Travels through India

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

Chapter 5

Subho curtly replied, “Yes”, and stared wide-mouthed at the door as a group of three meagerly-dressed ladies entered the café, and took the table right next to the door. Mumbai being a generally warm city, lent itself to some rather unpleasant summers, and people like Tarun and Co. which had to resort to bars and pubs sans air-conditioning, it was generally not advisable to be overtly clothed for the occasion. The ladies, however, had clearly decided to take it a little too far, and Subho could barely take his eyes off them. Tarun followed Subho’s gaze, shy and amazed, while Anup discreetly sipped at his mug as he bashfully stole a sidelong glance at them every once in a while.

“If this is the general trend in this city, I am not gonna leave this”, whispered Subho shrilly.

“Foster’s tastes strange… don’t you think?” asked Anup. Tarun nodded blankly, transfixed on a rather dainty spot very close to the door. As if driven by impulse, Subho had to say – “That’s the good thing about dance-bars, you can stare freely and not feel conscious about it. Of course, you have the good chicks and the ones which play hard-to-get. Those are the tough ones. If you fall into the clutches of one of those, you are bound to lose a couple of thousands, easily… Damn easily”

“How many hard-to-get ones have you had Subho”, asked Tarun, dreamily, as he lit a flattened cigarette, and exhaled a rather big puff.

“None so far, buddy! But there is this friend of mine who lived in Mumbai all his life and he used to tell me all these stories. Of course, I am yet to verify their authenticity. But knowing this guy, I am quite sure he wouldn’t be lying to such an extent.”

“I found the very concept of going to such a bar stupid and rather demented, if you know what I mean”, said Tarun.

“What’s the big deal in it?” screamed Subho in a rather stupefied whisper; “I mean everyone does it here. Plus, it’s dependant on the kind of mindset that you have when you enter the place. If you go in with the kind of things that you think … Yes! I think it is demented.”

“Grmmmph”, muttered Anup, as he poured himself the remainder of the beer. “Will you stop your tripe about the dance-bars? I mean there must be a hundred other things to do in this place. It’s not called the insomniac city for no---“

He stopped abruptly as strains of an old romantic Dilip Kumar song wafted from the speakers above. Anup swayed involuntarily, as he closed his eyes and concentrated on the song. He opened his eyes as the last strains of the violin ended the song, and said – “What melody, hayn?”

The two nodded in acquiescence, and Tarun got up for a loo-break. As he stood in front of the urinal, he looked carefully at the various inscriptions on the walls, standard clichés like Nitu loves Anil, and I love SRK; and some rather erotic depictions of the standard dreams of some customers. They don’t stop anywhere, do they; he wondered, and nodded to himself.

“We were discussing how insanely costly this place is”, said Anup, when he returned to his seat.

Yes! And how totally demented, he screamed silently, as his mind wandered involuntarily to the drawings on the walls. “I guess you don’t wanna drink here anymore.”

Subho landed a hard thump on Tarun’s shoulder, almost spilling his beer. Tarun stared at him, wide-eyed and uncomprehending – “Now what was that for?”

“Let’s go to Nariman Point and sit on the rocks. It’s supposed to be quite lovely”, said Subho.

“That’s like at the other end of Marine Drive. How do you intend to go there?”

“Cab, my friend, a cab is all we need.” Tarun noticed with dread the literary streak creeping slowly into Subho’s personality, fuelled by alcohol and the last remaining dregs of the marijuana. “Fine”, he said. “Let’s pay up and go.”

Persuading the waiter get the bill turned out to be that daunting task. His (the waiter’s) ego had not subsided, and he looked with squinted eyes at the three, as the asked for the bill, clearly despising their rather obvious state of pennilessness. “That will be all, sir?” he asked, in a voice which to Tarun, in his state of heightened sensory perception, sounded a tad too scornful for a waiter. “Yes”, he said softly, and turning to the waiter, carefully pointed a rather confident middle-finger at his face, adding – “And this is what I think of you and your pub and your needlessly inflated ego.”

“Sir!” exclaimed the waiter, startled and amused at the same time, then turned his back saying – “I’ll get you the check.”

“What a bastard!” mouthed Anup silently as the waiter shimmered away to the counter; as Tarun simply stared after him, wondering what made him so nonchalant. Maybe, he owned the pub, and wasn’t scared of losing his job. But, why would he work as a waiter? It made no sense. Perhaps he wanted a better idea of the working conditions in his pub. But again, he had never heard of any restaurant-owners who worked as waiters (in their own restaurants). Then he was reminded of a line from a movie, the name of which he couldn’t recollect – “You serve, but you are never a servant. God serves us all, but he is not a servant to us.” What profoundness, he wondered, and smiled at himself.

The waiter returned with the check. Carefully dividing the bill amount into three parts, they paid the exact sum; and walked out of the pub, when the skies opened up on them.
“Now what do we do?” wondered Anup aloud, as the three of them struggled to get under the canopy of the adjacent shop and get some shelter from the pelting rain.

“Get wet”, said Tarun silently, and almost laughed aloud as he realized how lewd the two words sounded when taken out of context. “I think the best thing we could do is get a cab. And it doesn’t look like it’s gonna stop too soon – the rain, I mean.”

“I say we go back to the hotel and have a joint”, said Subho.

Anup raised his arm, and subsequently, his finger in mock acquiescence. “OK”, said Tarun, as they hailed a cab, and shouted – “Crawford Market chaloge” (Will you go to Crawford Market?)

Cabbies in the south of Mumbai, with a few notable exceptions are a sober and well-behaved lot, and this one turned out to be no different. Throwing the rear door open for the three of them, he beckoned as the three friends, stumbling and tripping on wet stones, and missing freshly-created puddles of water, managed to get inside the cozy warm confines of the cab, and closed the door.

The cabbie said – “It’s the monsoons sir! It would do you good to buy an umbrella. Rains very bad in Mumbai, very very bad”, he said with an unusually high emphasis on the second very.

“We just arrived today. I think we shall get them soon. Does it rain like this all the time?” asked Tarun.

“Oh, ho! Yes, Yes. It rained like this continuously for three days the last monsoon, and the roads in Andheri were filled with dirty water, and people swimming in them. Very bad, the rains in Mumbai, sir!”

The cabbie was clearly not fond of the rains; Tarun loved the rains normally, but a constant downpour of such ferocity did not sound promising or enticing in the least. He looked knowingly at Anup and Subho, as Subho pressed his nose against the rear window, trying to see through the downpour. Tarun lit a cigarette, and soon, with all the windows closed, it became unbearable inside the cab; forcing him to open his window a bit.

Chowpatty to Crawford Market, on a rainy Sunday evening, takes no more than ten minutes, and by the time they reached their hotel, the rain had reduced to a consistent drizzle of the unpleasant kind. The inside of the hotel felt damp and depressing, and Tarun thought twice about going back to the room. We’ll have to go out for dinner anyways, a joint before that would do me a world of good, he thought and felt better immediately.

“Make it”, he said, pointing a subtly-raised finger at Subho, as the three of them entered their room, and continued - “I wonder how people manage to keep themselves clean when they have to travel such distances in the rainy season. I mean – just think of it – you are on the road, and you get caught in a downpour like this, and it happens all of a sudden, you have nowhere to go, no shelter at all, you get drenched to the bone, and to top it all, a benevolent car splashes mud all over you. How do you even enter office like that? I mean the whole thought of such a turn of events happening is so demoralizing. One shudders, you know what I mean?”

“Ah! That’s what they ham about all day, na? The so-called spirit of Bombay.” Anup’s eyes darkened as he concentrated a tad too much on the individual syllables of the word ‘spirit’.

“It’s not spirit”, said Subho, as he carefully emptied a Bristol cigarette into the dustbin. “It’s more like compulsion. It’s just that the people have nothing else to do. They have to reach office – and they have to put on their best foot forward. What I mean to say is that even if they crib about it, the government will take at least a decade before it acts upon the crib, so they might as well grin and bear it. The problem is with the entire political and electoral system. But as is the case with all such situations, it is the educated class like us who are to blame. We get stoned, blown and don’t vote. Not that getting stoned or blown has anything to do with it”, he continued as he lit the joint. Having inhaled deeply, he passed the cigarette to Tarun, and asked – “Have you thought about how we go to office tomorrow?”

“The office is in Vile Parle, right?” asked Anup.

Tarun nodded his head, and passed the cigarette on. Exhaling the last dregs of smoke, he said – “We do what all Mumbai does. Take the train… and we will be going in the opposite direction. Most of the rush in the morning is to come where we are right now. So I have a feeling we shouldn’t be in too much trouble.”

“Not to worry”, said Anup. “Let’s enjoy the evening. There’s a terrific view of the street from the balcony. Plus”, he smiled as he said it, “the ladies in this part of the city are fantabulous. No questions asked!”

The balcony of Hotel New Bengal is one of the places which, unlike the Marine Drive, are absolutely under-stated, but a place which grows on you. Overlooking the perennial chaos and bludgeoning of the city, it was particularly enjoyable to do what the three friends were doing on a rainy evening, just watch the world go by. Cars stopping, honking, flickering gas-lights on derelict subways, the brilliance of a Nike showroom in the distance, families from all across the country, chirping, arguing, and having fun, in general; it was a place which let you see everything. It gave you a bird’s-eye-view of a lover’s quarrel, leaving you to use the imagination, and at the same time, it was just close enough to them to make you feel sad about the whole affair.

It was seven-thirty when they sat down on the balcony, on three adjacent chairs facing the railing. At nine, Tarun felt the first pangs of hunger. “Dinner, boys?”

5 Responses to “Chapter 5”

  1. # Blogger NightWatchmen

    Good post boss, really enjoyed the 'hayn comment, got me walking down memory lane...waiting for the next post.  

  2. # Anonymous Anonymous

    Good writing. Keep it up - Sid  

  3. # Blogger NightWatchmen

    Good layout for the book man, you could call it a Tale of Three Guys and Cities :)  

  4. # Anonymous Aru

    This is as good as it can get .. you have captured the whole New Bengal episode with sheer literary brilliance... keep going dude ..  

  5. # Anonymous Sandy

    @TK: Thanks for the comments. I am glad you liked the layout. I am seriously contemplating the name - though I am not sure if just 'three' guys would be enough for the many characters which are about to come.

    @Aru: Thank you very much  

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