Today is Maharaj’ birthday and I promised Radha to put some flowers on his samadi. It’s close to Banganga Tank, at Walkeshwar Mandir, in the neighborhood of Malabar Hills. I make it a full day out and will walk most of the traject, crossing Bombay.
I go up via Colaba Causeway towards Fort, and stop at the Jehangar Art Gallery. The exhibiting artist works with associations of words, silkscreened on canvas. Very neat art, close to advertising typography with a scent of popular philosophy.
I pass by restaurant Chetana. Already 3 days in Bombay, and I still didn’t savoure a good indian dish. Chetana is renowned for its delicious multi cuisine thali’s — mild and spicy, and I can admit that this reputation is rewarded. There’s the very friendly staff, they serve for a fixed price an abundancy of somosa, dhal, vegetables, papadam, naan, roti, rice, lentils cooked with byriani rice, raita, spices, salt lassi. They are really proud of their cuisine, and they have the right to be. The desert is hard long rice soaked in milk and sugar but not too sweet, and a great fresh juice cocktail.
At luchtime the place fills up quickly with office people; men and women sitting at separate tables. Nearly no tourists.
Octavio Paz, Mexican Ambassador in India for 6 years, muses on the link between food, a people and its culture. He describes the European cuisine as a diachronic cuisine (cfr. Claude Lévi-Strauss) in which the dishes follow the one after the other in a sort of parade: some kind of demonstration. In India, the various dishes come together on a single large plate. Neither a succession nor a parade, but a conglomeration and superimposition of things and tastes: a synchronic cuisine. A fusion of flavors, a fusion of times. (Octavio Paz – In light of India, 1997)
After lunch I walk up to the Khadi Village Emporium. It did not change at all since 2000 (and probably since 1950). It’s still Gandhi’s India, it still breaths the quiet freedom of the experiments with truth.
Strand Bookshop moved to a fixed spot, a good selection of books and active staff, but nobody knows Vandana Shiva. I address a young Indian woman and ask her if she knows this writer. She does. Women empowerment, development and ecology. The young woman I bumped into is Kavita Pai, an activist documentary maker and her daytime job is programmer at the JnanaPravaha-artspace. They organise lectures and presentations on contemporary art, Shaina presented here the launch of camputer.org. Kavita takes me to the People’s bookshop, filled with a selection of activist writers ranging from Chomsky over Che to Vandana Shiva. I buy Stolen Harvest. Still looking for Staying Alive.
I walk back with Kavita to her workplace. It’s a spacious room, completely renovated. You wonder how they deal with the space-topic in a Bombay where square meters are so scarce, a city with 19 million people where many of them sleep on the streets. The gallery on the same floor, Chemould, has even a bigger space and is a lookalike from the Soho and Chelsea galleries in New York. By the way, the Fort area reminds me more and more of downtown New York: busy, self-organising, hectic, money is the king and rules the world. New York also has this vague scent of delapidation and end-of-the-world-feel. Kavita and I exchange addresses; she might be a good contactperson for the Mahila Samiti-project, as she was filming recently a documentary on women empowerment in Kashmir.
I take a cab to the Banganga Tank, Walekshwar Mandir. The driver drops me at the Jain temple, from there it’s a 10 minutes walk to the Tank and the Samadi. Through very little streets, filled with activity: vegetable vendors, flower handlers, ironers, hairdressers: it all happens on the street. School’s out and college-kids in their uniforms spread all over the place.
Suddenly I’m lost and I find myself at the end of the world: the very last point of Bombay before is disappears in the Arabic Sea. The scenary is beautiful from far: rocks and water. But I gues you better don’t walk on these rocks, because probably they’re filled with shit from humans and animals. All houses without toilets make this their place-to-be if necessary.
The Samadi is a little further down, next to the holy Hindu burrial grounds. It’s build upon nice cool marble stones, and the 2 samadi’s (from Maharaj and his teacher Shri Siddharameshwar Maharaj) are filled with flowers. I add some, in the name of Radha. Slowly people drop in and I came on the right moment: they start the puja singing Bahjans and afterwards there is prasad: coconuts and chai. Everybody sings together, and it’s a very peaceful moment, far away from the hectic speed of the city. The people present are all Indians, a lot of older women in their most beautiful wedding sarees. I’m the only foreigner, but they accept me without any question.
On my way back, I wonder how come that older Indian women very seldom have grey hair. I cannot believe they color it. Or maybe they seem older than we think they are.
I walk down Malabar Hill, it’s rush hour. The 6 lane road is filled with traffic jams. The sun is setting over Chowpatti beach. I’m struck by the strange Bombay architecture, a mix of Victorian Mansions and delapidated sixties buildings, brotherly the one next to the other.
Chowpatty Beach is filled with young lovers. Might this be the wedding season? All over the city, from the Radio Club till Marine Drive, people are busy preparing and accomodating for wedding ceremonies. I go home, to my room in Bentley’s and make myself comfortable with a Kingfisher and spicy nuts.