February 15, 2008

the unfolding and folding of memories, and why they’re important

i’m just past 56-pages of shantaram, and my brain is bursting with memories of mumbai airport along with its smells, the views and first impressions of dharavi, colaba, the radio club, mondegar’s and most of all, leopolds‘.

it’s hard for me to classify leopolds’ as a cafe, or a pub. it was simply a place where friends met and relaxed. in fact, the interiors of what i remember of mondy’s and leopolds are blurred, and i must be confusing one for the other. (no surprise there perhaps, i wasn’t always having coffee, and anyway it’s way over 10 years now). i must have sat at one of their thick-wood-mahogany tables perhaps three of four times in all my mumbai-life, in the warm company of friends, colleagues from my express-computer days. each visit, though, has a bright, shining memory of its own.

i remember being curious about the people who frequent places like these, and my secret awe at the discovery that such a place even existed in the very throat of mumbai. there, it was the first time i saw more foreigners than indians, dressed in their trademark-cotton baggies and orange flowing kurtas. beads around their necks, or wrists or forehead. my own company, sometimes four or five of us, was buzzing with the latest office gossip, smoking chains of cigarettes and ‘grass,’ and downing one beer after another. and i, the youngest of the lot, had to plead with them to let me have a sip from their glass.

fortunately or/and unfortunately for them, beer always reminded me of a tall glass of urine, and i never liked the taste anyway. so i was simply happy just being there with my friends, soaking in the ambience, and some of the smoke as well. this was a world so far away from the one i was brought up in and went back to, faithfully every day.

it was perhaps on the way home after one of those leopolds-visits that i had realised i was in love. i think someone else did too. in the five years that followed, i changed jobs, i had new colleagues, i never had reason, or the company to visit mondy’s or leopolds’ again, but that special friendship always remained close to my heart. like i’ve heard is the case with all first loves, i think it still does.

and then there were the ex-colleagues who always looked out for me. during one of those rocky, painful, wearing-out phase of this relationship, there was one friend who took me to the radio club one evening, again, a very new atmosphere for me then, and so sympathetically, heard me out, and counselled me on life, the universe and everything. (he still is so sweet, i can never get over the fact that he is allergic to chocolates.) he also told me that who knows, maybe 10 years later, i would be laughing at my past. this is no anniversary, but yes i am smiling and laughing, in a nice way, at all that had happened at the time. it was all a part of growing up.

i can get disoriented when i come across an interesting book, and gregory david roberts is a grandmaster of them all. on the tube this evening, as i read pages and pages of accurate, minutely observed and mature descriptions about his philosophies on life and love, about colaba’s pubs, the radio club, they all came rushing back to me. the places themselves, the songs of mumbai, shubha mudgal, the friends, the laughter, the warm and firm handshakes when we parted at our train-stations, the youth that i left far, far behind…

as i walked home slowly, stiff from the cold and the physical pain after a long day at office, the memories that had stirred up a storm inside my head finally flooded my eyes, and i let the tears fall. even the fox, who has his hideout somewhere opposite our house and usually prowls for food during that time of dark, waited and let me pass.

my thoughts changed track, and i suddenly realised what a beautiful animal that fox was, like the mozilla-firefox logo. i rang the doorbell, too drained out to fish out my housekeys, and a smiling husband opened the door. “let me help you medaam,” he said warmly, and took my coat off (something he has never done so far). when my 15-month-old son – so engrossed in the storymakers on cbeebies -finally turned around and saw me, he rushed with open arms, giving me a tight sooooooooo-glad-you’re-home-ma-bear hug, and before i knew it, i had folded all my memories away. this precious moment, with my husband and kid, was worth it all.

this life was certainly worth it all.


  • mumbaigirl said:

    Had the same reaction when I read Shantaram. Despite all the horrible things that happen Roberts’ love for Bombay and all the tiny details that shine through made me violently homesick.

  • Pramod said:

    u have put in words the exact emotions i had gone thru while reading the book. even though towards the end it was a little slow and also it was a pain in the neck – (one week of massage and two rounds to doctor- no jokes) it made me miss mumbai more than ever….

  • Daniela said:

    I just came back from Bombay with the latest version of the “TimeOut Mumbai” magazine full with new hot spots for having a good time with friends.
    Being back in Berlin I’m wondering why do we always go back to this place where the wall still painted with the typical comics (in the meanwhile yellow coloured from the cigarette smoke), the music box still plays loud Brain Adams “summer of 69”.
    We know why: After a while sitting there and watching the ppl around you (more indians than foreigners 😉 a feeling comes up deep from your heart “Yes – we are in Bombay” followed by a bright smile…

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