Friday, November 23, 2007

Bombay Fort, Redux

Someone, more worthy than this blogger said change is the only constant. Yes, it is. And how things change, but still remain the same. When you walk down a familiar street and see that your favorite cinema has closed, another cinema has become a multiplex (the sort with fast food joints), your biryani joint now houses the Café Coffee Day outlet, you get a funny feeling, as if life has passed you by, and you have become something of an old relic.

Exactly the same feeling came over me when I visited Bombay’s Fort area where I started working a neophyte in 1980. The Asiatic library has a new coat of paint, and looks, sort of jaunty. But this notice jars, “In this library talking, eating, sleeping and smoking strictly prohibited.” Here’s another one, “Talking and laughing strictly prohibited.” Looks like we are in the era of prohibition. Times were when I used to sit on its narrow reading tables with a wooden screen between me and my neighbor. The screen is still there but the aura has changed. There are the usual newspaper junkies reading newspaper after newspaper standing in the newspaper section.

Sterling cinema is now a multiplex. The Café Noor where I used to enjoy my biryanis houses the Café Coffee Day outlet. Opposite it, Empire Restaurant is now a big Mac complete with Ronnie seated leg over leg. Sterling is where I whetted my appetite for movies right from the Beatles and Elvis movies in morning shows of the seventies, to the horror (Omen, Exorcist) and musical movies (how can I forget: Flash Dance, Grease, My Fair Lady, Sound of Music) of the eighties. The steps of Sterling were where the cool crowd of Bombay met then, and still is, except that two ugly dividers now divide it into gullies to control the booking crowd. The girls were beautiful then; don’t know in which corner of the world they are now. New Empire beside it has become decrepit and is going to seed. Would someone do something? This is where I saw unforgettable movies like Friends, Hustle, Chinatown, etc, memory fails me.

One restaurant has not changed, and I like it for it. Its survival is legendary, the sort of South Indian zeal that made Udupi hotels a rage in Bombay. Their menu is also the same: vegetable biryani, idli, dosa, shahi biryani, chole puri, etc. What’s odd is when I look out I see a tall, well-built man banging his head against the wall and laughing. Now that’s something new. The city frustrates! My friend Mahmood still runs his camera shop, but he has a shop instead of a roadside wooden box.

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