One day, I’ll actually get used to this. The jostling for space, as if every second has to be spent moving forward and forward only. I was one such jostler today, battling cars for a right to cross a busy road, as much holding my left arm out valiantly to stop them as to block them from view; if I couldn’t see them, they didn’t exist. Such tricks traffic plays on you.
Anyway, I crossed it to run right into more traffic: the two-legged kind. But this I didn’t mind. This was at Juhu beach, the city’s longest, most visited beach. To get there, you have to pass a great wall of eateries, where boys offer you samosa, dahi wada, dosa, whatnot. I remember these as shacks of dubious exteriors when I was a child, corrected now, visually palatable only because of one of those occasional frenzied modernisation drives that grip Bombay every so often. This was where camels’ owners fought for attention a dozen years ago, where miniature ferris wheels squeaked and rattled to add to our horror as we hung on to life when the wheel reached its terrifying nadir of eight feet. The horses were gone, the air guns that we used to shoot at balloons were gone. Only the people remained.
Only people remain. I found her, arms folded, standing straight as children of a young family ran around her. She was watching the sun go down. It vanished softly, taking its colour with it. The moon was a sliver of white in the sky, lost in the light blue now, but it would distinguish itself soon. (Wait, wait, your turn will come.) So under this ambivalent sky we walked and talked, the direction of both of which were familiar. Joggers bounced by, giggly infants raced ahead and then cried at how far behind their parents were, couples linked fingers and arms and themselves in scattered formations over the beach and voyeurs sat nearby to watch. The seaside is a great provider for all sorts in this pressure-cooked city.
According to her, the roasted ear of corn was good, the chana had too much masala, while the dry bhel was the work of an artist. We ate using strips of a magazine cover as spoons, with only the glow of lanterns and streetlamps lighting the beach. If, at that instant, all the lights went off, there would be shrieks, giggles and the sound of clothes rustling. Power cuts should happen at night, when the pent-up heat in this city needs somewhere to go.
Homes that took us to Goa mixed along the beach with buildings that cruelly brought us back. There was a time when this was Goa. Then things happened, the city grew up, grew beefy, grew mouldy. But she loves this city. Like many other who hate it also love it. But we were far from all that then, far from the city’s sounds and opinions. One by one the families left with their children, leaving the sea sole rights to address our ears and calm us. During the day there is no time to think; at night, by the beach, with the sound of waves in the ears, we are not allowed to think.
On some days we find actors rehearsing for a play in a corner, a cigarette in one hand and a dialoguebook in the other. Always animated, eternally alive to life. Today there were none, so there were no rehearsals and no dialoguebooks. The roles we played were our own. She strode lazily, pausing to ask questions, and then started abruptly and walked quickly if the answer was snide. I would pace behind, stepping on her footprints in the sand until she slowed down. So it went like this: talking, moving forward, tracing footsteps, and then moving backward. It was wonderfully un-Bombay.
And so a day at Juhu passed.