Thursday, October 04, 2007

Bombay Diary

* It’s amazing how religious fervour can bring a city to its knees. ‘Don’t even think of stepping out today,’ I was told almost every alternate day of the first week that I was in the city. Mumbai’s preoccupation with the immersion of Ganesha threw my carefully ordained plans into a tizzy. Friends fled home from work and plans for a night out in town had to be postponed. On the 11th day, I headed off early in the evening to a friend’s place in Mahim (or ‘may-hem’ as my aunts used to say). There was not a soul on the street. It almost felt like a ghost town. We stepped out later in the evening, and it was a dramatically different scene. We found it interesting to watch the throngs headed back after they’d immersed the idol. Some seemed to have a glassy-eyed, bewildered expression, and they walked back heads low, almost as if the lights all around were too bright for them. “Like stepping out in the night when a disco shuts,” said Ara. Ah, we said, the expression becoming completely clear to us.

* Riding on potholed roads ought to qualify as a low-intensity aerobic workout. Further, riding the stretch from Hill Road to Mehboob Studio in Bandra can prove to be a better and cheaper option to the physiotherapy one was undergoing in Dubai. Honestly, my back has improved considerably in the last couple of weeks.

* ‘You’ll be surprised by the Western Express Highway,’ says Ana. There are lane markings and it’s a comfortable drive, she convinces me. She’s right. There are lanes marked out quite clearly and for the most part, seems to be a smooth ride. I can’t help noticing that my auto driver seems to drive right on the line, rather than within the lines. Oh well.

* Some things are comfortingly familiar. Like travelling by the local train. I step in and my eyes automatically scan for a seat opposite to the direction of travel – an old habit. If there’s no sitting room, I head to the window where I can stand in relative comfort. The other day I was making my way to the window when I inadvertently stepped on someone’s foot. I was awarded a generous shove which sent me flying to the window. I bit back a retort – another old habit. A dozen stations later, the same lady called out to me and offered me her seat. Are you getting off, I ask her. No, but I’m getting another seat at the next station. You’ve been standing all the way, so you must sit down. Some things are comfortingly familiar.

* My old book haunts bear a haunted look. Crossword at Bandra has a cosy coffee shop, but little else. The one under the Pedder Road flyover is no better. I mean, there are books, but I miss the days when you could spend hours browsing through the expansive sections, and reading the little recommendations hand-written by Sriram. The recommendations these days are printed, and rather yawn-inducing. Most of the books I asked for were out of stock on each of the three occasions I went there. Surprisingly, Strand Book Stall also proved disappointing. There seem to be more management and self-improvement books than quality titles. Ara tells me Landmark is the bookstore to visit. Next trip, perhaps.

* Metal detectors in malls, a swanky domestic airport, the high cost of parking (25 lakhs per year in Nariman Point!!) - it’s taken a bit of getting used to some of the changes in the city. But one new occurrence that still has me gobsmacked is that Alison can read. Two weekends ago, we were in the B.E.S.T bus, when she leaned over and peered under the seat for a few seconds. She then turned to me and waited. What, I asked, unnerved by the steady gaze. Leela, don’t be an idiot. Before I could narrow my eyes, she pointed to the poster above the window of the bus – “You’re not an idiot if you look under your seat.” It was a public service message to warn against explosive devices. Make sure you check next time, she told me before looking out of the window.

The city’s changing too fast for my liking.


Anonymous said...

Lovely vignettes Leela. Worthy of another mention in the Gulf Times.

Alpha said...

oye dumbo! i have been desperately trying to get hold of mail me , send me something. just wanted to check with you on dates for jan..

hey btw, nice photos..looks like you are having fun with the i'll read your post also.:)

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Moonie said...

yes I agree, Indian cities are changing too fast! I felt the same when I went this time to Delhi where I grew up after long time! Its unrecognizable, going to be an international city by end of this decade!

Rhyncus said...

Absolutely agree with the observations on Strand. The same thing happened to me, except that I actually managed to do Landmark. The visit was fruitful.

Hornswoggler said...

hmmm...even I miss the handwritten recommendations and the excitement when the little coffee shop inside the bookstore first opened and you could take a book there to read.

Shel© said...

Hey Leela...
Great stuff for Home Centre.
Just saw your work on Ads of Arabia, that's what led me here ;-)
Super blog too.
I used to live pretty close to Kobra Saloon :p
Keep in touch... n keep writin!


Anonymous said...

You make me want to go back to India.

Leela A said...

E: Thank you :)

Alpha: Am glad you like the photos at least.

Moonie: Imagine that, I thought Delhi was an international city...

Rhyncus: Next time, I'll make sure I hit Landmark. I'm glad I'm not the only one who thinks Strand's standards are dropping.

Rash: You can still take a book to the coffee shop, but the place just isn't fun.

Sheldon: Thanks for your generous feedback. Kobra Salon is still around and hissing ;-)

Colours: :-) Homesick, are you?

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