THE CAL SAGA
A City where everything is possible, especially the impossible!!
Where lovers first love and then marry, where there is place for every Tom, [no swearing please] and Harry.
Where college canteens are full and classes empty, Where Adam teasing is also making an entry,
Where a cycle reaches faster than a car, where everyone thinks himself to be a star,
Where sky scrapers overlook the slum, where houses collapse as the monsoon comes,
Where the roads see-saw in monsoon, where the beggars become rich soon
Where the roads are leveled only when the minister arrives,
This is Mumbai my dear, but don’t fear, just cheer, come to Mumbai every year!
I never spotted a single traffic constable when there was a traffic jam!! Wonder where they hide!
! I had read these quotes a few years ago and just smiled and wondered if they were true and believe me you each word is true!
I have been to Mumbai a couple of times but never long enough to feel the throbbing underbelly of the city. Delhi has always been THE place to visit all the time but I never liked it for anything more than the shopping. In April my daughter Esha, shifted base from Delhi to Mumbai; I rarely paid her a visit while she was in Delhi and I decided that I have to change the scenario and planned to visit her in the fag end of August. She always had this grouse that I didn’t visit her often and I too desperately needed a change as I was feeling low.
Mumbai meant meeting my baby and I was really excited to see her after all these months, Mumbai meant meeting my CAL friends too for the first time -The Chef at Large group on FB, Esha signed me into. I was keyed up to meet them and wondered if they would live up to my virtual image of all of them. Mumbai meant sitting along the shore on Marine Drive and the Gateway. Mumbai meant breathing the same air (polluted:p) with the Bollywood stars and Mumbai always meant lucre (here I was gonna blow it up rather than earn it!!)
Well I was ready and all packed to catch the train just before the crack of dawn. It was the side lower berth again thankfully. But just opposite me there was this elderly couple travelling to meet their sons in Mumbai, Europe and US. The old man was asking the TC if he could get him a cuppa of tea at 5 am!! The TC gave him one glaring look, cursing under his breath. Poor man just needed his morning pep me up potion!! All said and done I settled down in my seat and enjoyed the sun rise from the train window. The rising dawn lit up the world and brought life into it. Every journey has a destination and mine was almost 24 hours away. I didn’t even realize when I slipped into a dreamless sleep to be rudely awakened by cries of ‘chaya’ and ‘kaafi’. The whole compartment had come to life. Each one finishing their gourmet breakfasts packed lovingly from home or bought on the train and then settling down to playing cards, for the gamblers, Ludo for the kiddos, music from an ipod for the teenagers, magazines or books for the ladies, newspapers for the politically aware . For some train journeys are meant to strike short term friendships. They may not even ask their respective names but people do talk about their families and their problems with rank strangers. The anonymity and the short time allow them to release their pent up feelings. Evening saw me settling down to watching movies. I watched the classic Rebecca and followed it up with Wedding Daze and Life as we know it.3 hollywood movies in a row….a record for me.
I polished off a huge packet of chips and other junk while watching .When I awoke it was time to get off. The CST station was bustling with people and the crisp Mumbai air in the morning welcomed me to the city. I took a cab to Esha’s place and watched with fascination how the city came to life at such an early hour; people rushing to work, to school, to finish their daily chores and a myriad other things. It was the first time I would be living on the 12th floor. The Mumbai skyline is full of paradoxes. Plush, palatial high rises are sandwiched between slums.
Esha was waiting for me at the entrance and it felt so good to be with her. The apartment was quaint compared to my palatial home but it was homely and the balconies especially fascinated me with their bird’s eve view of the slum in one and a little temple on a hidden hillock on another. Pigeons were cooing merrily in the balcony (I was humming kabutar jaa jaa jaa :p) and it was a new sound for me but an irritant to the locals as the pigeons mess up a lot. Esha tucked into her favorite Biryani, which I carried all the way , savoring each mouthful. She had a handful of the boiled peanuts too which I took for her. She left for office and I wandered around on my own.
Kapil kept calling and asking me where I was gonna meet up. It took me a while to flag down a rickshaw and reach the airport where Kapil, Mona, Sid, Indu and Swati were waiting for me. It was the first time I was meeting all of them and the excitement was actually palpable. I spotted Mona first and she ran upto me and gave me a bearhug. Then Kapil, our resident Kishen Kanhaiya , Swati, Indu and SID was actually larger than life. I had to crane my neck upwards to catch the 6 ½ foot hulk. Mona, was her bubbly self and tomboyish as I imagined her to be, Kapil, seemed the soft gentleman I interacted with on the group, Sid, fit his image to the T, Indu and Swati were the surprise packages as I had never interacted with them before and both were ever so warm and affable.Soon after the milna milaana we took cabs to Colaba and to the YMCA there. It was a climb of 4 storeys with the luggage.Kapil played the gallant young man and carried most of it. After lazing around for some time and partaking the goodies Mona and I had brought, we went about deciding where to lunch. Madhulika arrived at this point and joined us. The Dosakai pacchidi I took to be eaten with rice was polished off with the banana chips Mona had brought.
The walk to Olympia was interesting. All the buildings in the area were of the British era with lots of history but Olympia was a mistake. The ambiance and the food was a total write off. It is famous only for its Keema pav which is available only in the mornings. We were asked to walk to marine drive by Kapil and we lost our way. And then there was this brown horsed chariot in front of us and instead of taking a cab we took a carriage ride. It was decorated so colorfully and all of us kept posing for pics, especially Mona who got into the Bollywood humor and posed gaily like a damsel in distress waiting for her Prince Charming.(Badri, u were missed!!)
We sat on the edge of the bank and watched the Mumbai skyline meeting the sea. The clouds were playing hide and seek and it was so pleasant to soak in the sea air with the slight drops falling off and on. It was with reluctance that we got up to leave and trudge back to the YMCA. We flopped down for a power nap but Kapil and Swati the eager beavers went to Crystals and got some yummy dinner packed for us. The Dal makhani and Kheer lived up to Swati’s appreciation. Late night saw us playing dumb charades which ended up all of us crooning tonelessly. Bedtime was late but nobody was late for breakfast at Kyani’s the 102 year old Irani café.
The high ceilings and wooden chair and tables with gingham covers are a colonial legacy. The famous Irani chai accompanied with sandwiches, omelets, baked beans on toast and to finish it off the yummy custard. The tummy was full but the shopping bug was after us. We marched off to Linking Road for some retail therapy. In India, shopping is a great pleasure for us women who love haggling! I picked up a couple of clutches and my favorite nightwear and a few baubles there. Kapil and Sid were waiting it out at Bru Café. It was a quaint roadside bistro and we washed down yummy sandwiches with iced tea and coffee. Indu had bought a ring which really looked nice on her fingers and as is usual for a woman I regretted not picking up one even though I knew I would never carry it off.
We had to hurry back as we had to make it on time to Medha’s house for dinner. Esha joined us now and the eight of us headed to Navi Mumbai. The thought of boarding the local train was giving me the jitters. We bought first class tickets and believe me there was nothing first class about the coach. The fans were not working, the coach was an old one and it was so cramped. I was complaining and I was asked to shut up and be thankful that we got seats for the long commute. I am claustrophobic as it is and the local‘s movement was giving me a queasy feeling. I switched seats and sat by the window but it didn’t help. It was the ultimate embarrassment. I was amongst new friends and I was going to puke.I wanted to die!! I was given a polythene bag to puke in and much to my chagrin I did! It was over! We located Medha’s place and I sat quietly in one corner in the balcony after freshening up in the washroom. Medhas’s house- was a lovely home with a bird’s eye view of the mangroves and the sea.
There was Medha and Sam, the genial hosts, Kurush and Rhea with the Parsi dinner, Saee and Miheer with their cute little angel, Avni and Harleen from Delhi, a motley group if you could call it with one common factor binding all-FOOD! The starters and drinks were served and eaten while the discussion centered on food.Kurush was one storehouse of info and the conversation revolved around him and Sid for the most part. Sam then took out his guitar and the melodious jamming that followed brought me back to normalcy. I knew music was therapeutic but didn’t know that it was an instant cure for my malaise. Every one pitched in to sing the chorus… “Vaakayi…samaa hai suhaana suhaana” it felt. For me it was an evening to remember and cherish. I don’t remember when I had such a good time in the recent past. Reluctantly everybody got up to have dinner and the spell was broken. A totally Parsi dinner with berry and panch phoron chutney made by Saee, Lagan nu stew (veg), Veg pullao, sali, bread, Lagan nu achaar, Bheja cutlets, Jardaloo Murghi, Patra ni machhi, Mutton Pullao, and Kachumber, Achhar (by Saee), Lagan nu Ishtu, Veg Pullao, Bread Rolls, Kachumber with Limbu, Ravaiyya, Salli, Jardalooma Murghi, , Lagan nu Gajar Meva nu Achhar, Gos no Pullao, Partra ni Machchhi, Bheja na Cutles, there were also Masala ni Daar, Dosakai Pachchhdi I had taken from home and lagan nu Custard. Phew!! A meal fit for an army.
The food and music soiree came to a rousing end and thunderous applause with the eight layered cake and a vanilla bean cheesecake with lemon curd topping and gingersnaps crust presented by Medha with a flourish. The whole evening Medha lived up to her drama queen moniker fully with her dramatic mannerisms. Mona and Harleen gave a rousing Salsa performance which ended with an indecent proposal :p .While Esha and Medha boogeyed away in abandon.After the sumptuous dinner and droolicious desserts everybody was sluggish and flopped down to indulge in small talk. The curtains were drawn to the act around 1 am.
Thankfully we took a cab back to the YMCA. Mumbai by night too is alive and happening. By the time we hit the sack it was past 3. Kapil kept up his vigil till dawn as he had wanted to go to the temple and he came back and slept. I had my first vada-pav, thanks to Swati .
There was this abandoned Schoen House in front of the YMCA and Madhulika wove a story of a haunted house and ghosts around it. All of us were thinking of ways to get in and have tete-a-tete with the ghost in residence. We just took some crazy pictures to mollify our out of this world experience. It was a lazy group who dragged out of bed and got ready to explore Mumbai further. We walked down to the gateway and wanted to go for a boat ride but it was raining and we had to be satisfied with pics in front of the Gateway and the pigeons there. After some shopping on the sidewalks we went to the Leopold café.
Esha picked up a pair of huge black and white specs which were tried on and pictures taken by everybody and Sid too went and bought a pair later on. The others had their steaks and chicken while I opted for spicy Shantung Noodles! Yummy!
The Café was packed with many foreigners. It has become a must visit sight after the serial blasts in 2008. After lunch it was time to say goodbye. It was three days of unstoppable fun and lighthearted camaraderie, neatly cataloged and filed in the Cherished memories list. Swati accompanied Esha and me and yet again she made us stop near Crystals but not for her favorite kheer but the kulfi -faloodaI was hankering for. Thus the CAL part of Mumbai ended on a sweet note and we drove back to Esha’s home…..for a cherished week to spend with my lovely daughter!