Sunday, May 26, 2013

Bombay diaries

What started out as a very scary and hectic little trip, came out so well that it deserves a post.

I was to go to Bombay (i like that name) for a Schengen visa interview. The meeting was at 8 am and I had to reach even earlier. So I chose a train at midnight, it would reach Bombay Central at 6 sharp, enough time I say. This was the first time I was travelling alone on a train. While I love trains, I was unsure about how this would feel. But the minute i got on it, I knew. The feeling seeped in like I always knew. Trains and the way they move have always fascinated me. They put me to sleep faster than anything I have tried in life. They were all men in my compartment but that hardly mattered, I dont feel that instinctive fear that a girl in my country should by now. Not yet aleast. Very soon, JK Rowling put me to sleep.

The alarm woke me up at 5.30, when I brushed my teeth, combed my hair and even changed my shirt inside the train loo! Another first! All this was necessary because I had to head straight to the consulate office and am sure the Germans wouldnt want it any other way. Once there, Bombay's early morning welcomed me with fallen flowers, some on their way to the ground, a lot of healthy dogs and a few marathi manas sitting on the pavement of the visa office already. Obviously, I chatted them up. They were very interested to know what, why and where of my trip. Not just that, when I asked them how to go about the city, they suggested a few places and said 'Bombay to bekar hai, kantaal gaye hai yaha reh reh ke'. I wondered what they thought of Ahmedabad. Ahem.
By 7.30 am, the whole place filled up and I soon found out my early morning friends were not there to visit europe but to help others do so. They were agents who ensured your visa requirements were correctly submitted. In my head, I realised the people who have expertise on these matters may never see outside of their cities ever. That is where the 'Mumbai is boring' line had come from.

My interview was over as soon as it started and I have a feeling they just want to look at applicants? Decide if I get the visa on the basis of my looks? I seriously do not know. I was just asked where in Europe was I planning to go to. That’s it.

Out on the streets by 8.30 am, I had a whole daytime to look forward to. And no, his cousin sister's house was not appealing just as yet. I walked to Nariman point’s sea line and sat there for a while. Health freaks jogged, people walked their large, imported breed dogs, some youngsters left home early to meet up their lovers before college started. That typical wind that blows near the sea blew, making me feel as free and as happy as ever. Water is therapeutic for me, it makes me a better person.

Then I called a friend living there, found out Cafe Leopold was close by and headed there. It was warm and inviting, the old and high ceilings, the typical Bombay cafe chairs and I took the table right next to the freshly baked pastries. Yes, I sat there, opened my novel again, ordered a cold coffee, chicken hotdog and fries and sat comfortably for an hour or two, I dont know. Reading, sipping that bitter coffee and no rush to be anywhere. As a Kolkata bangali would say, 'ultimate lagchilo'.

I then decided to visit Siddhivinayak, a very endearing orange coloured Ganesha who sits snugly at a place called Dadar. Spoke to the newspaper vendors and the shopkeepers who were just setting shop about my options in transport. I chose to ride a local train. As all the crowds travelled to the opposite direction in the mornings, I found my train, especially my ladies’ coach to be charmingly empty. Women read, sew, chatted and I made a girl remove her Ipod shuffle to talk to me instead. From there, I took a shared taxi to the temple in Prabhadevi. Inside the taxi, a college couple got up who kept calling each other idiot throughout their conversation. The guy was protective, asking her about her Saturday plans and the girl kept asking him to ditch a family wedding to meet her. I saw them in the big line for giving puja in the temple as well. She had wrapped her chunni over her head and he was hoarding her so that no one could brush against her. A cosy love story right there, I thought and smiled.

After speaking into the mice’s ears, I was content. From here, to anywhere I thought. Went to Bandra and fell in love with the summer collection of clothes and shoes I saw there. Bought a lot of tops, a jumpsuit, a pair of chappals and funky pyajamas in a little less than an hour. With no one telling me what is in fashion and what I ought to buy, this was the first ever truly freeing shopping session ever. I knew one thing, if Greece, Venice and Rome was happening, then I was going to have a super wardrobe. If not, I was still going to have a super wardrobe.

His cousin was now calling incessantly, wanting to know if I was lost. With the pressure of saving face and doing in-law duties, I headed to her place. Caught glimpse of a cool looking pub called Three wise men, and stopped for a pint of beer. The first afternoon pub experience in ages for me. Importantly, the first one ever by myself. It was truly liberating to be sitting in an Indian pub without anyone staring, wondering or trying to take advantage of the situation.

Knowing I had done enough, I sat in an auto and reached her place. Typically, had a lunch consisting of aamras and roti and khaman and bid them bye after an hour.
I don’t know what it is but Bombay recharges my cells and makes me a happy spirit, something I cant quite put my finger to. It releases shackles which Delhi always put. It makes me uninhibited, something Ahmedabad will never mange to do. Eight hours in this city and it can easily be called the best mini vacation I ever gave myself.

PS-I did get the visa later that evening.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

A single moment of absolute beauty

She had never seen somebody so colourful. The girl, in her twenties, wore a peach coloured shirt that was merging with the colour of her skin and cobalt blue trousers, dark and heavy in comparison to the light blue sky up above. Her sandals were also peach coloured or maybe orange, but what stood out the most was her red, flaming hair. Straight, the hair flew about in the extremely windy hill of Aeropagus, and she sat and gaped at this beauty wide eyed.

How colourfully gorgeous. The peach was her skin, the red was her hair. Athens could be seen in her entirety from above this hill. Known for religious rites and senate meetings from back then, Aeropagus hill was named after Aero, the god of war in greek mythology. Today, couples, both local and tourists, helped each other up to the top and sat, feeling the wind on their face. Pigeons moved about nearby, pecking at insects and forming a part of the crowd.

She was alone but not really. After a good three hours inside the most beautiful ruins one can ever lay their eyes on, she was now perched at this hill, looking at the Acropolis in the opposite, much higher hill. What history, what mythology, the head was full of starry details and knowledge. For instance, Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty had been with most gods but married Hephaestus, the god of fire, who was, according to lore, the ugliest. Also that his temple had been burnt down. Irony in all, she found. Taking out her little white notebook and the pencil from her hotel room, she started to scribble the name of all that she had seen today. In her heart, she knew, a story was forming, something that needed to be spilled out. But again and again, her eyes turned to the girl with the red hair.

In reality, she compared this girl with Aphrodite. Just as beautiful, with just as handsome a man as Adonis. They were a couple she was sure, but would they last? Would they end up in ‘holy matrimony’? Would she start cooking, taking care of the house? Would she have to throw away those beautifully fitted blue trousers because they wouldn’t fit her anymore? Would that mind blowing red hair soon be tied in a careless bun as she ran around the house, chasing her kids? Would this beauty lead to that reality?

The truth was, she smiled, that every beauty turned to that reality. This moment was all there was to it. This perfect moment of beauty and the wind on your young, pretty face.