Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Strange, sad night in Bom Bahia

The day starts with eggs and fresh mushrooms that tasted just like the ones my cousins and I picked as kids one Sunday morning in the Irish countryside.

Later, being driven around streets and unknown areas, white earbuds in and old songs like “Lagi Choote Na” and “Duniya na bhaye” are the soundtrack to streetside clothes stalls, dusty dogs and people and vehicles swirling around. We drive from Cottons by Century (for men, it turns out) to Cotton On (tiny cramped slip of a store) and then stumble across the original Cottons that was being sought.

The women shopping here are comfortably off and straight out of Monsoon Wedding, they are relatives and friends, stressed out before the big day, piling up kurtas and the like before they move on to their next stop. The sales clerk in Hindi rushes a woman out of a dressing room to make way for me, since he sees she’s done trying on and is just chatting with her girlfriend in the neighboring room. She glares at me as I feebly protest to the salesman “Nehin, nehin, no problem.” I am tolerated, but not welcome, but then again, maybe no one else is.

We drive past an area I remember from last year, where you see the poverty that everyone writes about in India. People living their lives on the street for all to see. One woman scrutinizes as she combs the hair of another woman, looking for something. A little girl stands in a t-shirt with no underpants on as an older little boy looks down and seems to point and say “You don’t have a willie like I do.”

We arrive at the place of my assignation, to meet the best friend of the long-departed ex-. Nervous. Why am I doing this? I should have cancelled. Why wound anyone think that you can tie things up neatly and put them away like a copy of your 2004 tax returns?

I arrive first to the lobby of the five-star hotel we’ve chosen. As I freshen up in the loo a young girl in uniform comes in and I realize that her job is to go from stall to stall and be sure that all the recent lady visitors have flushed, and if not, to do the needful.

Across from reception, some Swiss people sit near me and speak in that sing-song French that they do. I will them away and they oblige. A hotel guy in a uniform fluffs the pillows for the 10th time. I listen to my filmi theme song of 2005 – Ishq hai jhoota – as I text people to keep busy. He arrives. It’s awkward. He can’t stay long. Probably afraid of a scene. Over a dinner of mostly alcohol this awful wobbliness and teariness comes up. WTF? I don’t get like this anymore, ever. Neither of us is who we were a year ago. We talk about stupid mundane stuff, I even brooked the topic of the weather.

Ex’s best bud departs and as I wait for my driver to pull around, who strides down the stairs next to me, mobile glued to his ear, but Abhishek Bachchan. Well that’s the cherry on this sundae. He skinnier looking than in film. He gets into a big shiny grey BMW SUV as Preity Zinta and Rani Mukherjee trail after him, like so many cheerleaders after so many quarterbacks before them, Preity yelling “Wait, did you call Karan? Is he coming?” I know I haven’t had that much to drink at dinner, but I still can’t quite believe that I’m not sprawled out on the expanse of stairs and hallucinating the whole scene. The driver has now appeared and I skirt Ms. Zinta, who’s fresh from working it on the runway yesterday, this is Fashion Week after all. Abhi’s security blocks us from leaving until they pull out, as they trail him in a smaller vehicle. I guess the girls are on their own.

Home, Ramesh, kripiyaa.

Earbuds back in, I close my eyes and listen to contemporary filmi music now. Adaa thumps away for I don’t how long when I hear a firm knocking on my window, and a tiny woman (girl?) with an also tiny infant in one arm stands there, rapping to get my attention. I fumble furiously for my wallet and the light changes, and the driver, seeing what I’m trying to do but conscious of the cars behind honking, starts to move slowly and the girl holds on, hurrying along with us. I manage to grab 200 rupees as I lower the window, hand them to her and she’s gone. Window up and I can’t stop crying. I try to be discreet and keep the flemmy sniffling noises as quiet as possible. If we were in Madras and he was not this Ramesh he would ask me “Are you ok, Mam?”, and I'd have no way to explain in simple English what's happening, not that I can explain it in any more complex English to myself, but this is Bombay and he probably sees enough dumb farangs getting worked up pointlessly about things like this often and his life is probably hard too.

I wonder what will she do with the 200 rupees. Will she even get to keep it or will some pimp or husband take it from her.


Blogger nabeel said...

its nice to read your experiences on travel, nd i found that there is a pasion in you, for hindi music as you have clearly noted those songs in ur post.good job, keep it up. keep going as life goes on...........

1:21 AM  
Blogger thelearner said...

Nicely written.
If you're ever coming to ROK let me know ;)

9:53 PM  

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