Mumbai, the City of Variables

Image (c) Arti Agarwal
Image (c) Arti Agarwal

‘Why isn’t anything moving?’ I asked the car driver. Our car had moved six feet in the last one hour. I looked outside the car window, and found I could not see anything discernibly, because we were stuck in a heavy downpour on a traffic-clogged Eastern Express Highway. The water level on the roads was slowly rising. Every now and then a car would honk at full blast, expressing the frustration of the driver, and then other cars would also join in, making it a cacophony of cars honking at different pitches.

I was on my way back from office and this was my first monsoon season in Mumbai. I did not see this coming.

‘The phones are not working either. This is exactly what happened in 2006 also, in the great flood of Mumbai’, replied the driver.

Was he trying to scare me? If so, he was succeeding by leaps and bounds.

My other colleagues in the car were seemingly unaffected; one sleeping, one reading the latest Indian Fiction novel, one listening to blaring, loud rock music on his noise cancelling headphones, not realizing that we could hear his music too, making the label ‘noise cancelling’ on his headphones very questionable. Another of my colleagues, looking at my impatience, grinned at me, saying, ‘This is Mumbai.’

In my first few months in the great city, Mumbai boggled my sensibilities. In a metropolis packed with 20 million people, it was surprisingly easy to strike up a conversation with any passer-by. It was the easiest thing to get directions to the closest local train station, and the toughest thing to muster the courage to get onto a train that was already packed with commuters, some of whom were hanging from the doors. And then, one day, I learnt that the trick was to buy a First Class ticket to the ladies coach, the crowd density wherein was quite rarefied.

I munched my Vada Paav moodily. It was garlicky and spicy. Vada Paav is a ‘Mumbaiya’ snack of a small cutlet packed in breads, served with a hot chilli sauce. I was partaking of the same near my apartment in Powai.

‘Have you decided where you want to go yet?’, asked my friend, tangentially hinting at the traffic situation.

After two hours of commuting and a wait of half an hour we finally got into Café Mondegar in Colaba. Our table was neatly sandwiched between the adjoining tables, so much so that an onlooker might think we were in the same group as our noisy neighbours. The caricatures on the walls of the café by Mario Miranda today bore an uncanny resemblance to the people therein. Fashionably dressed women with airs, men in suits and ties, expats smoking at the entrance door, beer kegs everywhere – it was a Friday evening at Mondegar’s alright. Three beers down, we were already discussing our next halt – should it be jazz or live rock? In Mumbai, parties only had a starting time and place.

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