I’d held my breath for a while now. Months, it’d been months since I’d kissed. What, in the name of all things beautiful and all things strange, was she doing in my life? My mindspace struggled with the intruder. I had settled into a comfort zone; a lazy lech was what I’d become. It was easy really, to stroll incognito checking out the variety of women that you get to see in this megapolis.
Mumbai is a zoo. A drop of honey in an ant hill of a country, its multitude millions struggle for refreshment, crowding the city, believing they’ve got the one brilliant idea which’ll change the world. The world being a sticky island off the mainland.
Crap, it’s been my world too, for a while. An emulsion of noise and pain, with an anaesthetic take on emotion. Work work work is what we do here. In the belief that work is our salvation, our purpose; the beginning, the end, and all in between. A comfortable but bland brotherhood of believers, Mumbaikars have mastered the art of service and payment. A contradictory socialist capitalism where all work together to achieve that which is needed – getting the job done, for a price of course. The famed dabbawallahs epitomise the Mumbai ethos, crawling the platforms of the suburban rail network, shouting and shoving to make the 11:02 Churchgate fast from Andheri.
Insulated somewhat from the madness of the chaotic suburban existence, ensconced on the balcony of a rambling flat in South Bombay, I dwell on this thought for a while. It’s a small balcony; tiny, really with just enough place for three standees, quite at odds to the size of the rest of the place. In a sense it typifies my Mumbaiyah existence: my cul-de-sac from where I can watch the world go by, while my world remains secure, safe from prying eyes. Sipping on my chai in the mornings, I watch the place slowly spring to life. The garbage truck trundles up, and clangs noisily against the metal bin at the gate of the garden across the street. Almost in consonance, my neighbour upstairs begins to play devotional music, assaulting my sensibilities with an overt display of her piety. This jugalbandi ends as the noisy garbage truck heads for another dump.
I head to work. That time away from it all; the hawkers, the heat, the flies, the stench, the noise. I relish my time at work. A home-coming of sorts, I’m surrounded by the eccentricities of my Parsee brothers. With an attitude that swings between back-slapping bonhomie and innuendo laden humour, to earnest and hissed irritation in getting the job done. You can’t help but admire the “fuck you, chootya” and “fucker, let’s get some beers” interspersed with the pathetic, almost pleading, nevertheless vicious interjections of “these boys are animals! Animals!” of a diligent co-worker, presided over by a matronly old dear.
Lunch time reminds me of school; a chaotic half hour of loud conversation, chewing noises, and yells as a particularly lovable but childish character darts about the place, picking up the juiciest morsels from everyone’s plates.
Post lunch, it’s all quiet again, and work begins in earnest. As a journalist, hours fluctuate wildly, but this particular evening I head out by six. I have a date.
You can’t miss her. Towering above the crowd, her bronzed shoulders and chaotic hair are what you first see. She’s pleasantly easy-going, her sweet but ever-so-slightly arrogant mouth set off by those perpetually amused eyes. I take in the delicate nose stud, almost rendered inconspicuous by those six piercings on her ear. My hand envelopes hers as we stroll down Juhu beach. For a coastal city, Mumbai’s beaches are much ignored, and very dirty but the recent efforts of the municipality have made Juhu walkable now. Silhouetted against the dying light, the salty air mingling with her sweat and perfume, she’s hardly aware of the mild arousal she’s causing me. Fluctuating between the male need for conquest, coupled with welling affection, and a cynicism that has dulled my ability to appreciate this, I instead just choose to live in the moment. Our conversation is easy; she’s nice to talk to, and relishes the repartee. I’m beginning to enjoy myself, ignorant of the hawkers, the many couples, the noisy children, the surf and the distant sound of traffic. Almost naturally, I slip my arm around her waist. I stop and turn towards the sea. My nose is buried in her hair now. I’m drinking it in.
We sit on the sand, and listen to music on her Walkman phone. Oblivious to our environment, I lean in to her, and she kisses me. I’d wondered what those lips would feel like, and now I know. The kiss is gentle and lingering, but then she slowly pushes me away.
We watch the surf chase our toes…