Thursday, December 4, 2008

Memories of Mumbai....

Surajyam avaleni swarajyam endukani
Sukhaana manaleni vikaasam endukani

(What's the use of an Independent State if there's no good governance
What's the use of progress if it can't let us live happily)

Paatha raathi guhalu paala raati gruhalaina
Adavi neethi maarinda enni yugalaina?
Veta ade vetu ade naati kathe antha
Nattaduvulu nadi veedhiki nadichoste vinta?

(Though old caves are replaced by marble structures
Has the jungle law changed even after many centuries?
The hunt is the same, the hunted are the same, it's the same old story everywhere
Is it a surprise if jungles march on to the streets?)

These words of wisdom by Telugu lyricist Sirivennela Sitarama Sastry kept coming to my mind as I sat glued to the television, horrified, watching live updates of 'Breaking News: Mumbai in terror'. I'm not from Mumbai. And, I had never been to Mumbai, except for the one time I was forced to go, just after my marriage on our way to Goa for honeymoon, when Mumbai was still Bombay.

I kind of hated the city, its crowd, its railway stations, the local trains, the rush, everything. I hated it so much that we had to cut short our trip and leave for Goa that very night. But I remember a few sights, and a few memories that keep coming back. Cafe Leopold is one such memory.

My husband worked in Bombay for 2 years before moving to Hyderabad for good. Naturally he was very proud of the city, its crowd, the vada-pav, and everything else. After a light breakfast at my aunt's place, my husband was enthusiastic about showing me where he worked, lived, his favorite places, and the world's favorite places too.

So there we were, young and newly married, standing in front of the Gateway of India, with our backs to the sea and resting on the parapet wall, watching in awe the world-renowned Taj Mahal Palace hotel. And I remember my husband saying, ‘If I had a little more money, I would have loved to take you to the Taj at least for a cup of coffee.’ Ten years ago, when we just started out a new life, a coffee at the Taj seemed like a rich man's cup of tea. Indeed it was!

But long before standing in front of the Taj admiring its beauty, intricate work on its walls, the colors, the very splendour and grandeur of that magnificent building, I've heard many chants and praises of Bombay - from various sources!!! Right from my first cousins who couldn't converse well in our mother tongue, to friends I met later in life who studied or worked in Bombay, everyone had a tale to tell about the mysterious city.

After watching the Taj for a while, we went to the lane next to the hotel Colaba Causeway, to Cafe Leopold. Neither too expensive, nor any cheaper than the other star places in the city, with a no-frills-attached-no-nonsense-tolerated feel about it, Leopold cafe turned out to be the best experience I had as a newly wed. I can still remember the taste of the Alu Paratha I had with dahi and pickle at the Leopold. Every time I recollect the taste, my mouth waters and I feel like licking my fingers.

That was my first experience of Bombay, and of Leopold. Unfortunately, it remained the only experience as of today. I never went to Bombay again. And I kept telling myself, and everybody who cared to listen, how much I hated Bombay and how much I loved Cafe Leopold. At times, when my hormones are particularly high, I kept thinking maybe we should just take out our car, go on a wild road drive, eat Alu Paratha at Leopold and come back. It never materialized though! Today, do I want to still go back to Mumbai and eat at the blood-stained eatery? I don't know. Yes, and No. A strange dilemma.

Ten years ago, when I was 24, with hopes, dreams and arrogance filling my thoughts, I remember thinking I've nothing to offer to Bombay, no feelings whatsoever, and the city had nothing to offer to me too.

The city seemed so foreign. So distant. It was almost like it’s in a different country. And my dislike for Mumbai probably stemmed from there. Maybe I wanted to belong. As a child, I wanted to be part of Bombay, wear mini skirts, jeans, and speak in English. And now, I don't know where that hatred has gone when my eyes are watering continuously as news channels vie with each other to show gruesome images of the injured, the dead, the victimised.

I've just learnt that two of the Hyderabadis who lost their lives are people I know. Chef Vijay Banja was with one of the Taj properties in Hyderabad and used to write a food column for Metroplus, feature supplement of The Hindu. Those were my days as a journalist. I remember meeting and talking to him during food festivals, or calling him up to find out when he’ll send in his article. He was a nice man, very courteous, and ever-smiling. He didn't deserve such a fate. He didn't deserve to die young.

The other Hyderabadi is late Mr. Lakshmi Narayana Goyal. I've never met him nor spoken to him. But I know his youngest daughter. She works with me. And comes in the same cab with me. Quite a reserved soft-spoken girl, she shares her name with my daughter. I don't know how to react when I meet her first time after the tragedy hit her family. Do I just say 'I'm sorry about your loss' and look away, or do I behave like I have no idea about the incident? She's not so close that I can hug and express my concern, and not too far to ignore.

Small things like these keep happening in big cities? No Mr. Patil! Thank you! This one incident was enough to melt my heart and grieve for a city I always thought I hated. And personally I don’t want another such tragedy to hit Bombay, or India.


Sheeba said...

Brilliant piece Shanit! I loved ur blog. You express better when u write i shud say!

Moo said...

Beautifully written Shanti, I too have a connection with Leopold Cafe (not alu paratha though). You should write more often.