What do I miss about ‘Bombay’? I like to be as unemotional and practical as possible. It’s stupid to be nostalgic about a city that shows no remorse, a city that refuses to let its guard down and never sheds its painful indifference, no matter what libations you offer it.
Till a month ago, when I finally parted from it for good, I thought my choices would be restricted to a few trifles: my Sunday night dinner of chicken paprika at the nearby Irani restaurant, the evening sea breeze and, of course, the monsoons.
But in this month of burning my soles on the searing streets of the Capital, I have discovered the many finer aspects of urban living, which we carelessly ignore and which form an important component of our daily rituals. I have realized I miss the barber shops with their fancy names such as Wellington and Paris.
Through three years of living in Mumbai, I doubt I touched a shaving blade even once. It is one of the greatest luxuries of living in India—to have someone attend to you with rapt attention for a good 10 minutes, just for Rs10. And to be honest, I can’t think of a more pleasurable feeling than the sharp, gleaming blade scraping the haggard skin clean.
Whatever happened to the barbers in Delhi? Through one week of conscious search, all I could find was the word “salon” pasted across fancy establishments in upmarket colonies. I miss the culture of plebeian eating places such as the Irani and Udupi restaurants, so endemic to the “maximum city”.
My favourite Irani memory has to be the eccentric confines of Sassanian Boulangerie at Marine Lines, where week after week, I would relish a luscious bowl of chicken paprika. I did try to probe the recipe, but the jovial and burly owner would always brush my query aside. It probably required the chefs to fry some chopped garlic in a wok, add white sauce and chilli powder (I doubt they ever used real paprika), stir over high heat and add some shredded chicken breast and cheese. On a perfect evening, it would send the taste buds into a frenzy and evoke the most sublime feelings of culinary utopia.
There are, of course, things I don’t miss, such as the politics, the rooms straight out of a Capsule hotel, and the throbbing nightlife. And I now realize how maddening it was to live in that insomniac city which, literally, doesn’t sleep. I don’t miss being squashed in the overflowing compartments of a local train, and I do not miss the Mumbai tabloids.
I miss the singwalas (peanut-sellers), the wrinkled Parsi ladies in chiffon saris and the “what men” lingo. But, perhaps, what I miss the most is the blissful anonymity that the city gives you. And a great shave.
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