Saturday, October 25, 2008

Colaba, in the Night!

Colaba enchanting, alluring, vibrant, like a teenager's heart beating in the breast of a distinguished old lady

Ages, probably, aeons ago, we used to work in Colaba. Went there to get our watch repaired at the Titan showroom at Hamilton House yesterday and was surprised at how Colaba had changed and, well, um, hadn't changed. (Y'know, the more things change, the more they remain the same... and all that....) The owner of the Udupi restaurant, the poky one next to Delhi Durbar, recognised me. Said hello! Then walked down the road a bit to Esperanca and Eucharistic Congress Building, and Cusrow Baug. Esperanca (pronounced Esperansa), meaning beauty or something in Portuguese, is still the serene, majestic building towering over the entire area (except Taj Mahal Hotel, perhaps), and it had the same majestic aura of Catholic solemnity and sanctimoniousness about it. When I come to Cusrow Baug there are many pretty Parsi girls and their boyfriends, bargaining with trinket vendors. I know they are Parsi by the way they talk the particular Parsi patois. I worked here for nearly 10 years, loved this area, and still do. It was here my then boss used to live, I mean Esperanca, and a visit to his flat on the fifth floow was something like visiting the King or Queen. Made me long for those halcyon days.

Back in those days, after lunch, I would go for a walk in the afternoon to friend Mani's bookstall above (see the books neatly arranged on the left), to ogle at the books and buy them, this when our salary was around Rs 800 a month, a princely sum in those days. Then I would buy an evening paper - a copy of Mid-Day - at Arjun Singh's newspaper stall outside Cafe Mondegar. Mani has done well, and has since started Searchword nearby and as for the one-eyed Arjun Singh, I don't know where he is. In the area pictured above is the former bookstall owned by Mani, and in front of it are the Malayali trinket vendors offering chains in beads, precious stones, leather belts, amulets, rings, all in an array of outre styles and designs, and we loved to just stand and stare at them (mind you, not buy them, for we were a bit shy of these things). But all those vendors from the Malabar were my friends, but no one remains. Wonder where they have gone. Maybe, back to Kerala or to the Gulf to run small restaurants and food catering businesses.

Then we used to visit Nalanda in the Taj Mahal Hotel, and was a bit apprehensive that we would be turned out in this hallowed precint. But we weren't even once questioned in the Taj Mahal, that last bastion on good manners, good food, and good living. We would go through the fantastic collection of books from everywhere in the cool environs of Nalanda, books of all colours, subjects, sizes, and surprise, surprise, they also sold comics and Bibles!

That was Colaba, once, mesmerising, captivating, beautiful, vibrant as only Colaba could be. And we found out yesterday, it still is.

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