Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Bombay Diaries: Nepean Sea Road. Kala Ghoda

With visions of being stuck in rush hour traffic, I wake up really early, watch the sun rise as I sit with a cup of tea. I have three bags to carry, with assorted things, every one of them necessary. I convince myself, with no great difficulty, that I need to take a cab to Kuntal's place on Nepean Sea Road.

I haven't seen Kuntal and Nandita in years and I haven't seen their daughter, Meha, at all. The last time I visited them at their home was back when they were staying in Bombay Central, in a building I still remember for being almost one flat thin. Nandita says, as soon as she sees me, "Your hair looks different every time I see you!" I realise I haven't seen Nandita for at least five years in that case, because I've pretty much looked like this since the time Shanker took me to Juice at the end of 2003 and made me get a haircut. (That is another hilarious story. Or does it only seem hilarious to me because I was very high?)

My first view of their house is misleading: I see Meha in her room, the floor scattered with puzzle tiles. At first she is a little shy but soon she's showing me her toys and books. The rest of the house is very zen: all white and wood, with touches of grey. It's a gorgeous house, with even a sliver of sea visible between the gaps of other buildings.

Looking out the window, I see an old house, its terrace littered with dry coconut fronds. The terrace is the kind with broken tile, with unexpected touches of colour. It's an intriguing house, basically a curved triangle. Sandwiched between highrise buildings, it looks like it's been made in the spaces that have been left over from those constructions, but it is clearly older (or perhaps just ill-maintained) than those buildings. I'm wondering what the inside must look like, with those odd corners.

There's a certain amount of work to do before lunch, and Kuntal and I get on with it. Four hours later (this is why I stopped doing film. Can you believe the amount of time it takes to get the simplest thing done?!) there's an enormous spread laid out, though everyone else has eaten. I stuff myself, firmly pushing the thought of saris and blouses out of the way.


The Kala Ghoda Arts Festival is going to start on a solemn note, with memorial readings for those writers who had died in the previous year. I will be reading to remember Revathy Gopal. In the interests of not appearing to festive (I'm wearing red), I've brought along a sari in back and beige, which I change into shortly after lunch. It's a good job I always carry safety pins, because I needed them. In a while, I say bye to Kuntal, Nandita and Meha (who is one photogenic kid!) and head out.

They're still setting up. Which means that though the major installations are already up, the banners announcing the festival are still being unfurled. A girl at the Help Desk, the inevitable phone at her ear, interrupts her conversation to talk to the woman who's asking her something. She's clearly useless where she is, because she is shrugging and the woman turns around with a flounce.

Elsewhere, people with cameras are bustling around the mosquito man (sorry, no photo!) and the giant wheel made of inverted bicycles with dabbas strung on the handlebars. There are also brightly painted Revas, an Ambassador covered with fur just like those annoying tissue boxes. I think of giant germs and supress a shudder.

Crossing the road, I step into the cool garden of the David Sassoon library. The chairs have been set up. The stage is being set. Two wrought iron benches have been painted a bright green and every once in a while someone touches it to check if the paint has dried. I carefully select a plastic chair to sit on and survey my surroundings. The arrangement with the books, the light stand on which a man is trying to put coloured gels without toppling the whole thing over. A little kitten scurrying under the chairs. I whip out my camera but the kitten, being skittish, is totally uncooperative and comes out, looking very unphotographable.

In a minute, Chandrahas arrives and he tries to get the kitten to model but it is useless. I was to meet Sampurna early, but I'm told she's at Jeet's poetry performance workshop, so I head out for some nice, orange Irani chai with Chandrahas. By the time we return, the place is looking very socialite, with people hugging and kisses colliding in the air and raining on unsuspecting people.

I meet Jeroo there, who has survived cancer and had been talking to Revathy. Gopal, who I'm meeting for the first time since Reva passed away. Amit is also there, and it's a relief to meet him, after all the solemnity. He recommends en exhibition that's called, I think, Terra Kutta, but the chances of my catching it are pretty slim (sorry Amit!)

It turns out that Revathy's reading is not on first, as it said in the schedule. The first memorial reading is for Kersey Katrak. Maia Katrak talks about her father and Usha Katrak reads out a poem of Kersey's. She reads well and though there are very minor breaks in her voice, she is not overcome. The mike is passed around to others in the audience who want to say a few words.

They should vet these people, really they should. One man took the mike at the very end and claimed that Kersey was mad (only people in advertising think that's a genuine 24 karat compliment) and how he won't be missed, not one bit.

Next up is Jeet, talking about Shakti Bhatt who passed away very unexpectedly on 31st March last year. She was only 26. It's hard to talk about listening to those who speak of the dead in remembrance. Nothing one could say is adequate and one teeters on the edge of voyeurism while even listening. To report it feels slightly obscene.

We're up next. I'm reading after Skanda, Revathy's son, and before Sampurna. I've chosen four poems to read: 'Lines On Meeting a Cousin, Long Lost', 'Just a Turn in the Road', 'Carved in Stone' (which I've posted on this blog before) and 'Reclamation'. By the time I'm through, I'm trembling just a little bit. It's hard to understand why because Revathy's long gone and I've read these poems many times since. It's sad, also, that these strong poems will only every be read in light of her death, each phrase of longing and loss sounding like a premonition. There ought to be another way to celebrate her life without referring to her death.

There's another reading, for Qurratulain Haider, but we do what others before us have done: move away once the person we've come to remember has been memorialised.

Neeraj is there and I haven't seen him for several years. We head out for a drink. Mondy's is crowded with people actually waiting outside for a table; Gokul is also crowded but the AC place inside has a few tables free. I can see why. As soon as you step in, you could put your hands out and grab a slice of the air before stepping out again. I endure it for the duration of one quick drink and am grateful to be out in the fresh air again. For a few minutes I feel a cloud of smoke and stale alcohol follow me.

Finally we go into some place, the name of which I cannot remember. (Have I ever said how low my alcohol tolerance is?) I think I'm talking too much but that always happens after a reading. The place is quiet and nice, though Neeraj says it isn't always like this. There's a sign I want to photograph (and I assure you that I wasn't drunk when I took the photo; there was not enough light.) Neeraj says its a good job there aren't too many people otherwise I might have had sone tough asking to see what I'd photographed. Apparently the joint's not exactly a drop, but a place where deals are made. In a while I can see why but my mouth is sealed. I'm constantly surprised by the kind of people who read my blog.

Some time in the middle of all this, I've called home and I feel relieved to know that my uncle and aunt have come for the weekend from Chennai to hold the crumbling fort. As always, relief is tinged with guilt and I instantly start making heading home noises.

Nearing Wadala, I notice that the refineries are in Sunday mode because all the chimneys are silent. Why do I sleep so well in Bombay and so badly in Hyderabad. Nothing - not even the loud music downstairs and the call to the cops that I'm told about the next morning have awoken me.


dipali said...

I love the ghoda and the cat!
Kala Ghoda always makes me think of Arun Kolatkar.
My son knew Shakti Bhatt. Like so many others, he was terribly shocked by her untimely death.
Hope the home front is uncrumbling now.
Kuntal's house sounds and looks amazing.
Sorry for the disjointed comments. West Bengal is having a bandh today, my husband is away, and my daughter is coming by the evening flight. I just hope the driver can make it in the evening (I'm the dinosaur who both learned and forgot how to drive in 1995-96). Sometimes every fort seems to be under siege:)

dipali said...

Resourceful better half has arranged for company driver, and he's here!
Much relief:)

Space Bar said...

Dipali: I know. Me too! And was your son there, then? That evening? Good to know you're mobile, at least. Enjoy your daughter's visit!

Mukul said...

missed your reading, or shooting with you. but dala, i have always marvelled at how beautifully you edited subho's playback. there's such a dearth of good editors.. you should get back to it.

One Trick Pony said...

I would like this haicut when high story, please. Shall wait over there in the corner.

swar said...

i miss bombay...when did maia's father pass away? i stayed at her lovely place on bandstand morre than a year ago.

km said...

I was going to ask for that haircut story but saw that Gindrinker beat me to it.

//Juice - Now why can't they provided another extra square-millimeter of parking there?

Banno said...

Always love your Bombay stories. But want to hear the haircut one too. Oh, Kuntal's Bombay Central flat had such a lovely view of the station on one side, and terraces and chawls on the other.

??! said...



Space Bar said...

Mukul: That was so long ago! I don't think I can edit now even if I wanted to...

OPT/km/??!: Yes, yes, comng up.

km: there are several other Juices now. Not just the one in Bandra.

swar: the caferati blog has details. Maia was very collected. I thought she spoke very well.