Monday, February 09, 2009

Smelling the rose at Kala Ghoda

Here’s how I managed to go to the Kala Ghoda festival today. This morning, I went for a walk, returned to a huge breakfast, finished the last few chapters of ‘Beloved Witch’, and went back to sleep. It was a heavy, thick sort of sleep – the kind that just swallows in the hours in large gulps. When you awaken, the sun has set and you are disoriented with a fuzzy taste in the mouth. But thankfully, I woke up around noon due to a grumbling tummy. I didn’t feel like preparing anything fancy, so I just had some cookies and milk.

All the while, though, I was wondering whether I should go to town or not. After all, it was close to 2:30 now, and I didn’t want to spend a late Sunday evening. Next week will be rough at work and I want to be properly rested for that.

But every time I make plans to go to town, there’s this thrill that just puts everything in motion. It got me to promptly message a friend that I’d be reaching V.T. around 5. In a matter of minutes, she replied that she’d meet me there.

There was a quick bath. There were some mental calculations (should I take the train to Vashi? What if the trains are cancelled because of repair works on Sunday? How about taking a bus to Bandra and catching a fast train to Churchgate? And it’ll be a nice walk from Azad Maidan to Regal.) Finally, there was decision to take a chance with the V.T. train.

I’ve always had this experience – once I decide to go to town, everything just falls into place. I got a return ticket in a jiffy (I still get excited at how far I can travel by train for just twenty rupees) and in a matter of minutes, I was in a train…heading towards town.

The second class was pleasantly empty. In fact, I could actually pick and choose earrings at my own pace. (The sellers bring piles of earrings, clips, bands, etc. in little boxes which women sift through.) Again, it amazes me that in a train, I can actually buy a pair of ear-rings for five bucks! I mean, at Vashi station, even a vada pav costs six rupees now. But for five rupees apiece, I got two pairs of candy-striped tops in yellow and blue, and little droplets of green and caramel colored stones. The thrifty part of my consumerist soul just purred.

Around 4:45, the train pulled into V.T.

How is it that the more this place changes, the more it remains the same? How can a place astound with newness and tempt with familiarity at once? V.T. still does that.

Post the shootings, the place looked cleaner, there were more police personnel stationed all over the platforms, and some detectors were in place. But it still had that slightly goofy, bizarre charisma that I’d walked into very warily, nearly a decade ago, to start college. There was a Coffee Express right alongside the second-class apartments, so one could just grab a latte and hop into the train – settling in for a long ride home.

This thoughtfulness – this class of service – you’ll never find in a suburb. You just have to slip into town to know, to feel…that finesse breeds here. I stepped out into a Bombay that makes you feel like you’re in a big city (as opposed to the glorified ghettoes some suburbs have become). Two girls were standing in front of GPO contemplating who should click the other one first. I asked them if they’d like me to click them. A cop nearby chewed on a bubblegum and a happy, shiny breeze stirred up somewhere.

In town, the skies catch the best light, the sea is its most poetic self, gaits are lighter, and smiles – just so easily- reach the eyes.

I’d already started grinning in anticipation of my day ahead.

I hailed a cab and reached Kala Ghoda.

There wasn’t much crowd at that time. My friend hadn’t reached by then, so I thought I’d browse by myself until she arrived. I was a bit hungry and thirsty, though, so I got a gelato. Slurping on my ‘Yo Berry’ pink ice, I went from one interesting piece of installation art to another. My favorite, though, was one with lots of colorful kettles, tin-trunks, and cutting chai glasses. It’s called ‘Made in Chai-na’. There was another good one – a missile made of red wire-frame with doves crashing against it and dying.

Moving on, I saw a booth called ‘Notes to Pakistan’. You could go in and write a note to, well, Pakistan that would be pinned up on a board, or you could just go in and look. Some of them were really funny! There was one that said, “You deserved Jinnah then. You deserve him now.” Another one had a stick figure drawn outside a hut or something. It read, “To all Pakistanis! We know where you live!”

Some were more somber, “We want peace. Stop the terrorism.”, “Surprise us. Take responsibility.” My favorite, however, was a simple, professorial admonishment, “Blasting people is not good.” (You don’t say?!)

By that time, my friend had reached and I decided to take her to Jehangir Art Gallery. And this was a surprise! Some of these paintings were absolutely stupendous! There was one charcoal sketch of a side of an elephant’s face. The creases were so life-like that I actually stared for a good five minutes besides moving along. I couldn’t understand some of the other works, but their techniques looked clever. Another one I liked had two men sleeping on the floor, wrapped in checkered blankets. The colors were so pretty – yellow and blue. In fact, what interested me was the painting’s unusual background – there were stripes of light candy colors – pink, mauve, blue, and green.

After the novice art appreciation stint, we headed into the festival. I bought a bright, Jaipuri pink keychain for a friend and a fuchsia chunni for myself. My friend picked out a really glam cocktail purse and a necklace. Then, as expected, we ran out of cash and decided to walk around instead.

At the amphitheater, a guy – exceedingly good-looking – was playing the drums. By the time we reached, the crowd was already clapping and thumping to a rhythm the musician had set. A few minutes later, he started playing the typical Visarjan dhol beat, and the crowd cheered like crazy. He was so good!

His performance was rather short, though. Someone this good-looking should just be made to sit onstage and smile, even if he is not performing.

Later, my friend and I proceeded to Colaba causeway where, it seems, no-one knows that there’s a recession on. So you see a stole, you ask how much it costs, and they tell you it’s 400 bucks. You, on reflex, drop it down. You tell them that you could pick up one at that price at Bombay Stores! They then tell you – okay, take it at 200. No, you say. You also wonder how he slashed his price by 50% in two minutes. You walk away and he hollers – okay, 150. You keep walking and he shouts 75. 75! From 400! The ridiculousness seems to be more tempered in Linking Road. (And I never thought I’d say that.)

Famished, we walk into Leopold and head upstairs because there’s no place at the ground level. We get a seat there and order our dinners – a prawn pulao for my pal and fries, veg burger and Coke for me. Now, it’s been a while since I last went to Leo’s, so I’d forgotten that they served food by the mound. A mound of fries, a mound of rice, and burger bread the size of an island marooned Lego characters could live on.

Satisfied, we headed back to V.T. I was tired and feeling a little sad at having to go back home. It’ll be New Bombay and Marol for a while, maybe Bandra, Andheri, and Powai to break the monotony. But town will be slowly out of my reach soon.

Inside the compartment, a cop did a few rounds checking under seats, a couple of women walked in eating peanuts. One of them, I noticed, had a cup of coffee with her. A young girl walked in with a box of make-up to sell. (I bought a blue eyeliner for ten rupees, and a lilac lip-gloss and shimmer for twenty rupees each.)

As I put my treasures in my bag, I looked back at my day at the fest.

So many people will not come to this fest. They won’t come because they can’t relate to this part of town. It’s too far and traveling all this distance is not worthwhile. They’ll go to the 50-70% sales in bright, glittery malls. They’ll see Dev D in plush multiplexes close to their homes. They’ll run errands and do household chores. They’ll down drinks or have meals at nearby restaurants. They’ll go to Foodland or Big Bazaar in autos or cars to buy groceries. Nothing wrong with any of this. But a few will make the mistake of thinking, “Now, town is dead. Who needs to go so far – suburbs have everything. This is where the action is. And town – it’s so inconvenient.”

Their world will then be Bandra, Khar, Andheri, Juhu, Vashi, Nerul, Powai, Chembur, Ghatkopar, Mulund, Goregaon, Malad, Kandivali – wherever. Their world will be ‘convenient’. They will never step out to see this little sheen of pearl that gently mocks and tells you that convenience is for the mediocre.

I remembered an episode from 'Desperate Housewives' where Eva Longoria is having an affair with her much younger gardener. It’s supposed to be a casual fling, but the gardener is already in love with Eva. He gifts her a beautiful rose after spending many weeks trying to locate a flawless specimen. Meanwhile, Eva tells her husband doesn’t excite or surprise her anymore. She wants him to take her breath away. The next day, the husband buys her a state-of-the-art automobile. Loaded with gizmos, dripping with style. He, then, asks her if he’d managed to take her breath away. Eva thinks of the gardener’s gift and realizes that it’s a rare person who understands the value of a single, perfect rose.

That is true. There’s exactly such a flower blooming away in Bombay. And it’s in an inconvenient spot.


Details of the Kala Ghoda fest, here:


Mumbai Diva said...

very very well put. I love town too. The suburbs have their own fun buzz but town has a certain charm.....

Nimish Dalal said...

That was a nice read. Splendid in its own way. I was born in Bombay now Mumbai where I lived at kalbadevi. Few years after we shifted to suburbs. Years passed and I steal some time from my busy errands just to breathe the air here. Sometimes I have a reason, Sometimes none. I love Mumbai. My only Mumbai...btw even I enjoyed the kala ghoda fest.. amazing naa.

Blue Athena said...

You're just making me feel bad. :(
I wanted to go to KG yesterday, and with the little one in tow, no less - but couldn't. So, the plan has been shelved, and I will probably go watch a movie or something now...

Anonymous said...

You have sketched it very well. i want to do all this some day when I am in Mumbai. Colaba and Leopold reminds me of Shantaram !!

Karthik Sivaramakrishnan said...

You describe well.

Ashish Shakya said...

I absolutely love town. Even Bandra can be a bit tiring. Andheri just makes me want to hit people.

I think that town and New Bombay are the best places to live in, in the city. Followed maybe by Bandra and Powai.

Anonymous said...

I second Karthik...well written

Aries said...

I guess one needs to see VT several times before the charisma sinks in. When I first came there in 1997 from a much smaller city, the sheer number of people and the general mood of urgency was unsettling.

I've never had the fortune of living in Mumbai barring visits that have grown progressively shorter over the years...these kinds of posts make up for what I've missed.

Just call me 'A' said...

i miss bombay...and your post brings back some really wonderful memories of my days there.

Anonymous said...

i so agree!! when i first moved here, i had to go often to breathe the air, to walk the tree lined lanes, to sit by the sea... now of course it's a rare trip :( town refreshes me like nothing can.