Monday, May 26, 2008

Mumbai More

Aneesa met up with me in the morning and we decided to see if we could make it out to Elephanta Island, an island off the coast of Mumbai proper which features lovely Buddhist caves. The heat was already beginning to rise most unpleasantly off the pavement, but we managed to make it over to the Gateway of India, which was swarming with various brightly dressed tourists and touts (who are convinced I need a giant balloon and aqua bead things and drums and flutes and GO AWAY.)

Unfortunately, it was by then too late to go to Elephanta, so we punted and decided to go for a little boat ride instead. This was very nice: I love boats. Perhaps it's due to y early childhood in Florida and my subsequent time in San Francisco, but a good boatride makes me happy: it offers a different perspective on a place, viewed from a good ways offshore. We paid a little bit extra and sat up top, and I enjoyed watching the mismatched Mumbai skyline drifting off and away, as we weaved between yachts and intimidating looking industrial cruisers.

Aneesa and I are very food oriented, so we imediately headed to find a place to eat. We settled on the Delhi Darbar, an apparantly famous joint in Colaba (it was certainly popular. And air conditioned.) We settled on an interesting looking spicy Parsi dish with mutton, vegetable kohlapuri, and the usual roti and etcetera. (For you must have roti. It is required.)

Parsi's are one of the more interesting ethnic groups to settle in the very diverse city that is Mumbai. Insofar as I am aware, they are Zorostrians of Persian descent, who came to the city a very long time indeed, establishing their own culture and traditions. Aneesa says they generally dress in Western clothes and speak with a certain kind of accent; Sheila simply considers them a hell of a lot of fun. They are renowned for their distinct cooking skill (and business acumen), but their numbers are dwindling rather quickly as one cannot exactly up and decide to become a Parsi. They are also known for their distinct matter of disposing of their dead: as Zoroastrians worship the elements (fire, water, et all), the only acceptable method of taking care of a body is to allow it to be eaten by vultures or decompose in the open air. Along these lines, the Parsi's have set up the Tower of Silence on Malabar Hill, which happens to be smack dab in the middle of a bunch of luxury housing complexes. Apparantly the two institutions seem to interact in relative peace, although there are stories of people stepping out for a bit of fresh air in the morning on their porch and finding a vulture-deposited toe. But they could just be stories.

In any case, Mumbai is experiencing an unfortunate vulture shortage, meaning the Parsi's are being forced to rely on chemical methods to dispose of bodies, since, well, things are just beginning to take a bit too long (and smell a bit.) I read in the paper that some Parsi's are beginning to make signifigant donations to vulture rescue and rehabilation facilities. This seems only prudent.

But enough about Towers of Silence.

The lunch was quite tasty: the spicy pieces of mutton were cooked in a red gravy to a melt-in-the-mouth consistency, although it was rather rich. The vegetables kolhapuri were fairly tasty but too greasy for my taste: unfortunately Indian restauranters sometimes presume that using enough ghee to kill a horse = good.

We headed out and shopped for a bit in Colaba, evading the usual touts and looking at purses and handbags and designer clothes and all the other misceallenous junk that one can obtain in that part of town. We finally got bored and decided to head out to Chowpatty Beach, the famous (or infamous) stretch of sand near Churchgate, where Aneesa's family stays.

We cabbed it out there, going past the rather adorably art-deco section that is Marine Drive (there's even a revolving restaurant!), tracing by the waterfront as the sun went down - which was by now hopping with people in all manner of ethnic attire. (There are many flavors of person in Mumbai.)

We got to the beach and wandered over to the water - swimming in it would probably be a horrendous idea but it certainly is nice to look at. Chowpatty is famed for its snack vendors, who operate their stalls in a sanctioned bit of sand set off a bit from the main drag. Aneesa told me that about ten years ago they were definitely Not Authorized and were forced to run away dragging their blenders and bhel-puri making apparatus behind them down the sand whenever the fuzz rolled up - an amusing mental image, but stationary bhel puri is probably (in the end) superior to the illicit variety.

Chowpatty Beach is suprisingly clean: what i'd read had given me the idea that it was some sort of nuclear waste ground, but it's actually rather clean and pleasant. An old begger woman had befriended and maintained a pack of friendly dogs, who chased each other and fell asleep under the shade of the big pots that local Hindu adherents performed puja in. Unfortunately your standard edition Creepy Indian Guy zeroed in on us, asking Aneesa many very personal questions and (oddly enough) caressing my foot. So we left.

We were going to meet Aneesa's cousins Saleem and (oh shit) at the very posh bar at the International Hotel. We went over there and ascended to the roof in a glittering and very white elevator. The bar was a work of art: a crystal white lounge with a killer view of Mumbai's glittering skyline. Prices were obscene, but that didn't faze the attractive and/or rich clientele, nibbling on tandoori-fusion bar snacks and watching the horizon. I was completely priced out and contented myself with some interesting masala flavored doritos, but Aneesa went so far as to order a Bacardi Breezer. We chatted for a bit util Saleem and appeared.

Saleem fancies himself a slick bastard in the standard Indian 19 year old boy way, down to the flashy cell phone and the half unbuttoned dress shirt. (Saleem, I love you and I kid.) He instantly proved to be a ton of fun, and we made plans to get out of Expensive Land and to somewhere more priced to small humble people like ourselves.

We decided to adjourn to Koyla, a shisha (hookah) bar and restaurant located conviently near the Sea Palace. The place is at the top of an incredibly sketchy apartment building that appears to be run by some sort of Saudi Syndicate: lots of evasive looking people mounting the stairs wearing sunglasses and carrying lumpy packages. (The place really was shut down by the cops for undisclosed reasons a while back but rebuilt: this kind of thing doesn't seem to faze Mumbaites all that much.) We took the creaky old fashioned elevator up to the top as Saleem steadfastly refused the indignity of walking.

It's a pretty swish place: lots of white sand and little benchy things, with another lovely view of the Mumbai skyline. Big elaborate shishas are constantly being carried out to hip groups of Mumbai beautiful people, who nibble on meaty tandoori delicacies and horse-laugh. (The only flaw is no liquor license, but I guess I wouldn't expect that.)

We had some meaty things and some sarson ka saag, which Saleem deemed repulsive (which meant I had to chase him with it.) We then shared a very nice mixed fruit shisha- something about smoking shisha is so deliciously cooling on those muggy kill-yourself tropical climate nights.

Still, Saleem is configured like me and he immediately deemed we needed a drink and we needed one now, and really, I am powerless to resist Old Monk. However, Aneesa and Saleemn's family are somewhat traditional and like to know where they are, and there were exams or something, which meant lots of feverish calls back and forth and Saleem scheming like a little weasel to figure out how he might be permitted to stay out. (I sat back and watched. One of the perks of being an American is permissive parenting once a certain age is attained. Well, least' in my case.)

Saleem hashed out some lie about staying over at a friend's house to watch educational documentaries, and we went over to Woodsides, a likely looking bar I'd spotted earlier. The place turned out to be lovely: woodpaneled, clean, full of interesting photographs, Led Zeppelin playing salubriously over the sound system. We ordered Old Monk all around the table: cheers. Saleem and his cousin were nearly ecstatic about the prospect of being able to get tanked.

We had a few, got pleasantly lit, then decided to head to the Sports Bar nearby. India was currently in the throes of the IPL or International Premier League, some sort of big cricket event that I can't be arsed to find out more about. In any case, that meant the bar was packed with screaming men (and some women) zeroed in like laser beams on the TV, where someone was pitching or bowling or whatever the fuck they do when they play cricket. Saleem and Aneesa got into pitched battle in the little basketball court by the side while they waited for the match to end, and i hung out for a bit and watched them sip beer. I managed to guilt Saleem into buying me an Old Monk one way or another, and sipped it demurely while making eyes at the craggy specimen chilling out over by the dart board. Mumbai is a nice place.

We were beginning to fade by this point, but due to the elaborate lie, Aneesa and her cousins couldn't go home. This meant they needed to find a hotel, which proved to be more difficult then anticipated as Aneesa didn't have her passport (you need your passport to check into most hotels here due to various government regulations.) This meant Saleem got into a protracted argument about something or another with the front desk guy until we managed to drag him away. (Funny.) I was exhausted and crashed in my room......thankfully they managed to find somewhere to stay.

1 comment:

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