09 December 2010 – Thursday – Guesthouse, Bombay, India
So we arrived at Bombay Central Station over an hour late, which is unusual for the Rajdhani Express. It’s usually right on time. We gathered all of our belongings from the berth – except the giant-sized, completely overstuffed suitcase, of course, we waited for a professional to come and collect that – we said goodbye to the Sardar and his wife, disembarked and headed out to find our car and driver. Amidst the noisy rush and roar of the main exit from the train station, mixed with the throngs of people and taxis and vendors, we somehow found him. His name was Anwar and he picked us up in a big, brand new, shiny white Mercedes something or other and we set off for the Guesthouse.
Heading out onto the busy streets from Bombay Central, H and R and The Little One clambered into the back seat while I took the front seat and was blown away once again by the colourful insanity of downtown Bombay. Delhi is just not like this. For one thing, you don’t see the hundreds of women walking in brightly coloured saris everywhere like you do here. I also couldn’t help noticing that the skyscrapers around the train station are really breathtaking and magnificently huge. With the way almost everything is built in India, and the way you always hear of buildings crashing down and killing all sorts of people, it always amazes me that these buildings not only manage to get built, but that they don’t come tumbling down, too.
At one point in the drive through the busy Bombay streets, Anwar says, “Jail” to me and nods his head to the left in the direction of these high, dirty grey, unadorned walls that look to be a hundred years old, but could easily be, based on the kind of cement and construction techniques used in the city, as young as 30 years old. He says “jail” again and I ask him, off the top of my head, “Which jail? Is this the Arthur Road Jail?” He nodded and said it was.
No way! I thought! The Arthur Road Jail is the one Gregory David Roberts was sent to and made famous in his book Shantaram! It was one of the places I wanted to see in this visit, but never thought I would get a chance to. First of all, seeing it on the map, I imagined it was this huge, sprawling prison complex surrounded by vacant fields and lots and lots of barbed wire. If this was the place, it certainly never looked anything like that. What it did look like was pretty much everything else in Bombay – an old and decrepit place surrounded by ancient trees, parked cars, vendors selling fruits and pan, and the non-stop whirl of traffic all around it, like a circle of wagons. If Anwar didn’t point it out to me, I would never have known what it was.
It takes us well over an hour and a half to reach the guesthouse in the district of Chembur, which is basically midway up from the southern tip of Colaba, in the middle of the long peninsula of Bombay – far to the east of Bandra and even further south east of Juhu and Versova. I’ve never been that far inland in Bombay, so it was a completely different experience for me driving through all these new, never before seen areas of the city. Mind you, there is a pan-Indian look to every city or town in India. They all look pretty much the same from the road.
When we finally reached, we turned off the busy main street and had to pass through a huge wrought iron gate with many armed security guards and then we drove up this long quiet street lined on both sides by parks with green, well manicured lawns and old growth trees. We made a right turn and drove up a long sloping driveway that curves around to the left and eventually arrive at this beautiful old brick building at the top of a rather large hill. The Guesthouse is perched upon a mountaintop that, if it weren’t for the huge old trees surrounding us, one would have a 360-degree view of the entire city. It was magnificent.
We basically freshened up a little, then jumped back in the car and headed over to Bandra to meet H’s school friend, Rick Roy. That short drive, which anywhere else in the world would have taken 15 minutes max, took over an hour. Being away from Bombay, I had somehow forgotten what Bombay traffic was like. It’s crazy. There is no end to it. It’s always thick and heavy and moves at the pace of a choking, diesel-fumed, half-dead snail. It doesn’t matter what time of day or night. It makes travelling anywhere in the city a living hell.
We finally reached Bandra and met Rick Roy at this posh little Italian restaurant, Basilico. We had a quick lunch with him – it took us so long to reach that he had to dash off to a work-related meeting – and afterwards we headed over to Bandra Bandstand to watch the sunset, like H and I used to do whenever I was with her in Bombay.
It was relaxing walking along the bandstand with H and R, and The Little One, as the sun slowly set behind us.
At one point we passed this long-haired white guy with a gaggle of teenage Indian girls chasing after him. Trying to be funny, when he saw us and passed by, he mentioned something about “pro-choice,” meaning, of course, that we shouldn’t be having a baby, or the baby should have been aborted. I was incensed. I wanted to run back and drive my fist down the miserable piece of shit’s mouth. I swore that, as we walked back the opposite direction, that if I saw him again, I would make him apologize to my daughter for such a piece of crap comment.
After the sun had gone down as far as it could (in Bombay, the sun always disappears behind a curtain of smog a good 6 inches above the horizon), we had the driver drop us at the cinema complex near to the Guesthouse in Chembur.
We watched the newest Harry Potter movie.
It was actually easy to follow because it was shown with English subtitles. Usually I miss so much of the Harry Potter movies because I can never understand what the hell they are saying. Having subtitles, like we watch everything at home, helps with understanding the movie so much better.
Anyway, once the movie ended, we headed back to the Guesthouse and straight to bed. We had a long list of stuff we wanted to do in the morning.
We didn’t know it then, but it just wasn’t going to happen as planned.