up in the pitch black nights when the metals works were being done. I really liked seeing the construction going on unaffected by the continuous rains. I liked seeing the massive cranes doing a full 360 degree circle and the stunning maneuverability with which they could lift and keep the stuff, 500 feet above the ground.

I miss PDP (Priya Darshini Park for the uninitiated) . Truth be told I had gone their only a couple of times before my last one and a half months in Bombay when I went there every morning. Its a beautiful park alongside the sea. I liked seeing the joggers there, which were very few. The majority were walkers. Of those a high number were serious walkers who came armed with cutting edge gear (which in some cases included a cell phone or better still a plugged in blue tooth) and attitude. With steel hard determination and quick steps they paced to finish three rounds so as to be in the war room by 9.30 for that conference call. The mornings were glorious in PDP but the evenings were even better The best time to go to PDP is when the twilight starts setting in. It seems like a strange island surrounded by high building on three sides and a wide stretched sea on the fourth. Its a brilliant sight as the sun light starts fading ever so slowly and the lights in the buildings around start coming on one by one There is a strange sense of tranquility and self awareness which is a rare event in the bustling public spaces of Bombay.

I miss the Bombay rains. I wouldn't say I really liked them but I do miss them. I liked the way how it would rain all day and all night and all day again and still the city would not be drowned; at least not every time. I liked waking up in the morning and seeing the rain pelting against my doors and windows, my balcony filled with water and the violent sea waves crashing and jumping above the protective wall. I liked it that every now and then there would be a warning of high tide and heavy rains and the entire country and all the news channels would be biting their nails off in anticipation of another 2012 of Bombay while life would go on pretty much as usual for the people in Bombay barring a couple of amusing conversations and a few curious peeks out of the windows mostly in the hope of catching something interesting.

I miss how powerful money made you feel in Bombay. As long as you have money in the pocket there is nothing that you can't get no matter what time it is. If there is something or some service of which there is some use and some value, there would be someone selling it or providing it. Its not just about being spoilt rich. You can get dinner for ten bucks to ten thousand bucks in places separated by hardly by a hundred meters. You can arrange for a you know what from as little as nine hundred to as much as nine lakhs by simple making a phone call. You can walk casually out of a good restaurant and buy grass for a post dinner smoke like buying classic milds. You can get dinner at three o'clock, stop a cab on the road at two o'clok and even catch a local train at one o'clock in the night. I miss how powerful and free the two cabs and local trains made me feel. You could travel anywhere anytime, get off anywhere, switch between the mode of transports without the usual worries of finding a parking or worrying about the safety of your vehicle or driving inebriated. I liked traveling by local trains on Sundays or late nights when you could actually breathe and enjoy the perpetually and drastically changing landscape. I liked traveling by local trains on Sunday afternoons in monsoons when vigorous greenery would crop up all around and over the tracks and the faint smell of rusted metal would fill the air. I liked the anonymity that Bombay provided.

I miss how you could become a part of a massive crowd by just stepping off the train. I really liked the look of a busy morning at Churchgate. Hundreds and hundreds of people walking in hurried steps to rush to work. I miss walking in that swarm and feeling myself to be a part of it and how easily and quickly I could step out of it by simply taking a cab. I loved walking around the Fort, the Fountain and the Nariman Point. I miss walking from Nariman Point to the Fountain to Kala Ghoda to Colaba to Gateway. I miss walking past the High Court Building, walking through the small pathway bisecting the Oval Maidan, going past Bombay House and Bombay Samachar Bhavan. I really liked the old buildings around Fort, Ballard Estate, the mural on the walls of the dockyard (which features incidentally in the opening credits of the movie 99).

I miss the only lunch, the wonderful lunch I had at Britannia whose owners have not merely ignored but probably consciously rejected the slightest of modernization or commercialization. If it was not a couple of Parsis but one of our prominent trading communities by now it would developed into a chain of pretentious restaurants serving fake customized food. I really liked the fact that it was totally acceptable in Bombay for one single person to slip out of office at lunch hour and demand a table in a restaurant without being considered a socio-pyscho path and that I was not the only one to do so. I miss watching the Prithvi theater plays in the beautiful Horniman Circle Garden. I miss walking past the Asiatic Library steps and recalling which was the latest movie to showcase them. I miss walking past the iconic Bombay Stock Exchange building on Sundays and thinking how something so small and silent could hold the key to this country's fluctuating fortunes.

I liked attending the Kala Ghoda Festival with its movie screenings in Max Mueller, NGMA and some other libraries/ museums whose name i could never remember. I do remember under the KGF listening to a talk by Gregory David 'Shantaram' Roberts and being part of a ten thousand (?) strong crowd which was swayed for close to three hours by Shankar Mahadevan. I loved going to Cafe Mondegar and Leopold 's and till day find it difficult to choose one over the other. While Monde's has a juke box and better graffiti on the walls, Leo's has all its history and the charm of seeing more interesting foreigners. What both of them do have is the feel and atmosphere of a vibrant and alive city. I really liked going to Mondegar on a weekday and finding it to be full of people by seven o'clock. I loved how while having a conversation in Monde's you would just have to raise your voice a little to rise above the music and the conversations around you. I really liked how you could always hear a word here and there from the conversations happening on the tables around you and how to a person standing at a distance all these words would appear to be floating in the air together making no sense or probably making very humorous sentences.

I really liked watching a movie in Eros and Regal probably the only good and certainly the best single screen theaters left in the country. The onslaught of the multiplexes may have saved the dying film industry but it has effectively and silently served a death blow to the wonderfully big and acoustically brilliant single screen theaters, structures whose sole purpose of existence was to captivate and enthrall you through the magic of movies and not to recreate your drawing room/ bedroom with a slightly bigger TV screen. I miss watching movies in New Empire and New Excelsior and to finally have the experience of watching movies with lower stall audience. I liked the small hidden shop behind Eros which sold rare and contemporary Hindi film posters and how the salesmen there always tried their best to discourage people from buying stuff from there. I miss the people sending hot peanuts and fresh bhel all over the city and the pavement stalls selling newspapers and magazines. I miss the second hand booksellers near American Express at the Fountain and how they could pass off as completely knowledgeable about the massive book collection that they had and also how they could come up with colorful reasons for not having the books they did not have.

I miss the small shop of a Parsi lady near Marine Drive and Churchgate that sold ice cream sandwiches. A shop which seems like it had always been there so much so that there is not even a board announcing its name or wares. I really liked the Yazdani Bakery in Fort quietly and comfortable hidden between a dozen nondescript shops. I miss having their bun muska and kharis and how sitting there you could easily forget the decade that you were living in.

I liked Tendulkar's and how you could find a place there even on a Saturday night and how surprising it was not prohibitively expensive. I miss Bade Miyan and the gastronomical festivity around it at one or two in the morning on the weekends and how despite being a vegetarian orders of char gurda, teen bheja aur das naan sounded really mouth watering . I miss Gokul Bar and Restaurant right opposite Bade's, the only suitable replacement for Surya's I've found so far and how the only females in this almost shady but not still shady bar would be the foreigners.

I miss, oh god, how badly i miss the Movie Empire (recently opened on Kemps Corner), undoubtedly the best DVD rental store in India with its rows and rows and stacks and stacks of brand new, sealed, rare (including the Criterion Collection), original imported DVDs. I miss Phoenix Mills and how it kept swallowing on and on the mill structures around it and turning them into luxurious shopping boutiques. I miss the starking contrasts of the city. The shanties near the hotels. Abject poverty coexisting right next to overflowing affluence. I miss the fact that if you know the right place to look, you can find just about anything and there is nothing which cannot happen in Bombay and nothing which happens can shock you.

What do I miss about Bombay? That despite all the ridiculing and belittling you can sense that there is indeed something underneath the surface of this bustling, teeming megalopolis. Something which is hard to pinpoint though easy to make fun of. Something which is hard to put into words. Something which can at best be called and only because there is no better, more appropriate word for it yet, the spirit of Bombay. More about Bombay and about Delhi, and about Bombay and Delhi, in the next post.