On a Trip, in Mumbai
The hotel room was a hole in the middle of the city. I could see the majestic Victoria Terminals and the Municipal buildings from the corridor just outside my room. The room was a 10 x 10 or so air-conditioned space, with no widows or ventilators, except for one in the tiny bathroom attached. One end of the room had a wall-mounted television set, a small desk and a smaller fridge.
I checked in to the hotel around mid-day, coming straight from the airport. I had to spend one night at the hole since I am to the city to conduct an admission test for the design college, where I taught, in Coimbatore. The test was scheduled for the next day morning 10 at the J J School of Art, very close to where I stayed.
I had a quick lunch at one of the hotels nearby, made a few phone calls to cross check and fix up all arrangements for the test. Back to the hole, I hit the sack. It was past 5 pm when I got up. You should either be asleep or busy doing something to keep your mind away from being in the hole. There was no way I could manage to sit there and while away my time reading, listening to music or watching TV. I took a quick shower and decided to step out.
I had been to and lived in Mumbai three decades ago, then Bombay of course. But for the change in name, I found the Fort area remarkably unchanged, thanks to the law for protection of heritage buildings. Apart from the old buildings, the footpath vendors of electronic items, perfumes etc still occupied the same positions! Even most of the old bookshops of the Fort area ware still in business. For me, the stroll was a sort of journey into the past, as I paused at every nook and corner trying to identify the landmarks I used to walk past everyday thirty years ago. I stopped at the Jahangir Art Gallery to see the art and photo exhibitions on show.
It was past eight when I got out of the Gallery. I took the same route to walk back to the hole. On the way, I found the corner road-side restaurant at the Residency Hotel inviting. When I entered, it was not very crowded. I settled in a quiet corner and flipped through the menu. The host came to take my order and I asked for a club sandwich. “What would you like to drink, sir” the host asked with a smile. I was in a mood of being in Bombay… I returned a smile and said, “kuch nahi.”
I enjoyed sitting quietly there looking through the glass panels to the busy pavement outside… a city of dreams, enterprise -- small and big. There are street vendors who take their positions on the street for generations, some making roaring business and even owning expensive cars! There was a time when the dream of every jobless youth was to get to Bombay for a turn-around.
The waiter came with my order and placed it on my table. He then off-loaded a quarter- glass drink and a bottle of soda on to my table. I politely told him that I ordered for just a club sandwich, the drink could be for some other table. The waiter blinked and went to check with the host and came back with the drink. I asked in protest, “what is this.” “Whisky, saab” he said. “Kiski” I blurted out. The host then came back. Holding a bottle in front of me, he told me that the drink was indeed my order. I was losing temper and felt helpless. Trying to control, I started my defense, “but I ordered only…..” Before I could complete the sentence, my eyes fell on the label. To my surprise, it read ‘Kuchh Nai. Deluxe Scotch Whisky.’
Back in the hole that night, revolving with the ceiling fan, I pendulated between euphoria and despair.