If you have to ask you'll never know ! [L.Armstrong]... thats Louis not Lance.

Apr 15, 2010

Musings of a Bombayite who grew up on Hill Road...

by Floyd Cardoz


Last December I returned to Bombay after a few years. These are musings of a Bombayite who grew up on Hill Road

As arrived at the airport, I wondered what happened to the smell of piss that always hit you when you get off the plane. What happened to the 2 havaldars with the bad attitude that made you wait in the long immigration lines? I remember the old Sahar airport was a dump.
In the day, you got out of the airport and got hit with the heat, got into a cab( either an Ambassador or a Premier Padmini) which did not have AC and you sweated it out, you struggled thru the traffic on the old Western express highway, if you could call it that. You drove by Centaur hotel, you crossed thru Bandra east to Ghodbunder road, to SV Road to the reclamation, which was empty but for a few stray dogs. You passed the old bungalows on John the Baptist Road and went on to a narrow Hill Road. There was room to drive and room to cross and may be even room to play cricket.
In the old days You could walk down to Hill Road safely, pass Virendra, pass the Nigli’s home and the Arsiwalla’s home, pass Bashiruddin tailors (who sold kites) pass Cheap Jacks ( who weren’t so cheap) safely on Hill Road . You passed Elco Arcade and you could still walk on Hill Road. Yes; it was constantly being dug up somewhere but you could walk. When you wanted to cross cars slowed down. Occasionally you would see a taxi or a 221, 215 or 211 bus ( there were few rick shaws). Driving rules were followed. If you needed transportation you went to Mehboob Studio or Yacht restaurant or St Stanislaus for a taxi. You always road your Speedking or Atlas down Hill Road
If you wanted good restaurant you would go to south Bombay. Every one went to South Bombay, and nobody from south Bombay would ever be seen in Bandra. That was for us mac’s.
Bandra was beautiful and quite with a few people and fewer large buildings. A small Bandra Gym.
You went out to the Malad only because you wanted to go to a relatively un-inhabited Madh or Gorai. There were very few people along the way. And you would think why anyone would live in Malad it is so far away.

It is a different Bombay in more ways than I remember.
First they changed the name to Mumbai
They’ve built this modern airport and changed the name to Chatrapati Shivaji International airport. Quite swanky
Now there is fresh air when you get off the plane, a clean immigration hall and more than 10 immigration officers. You pass thru quickly. You come out of the airport and you feel you are at Churchgate at rush hour. Your car is air-conditioned and in good shape and have names like lndica and Indigo. You get on these new fly over’s which whiz you to Bandra over Godbunder road to the Reclamation. Where did all these buildings come from? And the new sea link, how often did we hear the rumors of the highway over the sea that was coming?
And the traffic and you think don’t people ever sleep in Mumbai, its past 12 am?

Then the next day you make the mistake of walking down Hill Road, all wide now and nice and curvy. You think it must be a pleasure. Try being a foreign return and crossing the road. I waited 20 minutes and gave up. Where did all these people come from? Do these cab drivers and rickshaw drivers ever keep to their side of the road? People cross in front of cars, walk on the road without going on the pavements and don’t even bother about the cars. They try to stop busses and cars with their hands like the cops of old. And no one ever hits them! Every body drives inches from each other and you think don’t they ever bang each other? Why aren’t the cars dented?
Down Hill Road nobody rides their cycles anymore, do people still own cycles in Bandra?
And the old homes are gone and new shiny buildings have taken their place.

If you want a cab you call Meru, that is really nice all AC’d and comfy. How easy! No begging to take you to Chembur or Colaba or Mahim!

And there are many nice restaurants in Bandra and people from South Bombay come to eat. And you can pick up the phone and order food from Chatriwallas ,Candies and Andora.

Bandra is still beautiful in some parts. The Bandra Gym is not so small anymore and whatever happened to Demonte Park, it actually looks like a park now. Thank God A1 Bakery is still the same.

And then you have to go to Malad, and you wonder what happened. It has so many buildings and people and traffic, a brand new mall. Malad is not the Boondocks anymore. And you still wonder why anyone would live in Malad; it is still so far away.

But the thing that gets you is the crowds and cars and traffic.

And then you meet your friends from Bandra, and you think that the only thing that has not changed is the lovely people from Bandra. Thank God for that. It makes coming home even more special.

Maybe even Arizona...

On the road again. Three weeks ago . And there was me and Aalia and Aalia's sister, Mahia. Picked up sleeping bags tent stove and bucket. Then headed on to Bijapur via Pune. Big Sunday morning breakfast in Pune at the Coffe house near Dorabjees. Accompanied by every Sunday paper the paperwallah outside was selling. Theres no coffee ,like filter coffee theres no coffee I know. On past the vineyards and sugarcane farms that have come up around Pune. Past garden hotels with their private cabanas. Past tractors with trailors 10 feet wide with the protruding load of sugarcane adding another 10 feet on each side. Overtaking? Only if you want to die drinking ghana juice. A stop for a lunch of Kohlapuri chicken. With extra strong Khajurao beer on the side. It was the only one available. Which even diluted with sprite was formidable for it's alcoholic content. Sitting on khatiyas and munching on masla papads while the chicken was caught, killed, defeathered, cooked served and eaten. On to Sholapur. With a sudden detour thrown in that said " Shortcut to BIjapur." Which meandered us thru Pandharpur. That mythical place that people from all over Maharashtra converge on periodically. We were looking to top up on gas once we hit the main town. Which like early sexual experiences was over as soon as it began. The tractors with their sugarcane kept our speed in the first quarter of the speedometer. Until we passed the sugar crushing plant. After which we had to contend with the tractors and their trailors coming at us head on. Tea stop. With the evening sun on our faces. Nothing between us and the horizon. A stray goat dropping by to see who had come to visit. The tractors getting fewer as the end of the crushing shift came closer. We have four pages of Google maps for the Mumbai to Bijapur route. Now rendered null and void by the "shortcut to Bijapur" sign. The kids are practsing the fine art of negotiation. One song from Camp Rock for them one Gordon Lightfoot for me. One Jonas brothers trades for Elton Johns Yellow brick road.
The sun sets. Leaving us alone in the world. In this little space which could well be a interstellar vehicle on its way to Mars. A code has evolved. TarMac for the good roads, MacTar for those that are not so good and CamRat for those that God and the Highway department has forgotten about. Dinner. Before the kids fall asleep. We have a choice. Panner mutter, Biryani, Paneer Makhanvalla or noodles. It's like magic. All it takes is boiling water. For any of them. And we have our gourmet noodles ready to eat. With their yellow fold open cutlery that comes as part of the package. The villager who has to turn off onto our dirt track to get home, rides his cycle into a ditch. He turned around to see what a stove was doing with camp chairs and a Bisleri bottle where only this morning was dirt track ,dirt track and dirt track. He gets his torch and climbs back onto his cycle leaving us to the stars and the eerie howl of a dog that we imaginatively think might be wolf or jackal .
Coffee from a sachet that comes premixed with sugar and cream. Almost as good as this mornings filter coffee. And we’re on the road again. In our Sorpio pretending to be spaceship headed for Bijapur.. Rot in hell Jonas brothers and Demi Lovato .The music system is mine. The kids are asleep. The road belongs to the truckers though. With their high beam headlights and more coloured lighting than Las Vegas. With glo tape slogans that proclaim “ India is Gret “ or India Is Greta” and even “ India is Greet”. Ma tuhje salaam. All the left over glo tape, the odds bits and corners that remain after HornOKPlease has been cut out is plastered onto the transmission or the axle.
I stop to check where we are. Yes I have GPS on my phone. Do I need to know ? No. Then why.. Because they I can. The milestones tell me I’m on the right road.
It’s 2.00 am in the morning when we drive into Bijapur. It’s a big town. They’ve got a Lions club and a Rotary Club both of whom warmly welcome us. Should I pitch the tent ? Too much effort. I find the one person awake in all of Bijapur. A policeman on his way home. He gives me directions to a Hotel at the foot of the Gol Gumbaz. Ten minutes later we’re checked in and asleep.
Aalia and Mahia are up early. Watching TV. Silent animated characters jumping across a snowy screen. The volume turned down so that I can sleep longer. They respect the additional responsibility I have as driver. We’re a TV’less home in Mumbai so even silent cartoons are better than no cartoons at all.
Dosa’s and upma before we set off to tell the Adil Shahi dynasty that we’re here.