Sittin’ by the Dock of Bombay

I haven’t even been in Bombay for a week, but I have already had such an incredible range of experiences!  Between all of the excitement and the weird hotel policy of charging for Wifi on a per-device basis, I couldn’t make blogging happen more regularly, but I will try to hit all the highlights.

I arrived in Mumbai on Thursday afternoon, prepared from past experience to deal with all sorts of crowds, hassles, and general bullshit at all stages of the airport experience from immigration to baggage claim to customs to finding the hotel car.  Surprisingly, all of these things were handled very smoothly and efficiently, and I made it by mid-afternoon to my hotel, the Oriental Residency (a good, convenient spot, and reasonably priced).  That evening, I met up with three cousins, a sister-in-law that I was meeting for the first time, and an adorable niece that I was also meeting for the first time!  It was totally fun to catch up over some kabobs at Sheesha in Bandra West, which has a great view of the city from the terrace.

Later that same night, H asked if I wanted to check out Olive Bar & Kitchen.  I had gone there for dinner with a couple of cousins on my previous trip, but apparently late Thursday nights are when the “who’s who” shows up.  I agreed to go, excited with the prospect of commencing my Bollywood stalking on day 1.  We did see a couple of familiar faces from Bollywood: Sanjay Kapoor, and Madhur Bhandarkar.  But mostly, we saw gawky cologne-drowned suited men and early-20s women with leopard print dresses who had a habit of lightly pushing the person in front of them with their manicured claws whenever they wanted to go anywhere, even though the push did nothing to facilitate movement.

At one point, H and I found ourselves near a very flamboyant-looking man named Yash with dyed side bangs and a low-cut mesh top which revealed the deepest cleavage I’ve ever seen in my life.  H asked Yash if he was gay (H is, by the way, which may somewhat diminish the jarring nature of the question), and Yash very stoically said no.  H was like “You’re straight?” and I laughed, obtusely assuming that Yash was probably joking with his answer.  Yash then turned to talk to someone else.  Later on, H Googled Yash, Bandra and found his way to who this person was.  Apparently, he is part of some really important billionaire industrialist family, and he’s married with a kid… OK!

Another character we encountered that night was Preeti, whom we later Googled and discovered to be a model/actress.  At one point in her lightly inebriated state, she mentioned somewhat casually that someone she knew had recently committed suicide.  Thirty seconds later, a server came to our table to see if we wanted any drinks, and she drawled, “Could you please get me a fresh kiwi juice margarita?”  “What does that mean, madam?” inquired the puzzled bartender.  “It means, you can take a kiwi, and then you can make a fresh juice from the kiwi, and then you can use that in the margarita.  Don’t use the juice from concentrate.”  Later in the conversation, Preeti asked each person at the table individually, “Do you judge people?”  H along with the two straight guys at the table who were dying to hook up with Preeti answered in the negative.  When it was my turn, I answered “yes.”

On Friday, I explored Churchgate a bit and ate a spectacular Gujarati thali at Samrat, and in the evening, my cousin A took me to Lower Parel to check out this really cool show at the Hard Rock Cafe in Mumbai.  The food was horrible, which I suppose it must be across all Hard Rock Cafes (I don’t think I’ve eaten at one before) — but the music was great, blending various Indian folk/classical styles with rock and metal.

On Saturday, I saw a couple of uncles in Dahisar. My cousin P was kind enough to commute all the way over to my hotel about an hour away just to accompany and help me get to their place.  Both homes had a delicious spread of food, but I was so full and wiped out after all the gorging.  Nonetheless, after napping for a few hours, I was ready to join H in fabbing up and hitting the Four Seasons in Worli.  The venue is inherently amazing, and with the Diwali decor, it was definitely worth a visit just for the photo ops.  The rooftop bar had a sweet panoramic view of the city.  In terms of the crowd, I’ll use a wide brushstroke to say that Olive is the space for wannabes in the mainstream entertainment world, and Four Seasons is the space for people who think they are too good or too busy for mainstream entertainment. Boo-ring!

On Sunday, I enjoyed a half-day excursion to the Elephanta Caves with H and my cousins A and S.  We cabbed to the Gateway of India and got the ferry from there.  As we passed by several monkeys on the way to the ticket area, S cautioned me not to talk at the point of sale, lest they identify me as a foreigner and charge me the higher rate accordingly.  “Marathi madhye pan nahi?” I asked (“Not even in Marathi?”).  “Especially not!” S replied.  The mission was accomplished of being admitted per local charges which were super nominal, and we spent a few hours documenting the site, which has already been well-documented in the amusing guidebooks.  The caves are amazing and definitely worth the trudge, which got us super tired and greasy.  We stopped into this little restaurant shack thing on the way down and got some magic masala chips and 5 Star bars.  Then we went to Cafe Mondegar in Colaba for a late lunch.  The setting and artwork were cute, but the food unfortunately was not great.

Later that night, we chilled at Marine Drive and watched official and unofficial fireworks.  I don’t get to see people including small children frolic and light crackers and rockets in the middle of the sidewalk in the US (for good reason :\), so this was something unique and exciting for me.  It was really fun to be in those surroundings in general, but two incidents stuck out the most.  The first involved a small child who seemed to have gotten injured after a rocket lit up very quickly; he started bawling and kicking uncontrollably, and his mother took him away from the scene and hugged him tight.  Five minutes later that same boy was back in the same spot, lighting a rocket and smiling and clapping.  The second incident involved two rockets erupting into huge flames, and a woman in a salwar kameez walking right through them, unfazed, as if she hadn’t just barely escaped being engulfed in flames.  I guess people in this city learn to be fearless after constantly walking and driving through traffic and all the death-defying maneuvers pulled by rickshaws, cabbies, bicyclists, cows, and pedestrians.

And Monday! Oh, goodness, Monday! It was going to be H’s last day in the city, so we decided to hone in on our most beloved Bollywood stalkee of all time: Karan Johar.  We’re actually internationally recognized for stalking him.  No, seriously.  I think I will later on resurrect a blog devoted to that enterprise to elaborate on the experience because otherwise I’ll gush way too much, but suffice it to say that we actually entered the Dharma Productions office, sat on KJo’s waiting room couch, heard KJo gushing about some party from just about ten feet away, and hand-wrote letters to him via his heinously bitchy assistant!  It was the ultimate Diwali treat!

Later that day, S helped us out with a currency exchange around Shivaji Park, and we got a tasty Maharashtrian snack at Aaswad, followed by some paan per A’s recommendation.  We walked around the super Diwali’d out Ranade Road, and I had my first local train experience, which wasn’t so bad since it was in reverse direction for the rush hour, and then scoped out the beautiful Victoria Terminus, or now Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus or whatever.  Then we ate at Pizza by the Bay, which is excellent in terms of ambiance, location, and food.  Then we did a horse carriage ride to Nariman Point, and then lit up our own fireworks on Marine Drive!

I spent the morning of the main Diwali day with H Mavshi’s family.  They have a lovely new home, and I was happy to have the familiar Diwali meal of five pohas with close relatives, since I missed it with my parents, sister, brother-in-law, and in-laws!  My nephew O is all grown up from 2 when I last saw him to 8, and is such a cutie! S then showed me around some spots in Shivaji Park and helped me do a bunch of my parents’ requested shopping on Ranade Road, and then I rested at the hotel before having dinner with the families of three cousins and an aunt at India & Beyond in Worli.  The food was delicious, and it was so great to see them and my two nephews who are in their twenties!

The amazing thing is that my trip is not even halfway over — I still have so many people to see and things to do in Bombay (including Gold’s Gym!!), and I am off to Pondicherry and then Bangalore for a few days starting this Friday!