Travels through India

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


Chapter 4

A leisurely walk along the promenade with spray on their face was just what the three disgruntled and stoned friends needed. The last rays of the sun had finally left the city, and the brilliant lights of Malabar Hill illumined the distance. Tarun felt disinterested and enchanted at the same time, and as he felt calmer and more organized, he wondered what the big deal was about. He had felt just as enchanted the first time his dad had taken him out for a cab-ride along the banks of the Hooghly.

They had reached Chowpatty, which was a favorite evening spot for those people who wanted some fresh air and those who had nowhere else to go. There was a time in the chequered history of the city when this was a favorite with first-time lovers, but as the crowds in Greater Mumbai increased, most trysts shifted to the darker and more private rocks of Bandstand. Chowpatty beach is a pure evening experience, firstly, because the stalls open in the evening, and secondly, because the dying rays of the sun fail to accentuate the filthiness of the water. The beach abounded with stalls selling bhel-puri, pani-puri, and a host of other Bambaiyya snacks, which to Tarun seemed terribly spicy, pungent and distinctly dangerous. He feared the worst when Subho said – “Let’s have bhel-puri”.

“I DON’T like bhel-puri”, mumbled Tarun, his mind imagining desperately unhygienic methods of preparation, and then promptly chided him for being a cry-baby.

“But it’s very tasty”, persisted Subho.

“Never mind”, said Tarun, as Subho threw his arm around Anup’s shoulder and swaggered to the nearest bhel-puri stall. As Subho and Anup gorged themselves on a whole lot of spice, pungent chutney, and bhel, Tarun decided to take a walk. Carefully placing his feet on the wet sand, he marveled at the impression it made, and then moved to a less crowded corner of the beach, observing families as they emerged, giggling and screeching from their cars, two lovers so immersed in each other it was tough to distinguish that they were actually two distinct people. He watched in disgust as a well-dressed man threw open the door of his Toyota, walked past him to a secluded corner of the beach, unzipped his fly, and let a carefully aimed stream into the ocean. Tarun's mind willed him to turn his head away, but he kept staring. For a split second, he wondered at the futility of cleanliness-drives. And as his mind fretted, he made the profound realization – Education is futile. He wondered what made people so apathetic towards the places which they lived in. He was sure the man kept his house spotlessly clean, as was evident from the sparkling-white Toyota from which he had emerged. What was it, he wondered, that made him so apathetic about his general surrounding? He looked literate. He wanted to go and ask him what compelled him to empty himself into the ocean. He also wanted to know whether the man had ever cribbed about how Chowpatty was such a filthy beach. As he mulled over futile, direction-less questions, he saw Subho and Anup stroll towards him, Subho with two ice-cream cones, Anup with none (Anup was supposedly dieting).

“Guess what! These bastards charge twenty full rupees for some rather badly spiced bhel-puri. Thankfully, I have learnt my lesson”, Subho said.

“It doesn’t seem like there’s much to do here”, Tarun wondered aloud. “Why do all the people come here anyway?”

“It’s more to do with availability. For people who live in the vicinity, this is probably the best way to while away a painfully long weekend. People in this city are supposed to be workaholics, and I suspect they find spending time in the weekends with spouse and extended family a decidedly cumbersome process”, said Anup.

Tarun couldn’t help but agree; he hadn’t stayed in Mumbai for too long, but a look at the receding skyline and the Hilton Towers of Nariman Point gave this city a farcical importance; and its people the sense of perpetual urgency. It was massive when compared to the other metros, but in-spite of all the back-stabbing, and the underworld, the people shared a rather subdued bonhomie with each other; marred every decade by bursts of unimaginable violence.

“Aren’t you feeling thirsty?” asked Subho, eyes widening just a little bit with anticipation.

“Didn’t you just have ice-cream?” asked Tarun irritably.

“Yes, it was too sweet. I could do with a beer.”

“Ice-creams are normally sweet”, muttered Tarun as he shook his head and started walking towards the road. “Where do we go for a drink then?”

“I can see Café Ideal there”, said Anup, pointing to a restaurant on the opposite side of the road, which looked just about right. It didn’t have an A.C. which meant it would not be too expensive, and the crowd was slightly better than the normal watering holes of Mumbai. “It also says Bar and Restaurant”, said Subho excitedly, and added in profound fashion: “In other words, our problem seems momentarily solved.”

These were early days, and they had not even been a day into their jobs, so the state of penury of all three of them was substantially abject. As they crossed the road on the footbridge, they couldn’t help but wonder how tough if would have been to cross it had the footbridge not been present. Mumbai’s roads were, more often than not, an ever-flowing stream of cars, which stopped only at red-lights and traffic jams. Marine Drive, being a comparatively jam-free and red-light-free kind of a road, has fast-moving traffic. Of course, that’s why they have the footbridge, screamed Tarun silently, wondering why they couldn’t discuss something else.

Café Ideal was not the best place to drink, but it was passable. Tarun, Subho and Anup were seated in a table too close to the bar for comfort, and Tarun hated the chairs. They were wooden, with (and he was amazed at this) no cushions; Subho loved them; he said he found them adorably ethnic, and Anup wanted to be non-committal but his displeasure showed in his contorted features. Tarun realized that with a posterior like Anup’s, it was almost double the pain and half the pleasure for him, and immediately felt overjoyed.

Mumbai bars stock four major brands of beer; and those places which are over and above the run-of-the-mill like to call themselves pubs, and tend to stock fewer brands. This was considered by most able restaurateurs to be a suitably-proven method of ensuring snooty, overbearing clientele with a propensity to tip well. This kept the customers happy and perseveringly snooty, pleased the waiters, and was mostly successful in keeping the objectionable elements out. Tarun and company had been brought up in college days on a steady diet of Hayward’s, and the waiter’s sly sidelong glance at the bar-counters as they asked for three bottles of Hayward’s 5000, was faintly disconcerting.

“We only have Fosters and Castle, sir…” he said with freshly squeezed politeness.

“Are they strong?” was Subho’s immediate retort, with unquestionable stress on the last word, “as in – what’s the alcohol content?”

“Umm”, wondered the waiter, twirling his pen with his goatee, “I will have to check sir.”

“Oh well, what the hell, get Foster’s then. I have heard Foster’s is Austraaaailan for beer. It can’t be too bad. Three Foster’s then… Get it fast”

“OK sir!” mumbled the waiter, disgust showing plainly, as he trudged away to the counter, nodding his head imperceptibly.

“What’s with these waiters, man!?” asked Subho in a disconsolate whisper. “Don’t they like their job?”

“I think it’s more to do with people who come in, sit down, and yell, three Foster’s – these people have an assured clientele. I am not surprised they are averse to change”, said Tarun, disconsolately.

“The dance-bar waiters, on the other hand, were exceedingly polite and helpful. I mean – with the booze and all, plus, they also had Hayward’s”. Subho smiled involuntarily.

“Did you tip them when you came out?” asked Tarun.

“Nopes”

“They will throw you out the next time you go there”, said Tarun, nodding happily.

“Ah well, there are close to a thousand bars in Greater Bombay itself. Tell you what; I’ll just pick a different one…” said Subho, when the waiter came with the three bottles of chilled Fosters’ and asked – “Shall I open them?”

2 Responses to “Chapter 4”

  1. # Blogger Showknock

    U know something ... u can end up writing about all your days in Bombay and never get tired. Something used to happen each and every day. Btw, I can give u an entirely different account of the Marine Drive :-).  

  2. # Blogger EQUINOX

    great flow Sandy!! keep it going!  

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