As a rule, I don't like comparing places to Bombay. It's not fair to the place I think. No matter how laid-back a town or how frugal its facilities, it is still home to so many people. It is disrespectful to constantly measure someone's home to an impossible yardstick and delight in its shortcomings. And also because I partly think Bombay to be aloof, distant, yet complete. The rest of the world is just necessary accoutrement.
So I don't really get belligerent when people say how much cleaner the other places are or how much warmer the neighbors. It is mostly true. I also listen quietly when people comment on how rumpled Bombay's fashion is - how tackily wearable the clothes and how impossibly practical the accessories. Fine. Sartorial elegance is a flippant virtue.
However, I saw something on T.V. yesterday that made me very angry. It was one of those lifestyle shows that get launched with squiggly, psychedelic lines. A hep anchor was covering new watering holes across several cities in India. She was dressed in so many chains, belts, and bracelets that she looked like a shiny Christmas past. But she was a good dancer - spirited and graceful.
Anyway, the show covered one pub that has a swimming pool in the centre and serves free Bloody Marys every Tuesday. Then the chain-lady went to another one that was set up on a launch. Their specialty was some kind of a shot served in small glasses made of mushrooms. Another was a subdued, yet classy affair on the top of a hill. Chain-lady went around asking people what they thought of the place. Several thumbs were brandished to 'Yoo hoos!' and 'Awesome!'s. That was good.
And then came on this lady with Maggi noodle hair (in form and colour.) She slurred, 'You know how all those Bombayites used to go 'night-life' this and 'night life' that....well, we've got better 'night life' (bony fingers held up to make air quotes) now.'
Okay. First of all, I understand the need for well-groomed eyebrows but they don't need to look like the sides of an isosceles triangle, do they?
Second of all, not all Bombayites party all the time. There are plenty of people in this city who don't go to pubs or clubs. And yet, these people will vouch for Bombay's 'night life' - because 'night life' in Bombay isn't about exclusivist alcoves. (I'll hold on while geometrically shaped eyebrows rise and fall. Done? Right.)
It's about being busy until very, very late and not feeling that time is running out. You can be at work (wherever work is - tuitions at someone's place, storyboarding in an office, discussing bail at the police station, cooking dinner in someone's house) peacefully. You know that the last bus is several hours away and the last train is even later. You don't constantly watch your back while you walk to the bus stop or the station. In fact, your worry at that point is getting run over by manic rickshaws even as late night news is being broadcasted somewhere.
And let's say you get hungry. You will get food. Stalls will serve you. They won't make you feel guilty for being hungry at 11:00 p.m. It may be late but you will get a willing cook to make that egg bhurji with extra onions. When you finally reach the station, you find yourself waiting in a long queue. Sure, it's late but you're not alone. You're one of many, many people.
Sure, there are the clubs and their trendier cousins - the lounges and restobars where you get to in fancy cars with dandy dates. They may not be four storey buildings or stylishly alfresco occupying the space of a small continent. But they will make your drinks until the milk vans come out. However, that is not what Bombayites miss when they go to other places.
They miss being stranded in traffic at midnight or looking out for a place to sit in the last bus home or going back after clubbing in a modest rickshaw alone. They miss not having to be reminded that 'it's getting late', 'it's late', or 'it's too late now.'
The world over, the rich will always have cars and the beautiful will always have company. And you can have access to a whole different world with these. But in Bombay, you can have neither and still have options. That is the life, the 'night life' we were always talking about.
Note: And it’s ‘Bombay ’, not Mumbai, in this post because the reckless disregard for the setting sun began then.