I had gone for the Strand Book Sale at Nariman Point last Sunday. Very few things can get me dressed and out of the house by 9 a.m. on a Sunday morning. A trip to town is one of them.
I had with me a stack of railway coupons. It’s one of those things – only when you have them will you realize how much easier it makes your life. I love huddling around the validating machine, listening to the punch it makes on the coupons. And the blue vein-like stamp that gets printed on the small strip of paper. While I was having my coupons thumped happily, a long line snaked behind me at the ticket counters.
I felt good. The city was just getting ready, and I was already off.
I had an errand to run at Peddar Road, which is always fun. Walked around for a bit, grabbed a bite at Subway (only women employees there – heartening), and walked around some more.
Then I headed to Nariman Point. I caught a bus to Mantralaya. The conductor was nice enough to make an unscheduled stop closest to Bajaj Bhavan, , where the book sale was. I yelled a loud thank you, which startled the bus driver a little bit and dove into those roads.
I love that place. I love it. Even with the faint smell of urine, even with the fading, paling asphalt, I love it. I love it because it is looks so distinct. And tall. The bends of the road from where you can see sky-scrapers, where you allow yourself to get dwarfed by an urbaneness that’s polished and raw, where you squint and look at flats that might as well have clouds stuck on their ceilings…they’re such absolute ‘weak-in-the-knees’ stunners.
At Bajaj Bhavan, I spent close to three hours amongst books. Touching their spines, reading their jackets, absorbing the book covers. It’s so replenishing to be around literature. Muted, strong, full.
That done, I traipsed to Inox and went to the Tea Leaf and Coffee Bean cafe.
And there, even though I wasn’t looking for it, I found it: the spot I could settle in and watch the world forever.
It was at the corner table. Hidden from the crowd. A cute little red couch by the window.
I settled in with my new book, ‘How to save your own life ‘ by Erica Jong. Outside, I could see a street picturesquely dappled with afternoon light. A tall, blond woman wearing a rust-colored dress talked animatedly into the phone. Two little girls in polka-dot dresses giggled around trees. A sleepy policeman munched on his supari.
I read a few paragraphs of my book. It had a lovely cover – a young woman with teased, caramel-tinted hair wearing a white blouson and black panties. She’s standing in a room full of potted plants and flowers and she’s looking away at something. I thought of that room where the picture must have been taken. It was nice – happy, with just the right traces of the season flitting in. I sipped on my warm Apricot-Ceylon tea.
I turned a few more pages and studied a few more people. A handsome man in white and beige smiled to himself as he read the Financial Times. Outside, the weather was changing. It got windy and a little trail of leaves blew about. A lot of tree-tops shivered and people looked up expectantly.
There’s something about the promise of rain, however faint, that makes my heart dance a little.
I got myself another beverage. A cup of hot vanilla. Frothy, sweet and wholesome. (I do hope that there comes a time in the history of the world when every single coffee shop serves this concoction.)
As I sipped it, I realized that I could share this…this wedge of a day… with anyone who had time to see any one thing in Mumbai. Whether that person was family or a stranger from across the world, someone I barely knew, someone I’d always known. Whoever.
This was my postcard from the world that was perfectly tilted.
This city gets crazy and conflicted by the minute. The frenzy doesn’t stop, the bruising doesn’t end. From where I sat, though, the place was ebbing and flowing towards a changeless calm.
From where I sat, I looked out at a city that was not Mumbai. Not Bombay. It was just right.