A wind picked up and swept across land near the Arabian sea, bringing respite and hope and an upward glance to see how dark the clouds were. But it was not yet time. Moonlight penetrated the foliage of trees and illuminated the red-brick path before us, as well as the man who approached us slowly; we had never met before. Tall, balding and wearing clothes that betrayed a particularly savage day at the office, he slung his bag over his shoulder and took step beside us. His head and eyes ran up and down and back up us again, telling him everything he needed to know. Not a foot separated him and us, and I looked ahead, straining not to glance at him, but keeping watch at our three shadows cast by the streetlights behind us. Then he spoke clearly, with deep feeling, "Mere paas bangla hai, gaadi hai. Tumhare paas kya hai?"
This is Prithvi, whose environment encourages a mad spontaneity. Performing isn't only on stage; it seeps through the exits and into the public area outside, where the dinners on stone benches come with the odd loud dramatic announcement: "No, I will not have your children." Heads will turn towards the source of this vehement confession, half-embarrassed, always curious, then disappointed that it was only an act, but in hindsight admiring of the convincing delivery.
The large acting community is small, for aspirers recognize other aspirers, and just as envy is ever-present, so is a smile of recognition. Tables meant for four will have seven plates on them, chairs not a foot wide will have two seated, waiters will nod and bring teas without asking, knowing how much of what to serve when. For the unfamiliar ones, the gravel beneath and the bamboo sticks above provide familiarity with a deep-rooted self, the part that yearns for silence and baser things. But baser things apart, there is the walnut brownie and Irish coffee which are unrivaled in their potency.
On some days Shashi Kapoor ambles in and sits beneath a tree, leaning forward to autograph and be photographed, and then settling back comfortably after his fans have retreated. Waiters will rush by with water and other things, like offerings for a rather large idol. I remember him looking dapper in his pilot's uniform in movies, appearing more charming than Amitabh or Dharmendra or Vinod Khanna. Still, he's absolutely huggable. With him and a few others, this isn't just a theater, it is a commune.
If you have only an hour in Bombay and wish to see as much of it as possible, don't go anywhere else, just come right here. This is where you will see what the city used to be, as well as its spontaneity and madness and Bollywood. You might not see corruption or poverty here, but you will go away with a feeling, or even several feelings. They will tell you a lot about Bombay.