At risk of falling into the usual Bombay-vs-Delhi generalisations, even the stray dogs in Bombay are better behaved than their counterparts in my city. They keep their eyes lowered, speak when spoken to and don’t stare uncouthly the way dogs and humans in Delhi constantly do. (It bears remembering that many of Delhi’s mongrels are half-breeds descended from the foxes that once roamed the jungles near the ruins of Mehrauli. When the city’s southward expansion began and the forests began to fall, these animals, knowing their time was up, decided to breed with the local dogs in order to pass on a genetic legacy. No doubt the feral gene is still active in the current generation.)
Anyway, zoological dissertations aside, I had a superb time. It was a mistake to keep the trip so short, but managed to pack in a lot into my two-and-a-half days there. A short list:
The nostalgia angle: I hadn’t been to Bombay in 20 years (used to go once or twice each year until I was 10) and the actual memories were dim and scattered, but I’ve always felt like I know the place – especially Churchgate, where my mum lived up to the age of 24. She still has an idealised picture of the city in her head – or at least the way south Bombay used to be in the 1960s and early 1970s – and I’ve heard lots of stories from her and my nani over the years: about idyllic evenings spent at the Cricket Club of India (CCI) and the Racecourse, long walks down Marine Drive, nightlong parties with film personalities and their families dropping by.
The uncle I stayed with, a family friend, has lived in the same house in Churchgate for 60 years. We were watching TV, a song from the Dev Anand film Hum Dono came on, and he recalled music director Jaidev composing the tune while sitting in the apartment below his, more than 45 years ago. Two buildings away is where my mother’s cousin and her family live, and one of the apartments in between is where mum grew up, the place she still thinks of as “home” despite having left it decades ago. I took photographs, walked a lot, including in the CCI ground where mum and her friends spent hundreds of their childhood evenings. Luckily many of the Kitab festival venues were in and around Churchgate, so traveling was quick and easy (not something one associates with Bombay). Much of this area is still so charming and old-world that for long stretches of time it was possible to forgot about the city’s staggering population density and its growing reputation as a huge urban slum.
Also drove along the Queen’s Necklace at midnight, went to Malabar Hill and past the Hanging Gardens.
Kitab was a mixed bag. A couple of good panel discussions, some boring ones. But had a fine time in the company of Amit, Chandrahas, Manish, Saket, PrufrockTwo and Aditya, and also met the usual suspects from the lit-circle over cocktails and canapés at the Taj Palace hotel (from where I walked along the waterfront to the Radio Club, where relatives were waiting for me for dinner) and at Good Earth. (More notes on the festival soon.)
Had an excellent lunch with eM at Café Churchill in Colaba: a beef steak with lots of mushrooms, consumed beneath a large, indistinct portrait of Sir Winston looking very much like a goodly chunk of ham himself. The steak was so big I could barely finish it (not something that often happens when I eat out and eat good). Good value for money, and it was such a pleasure to see a menu with B-E-E-F clearly spelt out on it, instead of a shifty-eyed waiter coming up to you and whispering “you want my tender loin, sir?”.
Other outstanding meals included:
– Crab butter pepper garlic, prawn gassi and appams at Mahesh Lunch Home.
– Nasi Goreng rice (with chicken, shrimps and a tender fried egg on top) at the Japengo Café. The dishes were very aesthetically arranged, which really sets up the foodie mood (of course they have to be well made too – but that’s a given in most Bombay restaurants).
– A large, eclectic Chinese lunch at the Pearl of the Orient, the revolving restaurant at the top of the Ambassador Hotel (from where I saw several splendid views of the city, including the CCI with the Brabourne Stadium just beneath us).
– Delectable ham sandwiches, some very heady rum cake and poha (not all at once) at the home of the uncle I was staying with.
Sidenote: eating out with people who are genuine foodies is a delightfully intense experience. From several minutes before you even reach the restaurant, you’re discussing the food, anticipating the aroma of each dish. Then you sit at the table, study the menu lovingly, talk about past meals, exchange notes, place the order and continue to talk food. No one even thinks of making the conversation more general. And then the dishes arrives and a monk-like silence prevails for the next several minutes, punctuated only by the cracking of prawn shells.
So excellent trip overall. But in a subsequent post I will deal with the thesis that nostalgia mustn’t be carried too far. Never doing the Rajdhani thing again, which I had romantically imagined would be a train journey into the past. Nothing of the sort: it was besmirched by the presence of small satanic children and their fondly indulgent parents. (More on that soon, in a post titled “So you didn’t use a condom, now at least practise berth control”.)