The opening sentence of Gone With The Wind reads: “Scarlet O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm…”; that very succinctly summarizes my feelings for Mumbai. On my brother’s insistence I very reluctantly booked tickets for the city I had visited as a ten-year old and come across in a plethora of novels: Shantaram, Dongri to Dubai, Narcopolis, Black Friday and finally Maximum City. It was definitely not as a tourist that I was going back to that city. There had to be something more to this visit, and I was not disappointed.
There’s something very special about the Past. No matter how difficult it was to live through it, looking back at it, it always acquires a certain glow. “Things were simpler back then, the problems less complex”. It has a quality similar to the ocean’s surface when viewed from afar. From a distance, it is the calm, peaceful and rhythmic surface that presents itself. What happens within is anybody’s guess. Call it the advantage of hindsight or the healing effect of time; the crux is that we always hold our past on a pedestal. It is this that keeps us hooked onto our school memories, our college days or life as it used to be back then. Within the first few hours with my brother and his erstwhile flatmate I realized that it was to relive his past that this trip was planned.
Everything that we did and every place that we visited had memories associated with it for my brother. Dinner, on our first evening in Mumbai, was at 5 Spice, Pali Hill, a restaurant that my hosts had frequented once upon a time. For dessert we drove to Bachelorr’s (via the Bombay Worli Sea Link), although there was a twist to the dessert: it was chilli vanilla ice cream and very conveniently everybody forgot to inform me about the chilli aspect of it! The ice cream was unlike anything I had ever had or even imagined.
The next to-do thing was sitting on the Marine Drive. Sitting there, hearing the water lapping below and watching the balloon sellers walking past, plans were made for the next couple of days. Sula could not be skipped. A drive to Lonavla for its apparently out-of-the-world Maggi had to be on the agenda. Yoko Sizzlers could not be missed. Colaba Causeway Market and the walk from there to Gateway of India had to be undertaken for the first-time visitor – my 14 month old nephew! And, needless to say all the once-upon-a-time-flatmates had to be paid a visit.
170 kms north-east of Mumbai, Sula Vineyards is definitely worth a day trip. Three and a half hours of non-stop chatter brought us to the verdure territory of Sula. The ambience, the view and the vines, combined with amazing weather, made our trip an enjoyable experience. The acme of the trip was driving a little further from the vineyards to the banks of Gangapur Dam. Amidst lush green meadows giving way to an unending expanse of water I stood enjoying the rain, till the rain began to hurt and I realized that the rain had given way to a hailstorm! My run back to the car and the dawn of realization on the other folks with respect to what had just happened was a source of entertainment for them for quite sometime.
The rest of my stay in Mumbai was about sleeping through the day and visiting my brother’s friends’ nests to hear them talk endlessly about the good old days, reveal the dark secrets of each other in front of their wives and the surreptitious glances exchanged by the dozen between the couples. I am sure there would have been uncomfortable questions that the husbands would have had to answer after our visit! But while we were together, it was an unending series of laughter. The jokes bordered on the absurd (but downright hilarious) with people complaining about their slim-fit shirt fitting well when leaving the house but then growing tight after a meal. While patting the orator’s paunch, the rest abused the apparel company for its deteriorating quality of slim-fit shirts! Another instance involved my brother’s friend asking me how I found my current flat-mates. When I answered that it was through a Facebook group, one of the friends replied, “We met through bed bugs.” The story about bed bugs and the pivotal role they played in these buggers’ meeting and eventually becoming flat-mates was elaborated upon! Similarly absurd yet hilarious tales continued through the night.
Looking at this bunch of friends, who had gone from bachelors living together to each moving out in pursuit of his larger goals, meeting after all these intervening years and affectionately remembering those days of struggle and laughing over their methodology of dealing with them, it felt nice to sit in a corner and observe them that way. Life had scattered them no doubt, but their intertwined stories remained intact. Give them a little time together and you realize that not much has changed. More responsibilities? Sure. More troubles? Sure. More Complications? All there. But it is the same bunch of boys who together grew into men in this City of Dreams. Old Wine in a New Bottle? Tell me about it!