Category: Mumbai

Early Morning Rendezvous

A birthday wish for the father.

As far as I can remember I’ve never been a morning person, much to the mother’s dismay. But that is slowly changing. I’m beginning to discover the joys of an early start. Cooler mornings, fewer people on the road, lesser crowds at the station. But mostly, I look forward to a ten-minute ride to the station with the father.

It is a sort of detour for him, but he doesn’t complain. All he insists is that I be on time. It is the few moments of the day when I can have him all to myself. He will ask me about my work, we’ll exchange family gossip, I’ll complain about the mother.

The strongest memories I have of him are him behind the wheel. Ferrying us back home from the nani’s house, taking us out for our weekly dinner outing, dropping me off to boarding school. Cars are his weakness. His toys.

I’ve also had some of my best conversations with him, while he has been driving. Chatty banter, nuggets of advice and sometimes, a glimpse into his mind. He will talk about his father, a man I largely saw through his eyes; his voice, dripping with admiration, respect and adoration.

I had missed my grandfather’s funeral and often wondered how my father had responded to his death. Five years later, I’m yet to piece the whole picture but what little I know, I’ve gleaned from our conversations in the car. Like the time we discussed alcohol and he described my Babaji as a connoisseur. I suggested getting rid (read consume) of the extra bottles, he said that these were the few memories he had of him and wanted to preserve them…Continue reading.

*First published on Parentous.

Rediscovering Mumbai Through A Walk With A Stranger

I met him at a book reading in Fort. He was in Bombay, working on a story, and had decided to accompany a friend for that event. The friend asked if I’d escort him to Churchgate station and put him in a Bandra-bound local. I said yes in an instant. I was heading there myself, so no bother at all. And if I wasn’t,  I wouldn’t have missed the opportunity of showing off my city to a visitor, even if he was a stranger.

We made our way past the narrow lanes in the Fort district, down the narrow pathway on Azad Maidan, past the khao galli, heading straight toward Churchgate station. It was a short 15-minute walk but he marveled at every small detail along the route.

The stone buildings in the Fort district, which bore elegant traces of the colonial rule; the bazaar-like feel when walking along the pavements; the sense of freedom when crossing Azad Maidan. He remarked how peaceful and calming it all felt, when Bombay is anything but that. It helped that it was past 8 pm, a time when the area is largely devoid of a sea of humanity.

He lamented that the VSNL building, made of concrete, stood out like a sore sight, amidst all that history and stone it was surrounded with. But he was ecstatic that both Sterling and Eros had retained their old-world charm in the era of commercial multiplexes. And the sight of Churchgate station turned him into a wondrous five-year-old.

It was past 8 pm, but the subway was bustling with life, oblivious to the time of the day. He asked if some Chinese food in the subway would be a good idea for grub. He had spotted a few stalls and the tummy had responded likewise. And I, who had taken this route for almost a decade, had no eye for such stalls ever. I cautioned against it, citing the usual boring excuse of hygiene and quality. He didn’t argue.

Once we reached the station, he paused for a few minutes to soak in the energy and the atmosphere. He needed to purchase a ticket. He was impressed with how quickly he received the change. We proceeded to walk the length of the platform to get to the First Class compartments. Another daily and ordinary ritual for me, but his awe hadn’t diminished. I saw dirt and squalor; he seemed at ease, unperturbed. I winced at the paan-splattered walls and pillars; he glanced at the ceiling to absorb its vastness.

I got closer to the edge of the platform in wait for the train to arrive. But he had other plans. He said, “Why stand in wait when we have a lovely stone bench to sit on and wait.” And thus, we sat on a bench, I would typically overlook in my daily rush for a local train. I suppose they built it a year or so ago when they extended the length of the third platform. But I was always too busy making a dash for the train just pulling into the station.

I was too busy getting worked up about how dirty the city is that I forgot to appreciate its finer points. I was too busy getting to and fro to work and back that I forgot how much I loved Bombay. I was too busy counting the deadlines in my head that I forgot to look around and needed a walk with a stranger to rekindle the romance.

*First featured in MumbaiMag.


Dear Ganapati, Thank you for helping me rediscover the joy and romance called Bombay. I’ve relished the food, prayed with fervor and reveled in the devotion. But I loathe the cacophony we subject you to, as we celebrate your arrival, presence and departure. Promise you’ll do something about it the next year? Much love, Me.

Read other stories here.

Book Review: Tamarind City

Book: Tamarind City

Author: Bishwanath Ghosh

Number of pages: 315

Price: Rs. 295

I was introduced to Bishwanath Ghosh’s blog with this post and I fell in love with his writing. Honest, conversational and engaging. But as it happens, I got distracted over the interwebs and soon forgot about his blog. A year or so ago, the mother mentioned his book, Chai Chai. I added it to my list and forgot soon after, again. I was ecstatic when I received an email from Blogadda for a review of Tamarind City. I signed up at once and followed up diligently until they had drawn up a shortlist. It was one of my promptest email responses. And I am so thrilled it was.

Tamarind City was an absolute delight to read. It is a detailed account of Chennai’s growth and development as a city, highlighting numerous forgotten snippets from history, replete with personal anecdotes and memories. Ghosh “wears a reporter’s cap and explores the city he has made his home…” What you and me read is a splendid tale of Chennai’s past and present. It almost serves as a guidebook of sorts for the city, what to do, what to see, et al. I’ve always seen Chennai from a distance. I’ve visited it a few times, in transit, always en route to a nearby holiday destination, and ended up spending a night or two in the city, doing the touristy things. T. Nagar, Marina Beach, Express Avenue, Eliot Beach, etc. But Tamarind City makes me want to revisit Chennai, this time armed with a copy, retracing Ghosh’s steps, to savor the city’s sights and sounds.

The book begins with highlighting the choice of its name and reconstructs the author’s journey from Delhi to Chennai, with a very vivid description of Chennai’s bustling T. Nagar. It then goes onto trace the foundations of the British colonial empire in India, beginning with Fort St. George. “There seems to be something charmed about the soil of Fort St. George. Many clerks and soldiers and administrators who came to serve in Madras as non-entities were catapulted into unbelievably high positions—high enough not only to decide the destiny of India but also of Britain.” (Page 21) Ghosh touches upon the lives of Robert Clive, Arthur Wellesley, Warren Hastings and Elihu Yale, drawing from popular historical accounts, making history come alive.

In the following chapters, Ghosh outlines the growth of a city, tracing the lineage of a few prominent families. He highlights the distinction between Iyers and Iynegars, the dichotomy of religion and tradition, and the conflict between Brahmins and non-Brahmins. He discusses the underlying presence of sex in Chennai and provides an in-depth account of the hold of cinema in the city, tracing the life of Gemini Ganesan and his family. He relates fondly his meeting with the editor of Chandamama and touches upon Chennai’s link with Carnatic music and the concerts in December.

Ghosh traces the growth of Sriperumbudur, calling it the new Chennai. And he ends the book with a dash of modernity, highlighting the new taking over the old. The last chapter is a beautiful summary of the street he’s lived on, since his arrival in the city. He outlines his own life in Chennai, with prominent reference to popular landmarks and names.

Tamarind City is a rich read. It is well-researched, enlightening and very informative. I now look upon Chennai with renewed respect. And my world has grown beyond Bombay. The language is superb. Refined, eloquent and elegant. At some point, I want reread the book just for its prose. And maybe another reading just to collate all the facts I’ve learnt and revisited. It is a sort of ode I’d like to write for Bombay someday.

Tamarind City is a delicious read. Savor it chapter by chapter rather than reading it at one go. Revisit Chennai.

Rating: 4.5/5

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