Tag: Ten things I discovered and loved about Bombay in my first visit as a foreigner

29 11 2008

Replying to Broom’s post: ten things you love about Bombay.

Ten things I discovered about Bombay in my first visit as a foreigner:

1. cows serenely grazing on the edge of the frenetic highway, looking as if fear of getting hit by a car is completely outside their realm of experience.

2. The city is all neutral colors, but vibrant jewel-colored people emerge from that backdrop of grays and tans.

3. Idlis dipped in Bombay Sambhar for breakfast. I’ve never tasted anything so delicious (except, of course, all the other delicious things I tasted in mumbai. )

4. Fresh Betel leaf grown from someone’s back yard that takes the edge off the jetlag

5. FabIndia! With it’s rooms full of colorful Kurtas and shopping bags made out of Bombay newspapers.

6. All things cream: Seetaful cream from haji ali fruit juice, natural’s tender coconut ice cream, and of course the cream centre (The food was amazing, but oddly, I most remember the pickled carrots).

7. Preparations for the Ganesh festival underway at Chowpatty

8. Riding in a Rickshaw that runs on CNG and weaving in and out of Bombay traffic with only a tattered curtain stretched across the door to protect us from the downpour of monsoon rains.

9. Rajma, pulau, dosas, dahi,Bombay duck and all of the homemade meals prepared by Broom’s parents.

10. A feeling that I did not have enough time in this wonderful city and that I will definitely be back.

My thoughts and prayers are with you Mumbai.


Shopping for clothes – India 4

14 09 2008

Broom was immune to my pleas for mercy.

“I’ll just sleep. ” I said through lips that felt like super putty. I tried to shake off the haze and bring her into full focus. “You guys go without me.” Broom rolled her eyes and lifted my arm. It slid out of her grasp like a limp eel. She clucked her tongue in that way she does when she’s getting impatient and annoyed. And then she unleashed that terrible weapon. The one thing that could motivate me to drag my rag doll limbs out of bed and wobble into my clothes with great grunting effort. It is the thing that works on absolutely everyone from every culture and every walk of life. The most awesome and powerful force in the known universe. Guilt.

“My mom took half the day off so she could spend time with you and you’ve been asleep all afternoon. ” She said matter-of-factly. “She’ll be hurt if you don’t come out with us tonight. ”

We drove through streets teeming with brightly-lit shops and stuff-wallahs showing off their wares at traffic lights. Broom’s dad dropped us at the entrance to one of the newly built shopping centres and drove away to find parking. We showed the contents of our purses to the security guards and then made a beeline for Broom’s favorite clothes store. One whole floor was dedicated to kurtas, patialas, salwar kurtis. I was drawn to the bright patterns and soft brilliant colors that adorned every rack like a moth who had just discovered lanterns in the darkness. Broom’s mom was eyeing each of the kurtas I picked out and commenting on the choice of color or the particular pattern. “No that is not your color.”, she said when I held up a rust colored shirt with bright yellow leafy patterns bordering the collar. “try this one.” She pulled a deep emerald green shirt from another rack. I held it up to Broom and she screwed up her face and said “Such a dark green. It’s too depressing.” I sighed and thought it would be a long night.

As it turned out, the time went by very fast. Before long, Broom’s mom was enthusiastically picking out outfits that she thought I would like. She asked me if I wanted to try the patialas to go with some of my shirts and she said that the puffier more arabic style were in fashion. I was infected by her excitement and decided to try them.  After all, I thought, I really didn’t have any clothes that were good for the stifling humidity and heat.  She had the sales staff running all over the store to find particular colors and sizes that would match the Kurtas I had already picked out. I left the store with 3 large shopping bags of new clothes, excited to be wearing them on the trip to Delhi the next morning.

Meeting the parents – India 2

31 08 2008

It has been 3 months since I’ve seen Broom. I have two suitcases of gifts for her parents. I wince at the thought wondering if they’ll think I’m trying to buy their affection. But most of the things I brought were requests carefully relayed through Broom.   I did bring a few things extra, though, that I thought they might like.  There are two messages from Broom on the cell phone by the time i make my way down a seemingly endless corridor after retrieving my luggage. It will be so good to see her, I think. And then I think, I need to be careful not to show it if her parents are there. When I finally emerge into the daylight of Mumbai I call Broom. She starts to tell me how to find her but I already see her there. Her parents are not with her. I’m relieved but also hating the delay.  Broom sees me then and smiles. All my worry fades into a distant compartment and the only thing that matters is that I’m here with Broom, finally.

I imagine us rushing toward each other bollywood style and embracing in a passionate and yet not too suspicious manner. But my daydreams are shattered by two realities. The first is that I have two heavy suitcases and a carry-on that slows me to a snail’s pace as I drag them through the swamps and pot-holes left behind by the morning’s monsoon showers. But why isn’t Broom rushing toward me, bollywood-style, since I obviously can’t manage?  Maybe she’s stopped loving me in the 3 months we’ve been apart. I quickly suppress that unthinkable thought. And then I see what has stopped her. The airport attendants have apparently decided to round up every cart on the planet and transport them to god knows where at this exact moment. There is a line of luggage carts two miles long  and a dozen men trying to keep them moving like a slow train between me and Broom. We look at each other helplessly and start laughing.  There is no end in sight as if the gods themselves willed us to be separate at this moment when we most want to be together. “Welcome to India.” Broom says with a sardonic smile. She turns to one of the attendants and says something in Hindi. He nods and stops the train of carts. They break the line and motion ceremoniously for me to walk through. I feel a bit silly, like some queen they’ve stopped traffic for.  And then Broom and I are together at last. A quick, but firm embrace and a  kiss on the cheek that an observant person might notice was a touch too long. Not bollywood but good enough for me.  The attendants who stopped the line of carts are still watching us.

The drive through Mumbai was by turns frightening and fascinating. Frightening because being in the back of a cab deftly weaving in and out of traffic and narrowly avoiding toddlers, dogs, cattle and unknown obstacles in the road at top speed in Mumbai is a little like experiencing death-race first hand. Fascinating because everything is so new and different that my senses cannot decide which of them should have my attention. I found myself hopelessly unable to take it all in but totally in my element. I am most content, I’ve discovered, when I’m immersed in experiences that threaten to overwhelm me.

At one point we’re stopped in traffic and there is a truck in front of us with furniture crammed in chaotic fashion under a canvas canopy. There is something odd about the furniture though, I think in a haze of jet lag and sleep deprivation. Wooden chairs, table legs…but those aren’t table legs. “oh my god there’s a person in there!” I say out loud without thinking. It was such an odd image, like someone had thrown a dead body in the back of a pickup with a bunch of furniture.

“What are you talking about?” Broom says. I motion to the truck in front of us, but she doesn’t see what I see. “There’s a man in the back of that truck!” She stares at me with a slightly concerned expression as though I’ve taken leave of my senses. “Yes there’s a man in there. So?” I mumble something about it seeming strange that’s all and Broom shakes her head. “Bloody firang” she says affectionately. I feel incredibly foolish. Broom kisses me on the cheek and squeezes my hand.

When we finally pull up to Broom’s house, she dials a number on her cell phone. “Papa, we’re here.” She says. The butterflies begin again.  Broom is always talking about how perceptive her dad is and I am suddenly afraid that in one glance he will know everything.  And then he is coming out of the house. He has a slightly worried expression. He is very handsome for his age. Broom had said he was a metrosexual and I can see evidence of that in his perfectly-groomed beard and manicured nails.  He embraces Broom as though he hasn’t seen her in weeks. “What took you so long?” He asks admonishingly. Broom rolls her eyes and clicks her tongue. “Papa, I’m 30 years old. Stop worrying.” He smiles indulgently and turns to greet me. Should I shake his hand or hug him? He extends his hand and smiles. There is an inscrutable expression in his eyes. I wonder what thoughts are going through his mind. “I’ve heard a lot about you” he says. “Come. You can have a bath and we’ll have lunch. Mama is still at work but she was going to come home for lunch.” he says. As we go into the house, he says suddenly “I waited to marinate the fish because I didn’t want to greet you with smelly hands.”  I am oddly touched and I think maybe everything will be okay.