Have you heard of Santa Cruz? There’s a Santa Cruz in California, USA, and there is a Santa Cruz in Bombay. It means “holy cross,” and true to this statement the inhabitants of Santa Cruz, Bombay, are Catholics. It’s an important suburb because Bombay’s domestic airport is situated here. It’s a small place accessed by the Western Express Highway, fronted by the Hotel Centaur. I am travelling to Santa Cruz to board a flight to Kerala, my home state.
On the way I pass the area of my childhood, where I grew up, Chembur. Chembur is also a small suburb on the east side of Bombay, where pollution is high level because of the smoke-belching fertiliser and petrochemical factories. The place I lived in Chembur is called Tilak Nagar, and in those days, it was called Township Colony, which was built to house low-income group migrants who worked mainly in factories in shifts.
Chembur was a violent neighbourhood in those days and is even now. Boys here banded together into gangs for protection. The people who gained notoriety were a twinkle-eyed mischievous boy who grew up to be a super star of the Hindi screen. Another, disreputable boy, grew up to be called the “don” of the city, the underworld lord. He has converted the area into high rises that grow dizzyingly like medieval castles in the sky. It was about these people about whom my mind was occupied with when I rode the taxi to my destination, as our thoughts generally dwell on those people who become talked about, or written about.
Among the children of my generation six have died among which two were suicides. I can’t explain here why pleasant and fun-filled friends of my youth took their own lives. But, when life deals a blow, we can’t do anything about it. The less resourceful end their life, rather than face realities, and make adjustments. The more resourceful – like me – carry on regardless of all the hurts and humiliations. Sigh!
A profusion of highways, flyovers, special lanes, later I am at the airport. I say good morning to the hostess at the airline counter and she smiles back brightly. Done! My day is made! See, after all, I am a man of simple pleasures, and I have a soft spot for ground/air hostesses after seeing this video. (We all want something like that happen to us in real life, don’t we?) But there is need for caution. There are huge Punjabi hunks in lehenga-kurtas lumbering around the departure lounge sharpening their upward-pointed handlebar moustaches. What if they say, “whai didju flirtu with my Punjabi kudi?” Almost, as if expecting this, I twiddle with my own upward-pointed handlebar above my upper lip, though I don’t succeed in showing the malevolence (huh?) of their “Punjab da putr (son of Punjab)” appearance. Never mind.
|At Santa Cruz, note: my downturned mustache!|
I remember a time when there were no security checks at airports. Can’t believe it? Better believe it. You breezed in collected your boarding pass and passed straight to the aircraft. The terminals were big vacuous places where a few chairs were placed, not many, and after a flight departed there was a gap of a few hours for the next to take off. Nowadays an airport terminal is frenzied place, there are flights landing every few minutes, when the other is ready to take off. And there are people of all types milling around, and, like in a Bombay local train, you consider yourself lucky if you get a place to sit down.
And almost every second person in the flight to Chandigarh is a young luscious lass, in tottering high heels, a curvaceous delight to watch. I know I shouldn’t say this because of the lumbering Punjabis blocking the exits by their show of macho scratching of private areas. The girls are all clutching copies of Vogue and Elle which contain articles such as “20 way to ditch your boyfriend,” “50 ways to remove blackheads,” and nothing more profound, at the very best, than, “10 ways to cook tiramisu.” Which is profound indeed at their age. Oh the vanity of it all, the mundaneness of it all.
Flashy mobile phones, tabs, computers, are everywhere. One girl sitting opposite me, drop-dead gorgeous, is tapping into her Apple MacAir laptop and hardly gazing up from it, even to see if her flight has taken off. It makes me wonder if she likes sitting in airport waiting rooms, doing this all day. I can’t understand this obsession with being connected, and, communicating nothing. I maybe in her friend group on Facebook, who knows? I click a few selfies, though (the wordprocessor suggests “selfish,” which, incidentally, is what it is.)
At last, my flight arrives and a few shoulder pushes and elbowing later, I am safely into my seat, a window seat. You know, we southies are a conservative lot, so no babes holding Vogue and Elle in our plane, just plain Janes wearing saris and sandalwood paste on their foreheads. Hm. I watch as the plane taxies and takes off, one of the most pleasant experiences in my life. The roofs of Bombay are all blue from the plastic stretched on roofs for protection from rain. Then the clouds take over, their shapes like rising hills, valleys, umbrellas, sails, whorls, petals, ghost towns, and stalactites. A sense of déjà vu strikes only then and I lean back for a short nap till I reach Kochi, my destination.