This post is long overdue (one month and 5 days to be exact). This post is owed to a lot of people, important people, including myself. (I can see K rolling his eyes at my narcissism).
It has not always been my dream to go to Bombay. It has been my dream to go there and celebrate in style, imbibe the Bollywood that I love. But it had been my dream for some time, owing to a long 9 year gap, to go on an aeroplane. Yes, I live in a metro. Yes to a lot of other questions. But I just hadn't been on a plane in 9 years since I flew to Delhi to see my cousins and a lot of Mughal history.
I had been ambivalent to the much-venerated spirit of Bombay, its comparisons to NYC, the horrors of 'Slumdog Millionaire' and the exotic quality of its neighbourhoods: Juhu, Bandra, Versova, Tardeo (learnt from an early exposure to MTV India and repeated filled in forms to Virgin Records in the hope of winning free Cheb Mami or Sting cassettes). I knew I would go there one day but not on what terms. My aunt and cousin invited me over but plans didn't materialise. Travelling had become scant and even my trip to Andhra in September had been a highlight of my year, a chance to celebrate Bunny's sister's engagement AND to explore my roots.
Last June, K forgot my birthday. But of course, in usual K style, he more than made up for it (even though I'd forgotten that he'd forgotten-his Mum reminded me) by firstly making my holiday extra-special by coming to his college hometown and then by giving me a gift so huge in more ways than one, in ways material and emotional. His birthday present to me was plane tickets to Bombay and a warm hospitable welcome from his London friends, the much-talked about but rarely-seen Soulgirl and Cupcake.
We set off on the early morning of the 29th, bleary and blurry-eyed, literally falling drunk due to an absolute lack of sleep. My fault, the previous night Mum, Kesh and I had stayed awake to witness my extremely haphazard and unusually disorganised packing. We met K's friend P, who also commented on my drunkenness as I stumbled through security (but I relished every minute of the intrusiveness). We got on the plane, me delighting in the movies and wide collection of music, eventually settling on guess what? Disney classics (Example: 'We Are Siamese')
I got the window seat, yay, thanks to P's thoughtfulness and barely 2 hours later, little Lego structures began to take shape before my now-alert eyes. This was a city of building blocks, much unlike the near-airport area of Chennai that's characterised by hillocks and green.
At the airport, we were greeted by these incredibly glamorous divas holding signs indicated at poking fun at K. I was all smiles, intruding upon their obviously personal bonds and memories. Aaargh what was I doing here : sleep-deprived, lumbering, unfamiliar, woozy. What soothed me was the girls' immediate warmth and effort at including me-and also their consistent pointing out of celebrity homes (Salman Khan, Farhan Akhtar, Rekha, Arjun Rampal..). My heart gave a huge smile when I spotted the word: MANNAT. Shah Rukh means something to every Indian and he means a dreamer who made his dreams come true to me. To see his home, Mannat was the physical representation of that.
We reached Soulgirl's cosy and exquisite apartment and were greeted with even more warmth and homelike affection from her mother, sister and household help. Plied with food, plumbing and soon a bed, I was soon recharged to an extent. All set to watch the culmination of the girls' four month long dance rehearsals as part of a dance troupe.
Now I love dance and watching dance too but I was not prepared for the show that I was to witness. Through a repertoire of 'Apologize', 'Behene De', 'Teri Deewani' and numerous other favourites, I sat spellbound, not wanting the show to end. Soulgirl and Cupcake are outstanding performers, each with their own unique, distinctive style and stage presence. I was completely blown away by Soulgirl's onstage electricity, not just her obvious talent and training but her sheer alive face. Her whirling like a dervish at the end of 'Teri Deewani' was nothing that I had ever seen and that too, live. To top it all, I was reduced to silent tears at a beautiful, breathtaking portrayal of the Sufi classic 'Chhaap Tilak...' by a Kathak dancer. I was touched, transported and moved beyond physicality at the utter divine love represented in that piece.
The days that followed were choc-a-bloc with activities and outings that our hosts had planned. While K and I struggled with the slow waning of tablets' after effects, we let ourselves go with the flow at the sights, sounds and very air of Bombay, this City of frenetic activity, of dreams of commercial life. What I had expected and what I experienced was very different. The air was the crisp, nostalgic air of winter sunshine and a year winding down. The place was quaint, charming, gorgeous Bandra, which to me is now synonymous with Soulgirl and Cupcake and their affection. They took us to the shopping streets of Colaba where our eyes took in the array of wares; to the most melting-in-mouth Mediterranean food (finally got rid of the taste of the inedible mezze I had here) at Moshe's, to the best Thai ever at Lemongrass, to Italian at Basilico. I want to eat that all over again.
To my delight, Bombay is composed of a lot of long drives. And someone else doing the driving! Soulgirl is as music-obsessed and invited me to play some from my phone. So we listened to Rabbi while driving down the awe-inspiring Sea Link. I took in Bombay's skyline while listening to what always reminded me of Delhi music.
New Year's eve was at a friend's farmhouse (the Bombay version of Chennai beach houses? Oh wait, they have beaches there too. And somehow, much more sea). K and I were the usual clowns, traipsing around, doing push ups, ending up fully clothed with the rest in the pool and finally freezing to insanity. In the morning, we discussed careers and how I could no longer be a rockstar. Or so he thinks.
New Year's Day was supposed to be spent with my aunt and cousin but they were recovering from the previous night so in the night we went to K's dream destination: Aer where we took in 30+ storey views of the sparkling lights of a Bombay New Year's Night. We then went to someplace I liked more: Trilogy where I danced danced danced absolutely sober and absolutely high on music. I loved that DJ and would've told him so if my brand new heels weren't all twisted out of shape and I had to dance barefoot.
But Bombay to me wasn't clubs, food or the Ambanis' 800 million dollar bombproof, Domino's encased building. Bombay to me is the precious multi-hued Arabian Sea sunsets I witnessed from Soulgirl's gorgeous living room window, in absolute silence, with my best friend and also with people I had known for 2 days and yet felt like home. Bombay to me is me and K waving at Arjun Rampal's apartment building to tell people we waved at the actor himself. Bombay to me is getting the best blowdry ever-one that lasted-with new friends I felt I'd known forever and with an old friend who loves me so much that he took a million pictures of it from all angles. Bombay to me was the excitement me and K felt at the semi-cobblestoned roads of Bandra and Pali Hill.
Bombay is a million myriad moments, postcard worthy pictures (once Photoshopped of course), a zillion unstoppable K and me giggles triggered by single word memories, dozens and dozens of girl hugs from the most beautiful girls I've ever seen because they're stunning inside and out, the warmest welcome, care and maternal pampering from Soulgirl's parents, the total invasion of space and worktime that we did to Soulgirl's amazingly talented and instantly likeable writer sister (who gifted me a book that's automatically become one of my friends- 'The Shadow of the Wind' by Julian Carax, oops Carlos Ruiz Zafón) by occupying her and Soulgirl's heavenly room, the many phone calls I made to my cool aunt saying, yes I get what you meant about this city...
So, to me, Bombay was love. Is love.