Friday, November 28, 2008

For Bombay


The Wada Pav, a snack of Bombay is delicious. It is made of a bun with a fried mashed potato patty and is served with chillies. I loved it, the last time I was in Bombay in August, I gorged on it, from 3-5 per day. I first discovered it when I traveled to Pune on my own for the first time for the Film Institute of India interview in 2001. When I think of it, I actively (as opposed to a passive longing) miss it.



I love the variety of food available in Bombay, especially the area around South Bombay, Colaba. I thoroughly enjoy the choices available there and try to head in that direction as soon as I can. From filling Wada Pav's at the museum entrance to Bade Miyan, Baghdadi and Cafe Mondegar to name a few. Sea Food, Mughalai food, Continental Food, Mughlai Sea Food, all you have to do is head towards the Colaba Causeway. When you have had your fill, walk towards the Gateway of India and stare at the Taj Hotel and to take a break, turn around and watch the boats gently rock in the sea.

I love the liberation that Bombay infuses in my other wise staid movements. I feel a spring in my step. I have thought about it and I think it is to do with the fact that I am a visitor, tourist, itinerant traveler with no bourgeois worries to keep me from enjoying a city, the Mahanagar. But I have concluded that the spring in the step is importantly encouraged by the presence of the sea. A vast open space stretching out, depending upon your eyes and imagination to limit your horizon. In August, after a few drinks in a Permit Room (another plus point), a director friend and I, went to the beach at Versova at about 9 pm. It was windy and rainy. In those eight days in August 2008 in Bombay, I did not see the sun once. The sea was choppy and the wind was strong enough (or the Blenders Pride) to make us sway on our feet, our sandals in our hands. It was a different kind of darkness at the sea.

Permit Rooms are so called as they have permits to sell alcohol. The one way to understand it's idea for those who do not know it is to imagine a upscale dhaba that sells alcohol. You want half of a half (or half of a quarter), they will provide it to you. It is cheaper, a NO frills bar, with only male clientele (as I noticed in my visit). I was informed that earlier with your drink (in any quantity), they provided the snacks (famous one being-masala papad finely chopped onions, chillies, tomatoes and cucumber with pepper and salt on a papad), now it is said that inflation has led to Permit Room's withdrawing that privilege. But it was a good experience after the lack of cheap alternatives in Delhi. You can tipple your self at nominal price (ten or twenty rupees above marked price) and concentrate on the conversation. I thought the atmosphere was so Bombay.Though, I have been told Permit Room's exist in a few more states in South India.

I also like to walk along the Marine Drive when I am there with the surf hitting over you once in a while, the stretch of road that resembles a necklace.


If the walks feel too long, there is always the local train to try out. Get pushed, push your self in, stay plastered against other men till you get lucky and the train clears up, then hang out of the window and enjoy the salty humid air hit your face. Watch this Vivek Oberoi-Rani Mukherjee sequence from Sathiya to enjoy a feel of the Bombay local train.


I have in the past and still continue to enjoy the street language of Bombay. Apart from the essential fact that I like it, like Bombay. The Mafia movies from the Bombay Film Industry has for long fascinated a whole generation of us. After watching the movie, Satya, during my undergraduate days, I talked like the Bhai log's for a week and in certain moments of life still break into the 'idhar ich aane ka' (come this side). It is a wonderfully bastardized amalgam of Hindi, Tamil, Marathi, perhaps Gujarati and has been perfected in its streets.

Bombay again for the arrogance of its film industry. Without visiting Bombay, many Indians know places like Chowpatty (beach in marathi), Pedder Road, Bandra, Juhu and Mahim (film stars live there). Sample this song from a film that names different places in Bombay. We are expected to know them, there is no explanation provided, but the hindi film world's celebration of Bombay while bordering on the cliched is unconditional. The sheer number of songs that are meant to serve as paean to Bombay must be unparalleled. You can try this one.

Bombay again for being rich enough to feed writers, 3 terrific books written in the span of 2 years. Suketu Mehta's Maximum City, for its brilliant reportage and research. Vikram Chandra for the monumental and his path breaking linguistic flourishes in Sacred Games. At 900 pages, it was a difficult book to pick up but I did it and it was crackling with energy from the very start. Whether it was the romanticized, Sartaz Singh, the suffering-vulnerable cop or the fullness of Ganesh Gaitonde's narrative, Sacred Games holds you spell bound by the world it captures. For long the underworld has been left to Bombay film makers to document, here Chandra does it for an English speaking world and that too in novel format. The book has many stories, amidst the two mentioned above. For some it was tiring and easily breakable into two. But that to me is missing the point. The book is structured alternatively with chapters on Gaitonde, the underworld don's narrative and Sartaz's. The language is terrific in that it captures that modern Indian metropolitan slang gorgeously and since this is specific to Bombay the Mumbaiyaa-tapori-marathi-meets hinglish kitsch.

For example sample this sentence from the book, I have chosen it randomly:
And now he was shitting twelve times a day, and he said he was very afraid he was going to keep huggoing until he died on this behanchod white throne on this maderchod Malyali city in this harami cesspool of a country.

Finally, I would want to hope that all this remains the same.

4 comments:

Nomad said...

I like this. You really should write and refine this style of yours more. Almost 3 days of going through reams of written material, was looking for a piece like this.

Lightlight said...

Great post Satya. I'm glad you focused on what makes Bombay Bombay - hard to do in times like these but so worth remembering. Thanks.

Utpal Sinha said...

Brilliant piece of writing, Satya. Enjoyed it thoroughly.

This piece of yours was very refereshing among the stock of opinions that outpoured after the Mumbai incident in terms of tone and content. Awesome.

Since you understand India's relation with Pakistan (and China) better than most, I wish to know your opinion on the India's threat of military action against Pakistan (or the training camps in Pakistan, which I guess in terms of International relations is pretty much the same thing).

itinerant said...

Thank you. I did not know what to write, I knew that to me, Bombay means a lot and therefore the siege affected me pretty intensely.

I did try to write a 'enough is enough' piece, what's wrong with the security apparatus etc, but all those things have been repeated so many times before, so I chose to merely, reflect on the Bombay, I know.

On the India-Pakistan front. Again here, these things of 'surgical' strikes, active pursuit to name just two have been discussed since the early 1990's when the Kashmir violence was growing exponentially.

India has not been able to do so, for two very obvious reasons, one is Pakistan is a nuclear weapons state, not to be messed around with. The second is the whole process, of considering is that the best course of action, would it solve Indian problems.

My answer to the second question is no, it does not. For the Pakistan element is just one aspect.

I will also make the separation between the Pakistani Government and people/organisations from Pakistan who need not be part of Pakistani state policy as we understand it. The Government of India is also making this distinction this time which is very progressive.

Now, the Indian government itself doesnt have such 'control' over Indian territories, so to expect the Pakistani government (which is under active attack by the same jehadi elements, more frequently and with heavy effects), is being ignorant of realities.

So two things, either, events like the one in Mumbai make us angry and we merely want to express that outrage (the Indian government has to do something, anything line) or we seek to solve the problem.

This is also not to say that elements in the Pak Army and of course ISI cannot be still feeding the fundamentalist hand.

But we have our very own problems, one for instance is the state of the intelligence and security apparatus, partly a bureaucratic and a political problem. Secondly, our political class, terrorism is for them, vote bank politics, to mollify and cuddle one, while picking on the other. Why is it so difficult for this class to come to an understanding that terrorism, Hindu or Muslim, hurts people and will not be tolerated?

Why cannot such attacks and bomb blasts be seen as above petty politicking? Non-uncompromisable.
This is the basic.

Then further on there is the whole idea of managing issues, like Kashmir, Communal riots. I mean, would you still be outraged, if you found out that one of some of the terrorists had lost his family (or a reaction against inept police action for which a lot of Muslims do get picked randomly. I mean, we have all seen Maachis, why does the state never learn?) in the Gujarat or the Bombay riots and this was his madness, his way of seeking some form of revenge.
I am though, not suggesting these terrorists were Indians. Just exploring a line of thought.