Circa 4.30 pm. A cold Mumbai day.
K: “Outside my office in an hour”
I started the piece of junk my bike had become and parked outside the station. Had a nimbu-paani just before I got in. At Durga’s. Set up by an enterprising housewife outside the local train station, slaking the thirst of a million commuters since 1975. Tickets in place and the 4.31 CST fast. K’s office in 25 mins sharp.
Khau galli in Ghatkopar is a small lane. Full of stuff to eat, obviously. All illegal carts parked flush with great food. The Gujrati palate meets South Indian. Half a kilometer of pure hedonism.
“1 Jain spring dosa and we’ll leave ok man?”
And we take Best bus 385 in the aftermath of the Jain delicacy to Sion circle.
Sion Circle is a circle. Surrounded by decrepit businesses, 3 restaurants all of which are mysteriously called Peninsula and the Cinemax theatre. Printing presses and small businesses thrive. S joins us there in all her bohemian glory. Kurti. Purani jeans.Cigarette and a sheaf of papers. Always the girl carries those mysterious papers. I wonder.
L calls and says she will be 10 minutes late. We wisely take that to be an hour and proceed.
Cutting chai at the tapri. Awesome.
“Let’s take a taxi to Matunga circle I say in a moment of inspired lukkhagiri”. They acquiesce.
Lounging around Matunga circle is very pleasant. Matunga circle feels right, anytime of the year. Old buildings look disapprovingly at newer towers. Maamis mingle with Bawas and trees overshadow humans. All round great places of learning (VJTI, UDCT) and tons of other not do great places abound, with their inexorable campuses. Mumbai was a surprising 20˚C that day. Browsing second hand books under wide peepal trees, politely haggling to buy books and a relaxed filter kaapi at Madras café.
“Oooh…lets go to the temple” S says. “It’s been ages since I went to one”
The Asthika Samaj stands in Matunga, a former tam-brahm bastion perhaps as a testimony to more peaceful times in Mumbai. It’s very south Indian, from the gopuram to the flower vendors mouthing invectives in unchaste Tamil outside. Inside, S outdoes herself by correctly recognizing 3 Gods and we are rewarded for her religiousness by hot dollops of chakkara pongal by the priest. Lucky day!
Out again and this time R and C join us. R is very very hep and frowns upon us for having eaten at all the aforementioned “sad” places. C is meeting a friend at garnish for notes. We all giggle. C admonishes us, chastises us and proceeds to blush when a hunk of a man hand her ‘notes’ to her. Meanwhile K and S are gobbling dabelis outside at a cart as I pounce to bite my rightful share.
“Philistines” R announces.
L calls “Yaar yahaan koi nahin hai! Kahaan ho tum log?”
Oops. L is politely asked to come to Matunga. She politely replies (as polite as a string of four letter words across three languages can sound), and finally agrees.
7.00 pm and all of us finally outside New Yorkers. Facing bad bosses, personal prejudices, exams, placements, errant moms, global warming and other such vagaries finally we managed to meet at the same time. In we go and do what we do best. Eat.
“I’m not having this Jain pasta. What Rubbish ya”
“Oooh look look chocolate fondue!”
Hour and a half later, with bursting bellies we tumble out, laughing raucously.
7/11 near Matunga station. Ice Cream.Bliss.
And like most meetings conversation had almost staled. We needed alcohol and since Murphy was our patron God, we couldn’t find any. So the awesome day ended with a pursuit of cheap alcohol. Ashish beer bar, Roshni deshi Daru and Laxmi wines later all we had managed was a little beer. Split among five (C lectured again). Time to say goodbye. S took a western line fast train. R borrowed fistfuls of notes form all of us and took a cab. C whistled for her chauffeur and magnanimously decided to drop L. K dropped me at Ghatkopar station and I hesitated a little before I plunged into a crowded fast train, heading homewards.
In the train I thought a lot. Of the awesome food I had had. More about the people I had them with who had changed through the years, yet stayed same in essence. More importantly I thought about the city that had fed us. The city that has seen us grow, fall, stumble. Love, burp, eat, puke and sweat. The city that in all its doom could not stop its benevolence. The city of tired nights, weary days and crowded noons. Of spicy chaats, dirty iced golas, filling vada-paos nurturing the immigrant. Seaside cotton candy, corn in the rains and pizza by the bay, with jazz. Wine soirees and beer drinking binges. Pav bhaji with chikoo milkshake in the rains. Mumbai in all its infinite gastronomic glory.
Thoughts flew as I was pushed onto my destination by harried people and the station was awash with vegetable vendors selling wares at half price. Getting rid of stuff before they too caught the last local home. I got a bunch of badishop in a Rupee. I delicately plucked them enjoying the taste as I burped and kicked my bike to life.