Travels through India

This is a story about three great cities, Mumbai, Kolkata and Bangalore

Chapter 3

It was six in the evening when Subho woke up from his desultory slumber. Dusk was settling on the vast ruins of Mumbai as he rubbed his eyes and stared at the flickering tube light for a few lousy seconds before prodding Tarun gently. Tarun was an excellent sleeper and most disturbances would have little or practically no effect on his slumber. It took Subho fifteen prods and numerous choicest epithets before Tarun finally acknowledged his presence.

“What is it?”

“I feel bored. Let’s go out”, said Subho, satisfied at having woken the man; shifted his attention to Anup.

“Where do you wanna go?” Tarun asked irritably. “It’s only five in the evening.”

“I have heard Marine Drive looks awfully enchanting as night falls. We could also catch a beer if we find a good enough place.”

“OK. But I am not going to any dance bars”, Tarun decided, as Subho’s face slowly crumpled in disappointment. “I don’t feel comfortable with the idea of sitting and watching girls in gaudy dresses making suggestive moves in front of my face.”

Subho looked at Tarun with a look of faint distaste, and confused anger, but realized that most first-timers had the same feeling about these happening night-spots of Mumbai.

Subho himself had felt pretty low as he had entered the rather highly-placed Topaz the previous night with Anup. As the overtly dressed watchman at the door gave him the typical low-brow Indian salaam, Subho had felt desperately out-of-place and had had second thoughts about actually going through with their plan. Things did not change much even after they entered and had spent a good two hours in the bar. Subho and Anup hadn’t stopped feeling out-of-place in the midst of so much lewdness and denigration. It was only after they left the lurid confines of the bar that the stark reality of the outside world hit them and they realized that what they saw inside was just another manifestation of escapism. Another Bollywood.

Subho said, “Fine, we’ll just drink somewhere. After all, it’s your first night in Mumbai. It would feel odd if we didn’t drink. What say, Anup?”

Grmmmph”, was Anup’s labored answer as he still struggled to shake off the last dregs of marijuana and sat up on his bed, disheveled and grossly irritated. “I need to take a bath. Do we really have to go now? It doesn’t look like it’s very pleasant outside.”

“We’ll smoke one. It’ll make bearing the heat easier”, smiled Subho, as he fumbled in his pockets for the pack of cigarettes. As he emptied one cigarette into the makeshift dustbin, he turned to Tarun and asked, “Have you gone to Khajuraho?”

“No”, replied Tarun. “And why?”

“I had a dream as I slept today, that I was the king of Khajuraho and that I had commissioned a hundred people to act out for the sculptors what was to be carved on the walls of the temples”, said Subho, nodding his head as he smiled at Tarun. “Fifty men and fifty gorgeous women”, he added.

“And what happened then?”, asked Tarun, dutifully.

“So I told them that their job was to enact some scenes from the Kamasutra for the sculptors. We also called some priests to decide what would be an auspicious time for the sculptors to start – you know – sculpting. So these priests decided upon an auspicious date. I couldn’t wait for the day, obviously”, smiled Tarun, “I don’t know why I was so anxious, I mean – I was a king, I could get any female I wanted, but again, you know what dreams are like. So anyways, where was I?”

“You woke up anxious”, helped Tarun, as Subho alternately filled tobacco and grass into the empty cigarette and continued with the dream.

“Right… I woke up anxious on the auspicious day. And I got dressed in all my finery and went out to the temple site, where the sculptors had all assembled to start the job. So I went and sat on my seat, waiting for the fifty men and fifty women to come and star their job. I waited, and waited, but soon I realized that something was wrong. I called my minister and asked him to find out what the problem was. Do you know what he told me when he came back?”

“What did he tell you?”, Tarun asked, his waning interest in the story returning in a desperately gradual fashion.

“The minister said apologetically – All the men had an overdose of ganja yesterday, and are sleeping. I tried waking each one of them but none of them would wake up. I asked him – What about the ladies? He said – they are all awake, but they have no male compatriots to actually perform those acts with them. By this time I was furious with the men and I shouted at the minister – Bring the ladies here. I (and I distinctly remember I placed a great deal on extra emphasis on the word I) shall demonstrate with each of these women what these fifty men were supposed to demonstrate. The minister stared at me with awe, but soon realized that I was indeed serious, and went away to fetch the women.”

Tarun could feel the a distinctly erotic feel to the story developing. He asked anxiously – “Then what happened?”

“Then I woke up…”

Tarun got off the bed with a barely audible cry of disgust and Anup entered the room, with an excess of powder on almost all parts of his body. “So where are we going?” he asked, as he carefully applied just the correct amount of Brylcreem on his hair, and combed it in front of the miniature cupboard on the wall.

Subho lit a joint and Tarun interrupted before Subho could start speaking. “We’ll go to Marine Drive, and will find a nice cheap watering hole where we can have a little beer. And we are not going to any dance-bars. Just to make my intentions clear…” He smiled after completing the last sentence, and then extended his arm out for a smoke.


Mumbai is one city which emanates a sense of importance and continuous bustle at every point in time. It’s as if the entire city is continually on the move, and the three newcomers got ample evidence of that on their first evening together in town. As they left the claustrophobic confines of their small hotel, they realized that compared to all the cities that they had stayed in, this city beat them all, and beat them by a wide margin, at that.

The constant bustle, the mindless chatter, all of it was enjoyable and terribly enervating at the same time. Tarun had seen all of it in Kolkata, which had its fair share of bustle and noise and needless confusion, but it was the sense of calmness in utter chaos in Mumbai which thrilled the three of them. Tarun was reminded of the time when he shifted from Bhubaneswar to Kolkata. The feeling had been similar, the sense of awe which invariably assails a person when he moves away from the small town he is so accustomed to. The sense of association changes, and with it changes the way one perceives people. It was this feeling which was affecting the three of them as they walked along the busy road adjoining Crawford Market, a conversation-less walk.

Marine Drive, or the Queen’s Necklace, as it is more popularly known is the most popular landmark of Mumbai, and probably the most over-rated. It’s a promenade which was built by the British for their officers to take a walk and for their ladies to take their dogs out for a stroll, and gradually as population and pollution turned into the larger and concerning evils plaguing Mumbai; this promenade slowly started attaining cult status and became a tourist spot, rather, an attraction. Tourists were given rave reviews of its beauty, especially at night, and were told to keep a lookout for it as their aircraft took off from Mumbai airport. At the end of Marine Drive, was Nariman Point, which housed the Hilton towers, and the National Council for Performing Arts, arguably the most obscenely expensive real-estate in the whole of the country. Over-rated it may be, but for a person who sees it for the first time, Marine Drive did not fail to impress.

Most important of all, it made Tarun happy, and though he tried to appear absolutely nonchalant, he was thoroughly and completely bowled over by the sheer beauty of the waves lashing against the rocks as they descended the bridge on to the spotlessly clean station of Marine Lines, he couldn’t feel thinking that in spite of what he had seen, what he had heard, and what he had felt as he had left Kolkata, he was going to have a good time in the city.

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