11 March 2008

My Mumbai/Goa Holiday - Part III

This is Part III. Part I & II can be read here:


Day 03: 10th December

I woke up at around 9, feeling as heavy as I felt when I slept the previous night. Our original plan for the day was to go watch
Khoya Khoya Chand at Eros Theatre [Sis had proposed Eros Theatre, saying that it would be good if we watched the movie, which was about the film industry of the 50’s, at an old movie theatre which retained the atmosphere of that era, rather than at a swank multiplex with ultra-modern interiors (“the interiors are so tastefully done, no? The décor sooooooo moulds with the rest of the… ”, we were sure to hear the yuppie crowd say), and me, being a sucker for all things ambience, was pretty gung-ho about watching the movie at Eros.] However, thanks to yesterday’s happenings, the movie plan was now out of the question.

Over coffee, sis and I discussed the revised plan for the day. The first part of the day would be dedicated to getting my holiday back to near-normal state [money, phone and SIM card], after which we were to meet my BIL for lunch at Café Britannia, a Parsi restaurant near his office [the Dhansaks there, declared sis, were out of the world and not to be missed at any cost]. After lunch, we were to go to Colaba Causeway to do minor shopping and print posters from hi-res images downloaded off the net [which would later be framed and eventually join the few other ready-to-hang framed posters in Chennai], after which we were to head back home.

I got down to downloading some of these hi-res images, and checked my mail in between. A few friends had replied to my previous day’s email. Some even replied in real sombre tones, almost sounding like newsreaders quoting Head-of-States responding to some calamity in some other country… “President ___ has expressed his shock and deepest sympathy…” [I use the words almost sounded because none of them offered financial aid (haha)]. One of them sounded pretty normal, and concluded by saying “Enjoy the trip... losing your phone has its up-side. You'll know in a couple of days!” Though this was exactly how I would feel a few days later, I remember muttering a sarcastic “Yeah right” at the time.

An hour later, we were off, heading first to a mobile phone showroom nearby.

[But first, a tiny digression on my phone plans. For a few weeks now, I had wanted to buy, apart from a new phone, an 80GB iPod. After reaching Mumbai, my sister had convinced me to get myself a digital camera (“You get fairly decent ones for only 7000 bucks these days”). So my options were to either buy a cheap phone, an iPod and a digicam, or to buy a phone that would somehow try replacing the iPod and digicam to a reasonable extent.]

The showroom did not have too many phones, but it was there that I first laid my eyes on a Nokia N73 Music Edition, a fairly-decent-looking phone with a 3.1 Mega Pixel camera, a 2 GB memory card and great sound quality, which cost only 15000 bucks. We decided to get back after withdrawing money from the bank.

At the bank, I was redirected to this guy called Imran. I told him what had happened, that I had no ID proof, debit card or cheque book, and that I needed to withdraw some money for my holiday. He told me that I could write myself a loose cheque [basically a self cheque written on a cheque leaf borrowed from the bank] for 5000 bucks. I told him that 5000 bucks wouldn’t be enough since I would be in Goa for the next few days. I also told him I needed to pick up a mobile phone pronto, weaving a story about how, apart from being expected to be part of daily conference calls between office and clients in the US, I was also expected to be available on call 24/7 in case of emergency. He asked me how much money I needed, and I blurted out "20000 bucks".

He told me that he would speak to the guys in the main branch, and asked me, in the meanwhile, to fill out the application for a new debit card. When I went back to him after finishing this, he told me that I could withdraw the money, adding that he was taking a big risk by doing this. Ten minutes later, we were out of the bank with the money, impressed with their efficiency, speed and helpfulness.

En route to the Airtel Customer Care Centre, while mentally calculated my expenses for the trip, I realised that 12000 would more or less be enough. I also wondered what to do about the new phone, since 8000 would not be enough for the Nokia N73 ME. Quite frankly, I wasn’t too keen on buying a phone in Bombay. Mind-block apart, my self-confidence too was at an all-time low, what with images of myself getting ripped off again in Goa flashing in my mind. We reached Airtel, these thoughts still running in my head.

Summing up what happened at Airtel, I was told that, being an Airtel Bangalore customer, I would be able to get a duplicate SIM card only at Bangalore. They suggested that I alternately try getting myself an Airtel Pre-paid card for the time being, but I told them I didn’t have any ID proof, since everything was pinched [I know I could have asked my sister to get me a temporary number using her ID, but I didn’t want to go through the headache of informing everyone about my temporary number and facing those annoying, inevitable situations: “Your number is constantly switched off. What do you mean which number? The one you sent me from Bombay. Oh… you got your old number back? You should have told me. What’s your old number again? I deleted it”; multiply this conversation with the number of people you’ve given the new number to, and you get the idea. The world’s full of people who are just waiting for an excuse to delete your phone number]. Also, since I would be going to Goa the next night, I would be charged roaming charges for all the calls I make and the ones I pick up, even the wrong numbers [Only when you are on roaming will you get a million wrong numbers], not a single one of which would not be reimbursed by the office, even if they were official calls.

No, there was no way I was going to get myself a temporary number or a phone. I was here on holiday, not on official work, and reasoned that I should be in touch with the office when I felt like, not vice versa. Moreover, the whole point of a holiday would be lost if I were to be disturbed frequently by folks at office. At the same time, since I couldn’t be completely out of touch, I made a mental note to call office everyday to check if all was well, and to resolve problems, if any had cropped up.

Having made my decision, I told my sister I didn’t want to buy the phone, telling her I would pick one up after reaching Bangalore.

We then went to Ballard Estate for lunch, to Café Britannia, a very old Parsi restaurant [more than a hundred years old, a video review told me], stepping inside which was like going back time। I was busy checking out the place, drinking in the details when it’s tall, frail, octogenarian owner, Mr. Kohinoor, came over to take our orders. Lunch eventually arrived and we then proceeded to devour the Dhansaks, which, indeed, were out of the world, and not to be missed. Make sure you visit the place when in Mumbai.

Video Review of Café Britannia here [the video incidentally happens to be hosted by Prem, a friend I met through a writing website a few years back].

After lunch, we went to look at our BIL’s new office, and after looking around for a while, we went to Colaba Causeway in search of movie posters. We got down at Café Mondegar and did a bit of window-shopping. I picked up for myself a new wallet [ :-| ] and a copy of Shantharam, and for friends, a couple of T-shirts [one of Jim Morrison, and another of Jimi Hendrix]. We asked around for movie posters, but were told they weren’t available anywhere at Colaba Causeway.

We then went to this street near Flora Fountain, where we generally window-shopped, looking at phones, digital cameras, iPods, and the other things you suddenly get interested in and impulsively make a mental note to buy in the future. We didn’t find any movie poster shops though.

We eventually found a tiny printer’s shop, where the guy agreed to print out all the 5 hi-res images on very good greeting card paper for a total of 350 bucks. The prints came out really well, especially the Van Gogh paintings, the colors and detail of which were as good as an original.

The images I got printed:

Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh
Starry Night by Van Gogh

Starry Night Over The Rhone by Vincent Van Gogh
Starry Night Over the Rhone by Van Gogh

 Café Terrace At Night by Vincent Van Gogh
Café Terrace At Night by Van Gogh

Star Wars
Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope

Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai
Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai
(my sis took one look at it and remarked that the poster, rather than being framed and hung on a wall, would suit my cousin’s loo door better)

Satisfied with ourselves, we went back to BIL’s office to pick him up, and then went home, where, after dinner, we watched the DVD of the TV series 24. It was an 8 DVD pack, each DVD containing 3 of the 24 hours the title is named after.

I soon got engrossed and ended up watching 24 late into the night, hours after sis and BIL had retired, and went to bed after having watched about 4 or 5 episodes. I found P G Wodehouse’s Meet Mr. Mulliner in the hall, which I read for an hour or so before falling asleep.

Day 04: 11th December

Having no agenda for the day, I woke up late. So far, the rough plan was to hang out at home, lunch with my cousin and leave for Goa that night.

I felt a little light-hearted. Last night, I finally figured there was no way I was going to get back my things, so by feeling miserable, I was just wasting my time and ruining my holiday. So, drinking coffee, I tried looking at the plus points [a near-impossible thing for a pessimist like me to do]:

- Without the mobile phone, I wouldn’t be disturbed by office. If I needed to call anyone, I would, from a phone booth. Moreover, this holiday was about spending time all alone by myself. So I guess it was good in a way, since people could not get in touch with me unless I wanted to get in touch with them.
- The debit card wasn’t a great loss. All I would have to do is make do without a card for another week. The cash I had withdrawn would take care of this problem.
- I’ve always been horrified looking at my own PAN card thanks to the horrendous photo adorning it, in which I resemble one of those obnoxious-faced mangoes in the old Mango Mood ad [the one that used to come way back when I was a kid]. Getting a new PAN card would mean putting a new photo in it. Though I knew the new photo would look bad as well [I’m one of those guys who, as a rule, ends up looking bad in ALL photos], it wouldn’t couldn’t be as morose as the photo in my old PAN card [if you thought I looked hideous in person, wait till you see my PAN card photo].
- Driving license… I had, for a while, wanted to go for car driving classes and upgrade my license from two-wheeler to four-wheeler. Maybe having lost my license, I would finally haul ass and go for those driving classes.

Thinking these thoughts, I started reading the Wodehouse book, which I intended to finish before leaving to Goa that evening [I always have to finish a book I’ve started, however heavy or boring, even if it meant taking a break by reading another book and then later returning to this one. Of course, there have been exceptions: Ernest Hemingway’s Death in the Afternoon, which I gave up after 7 pages, and Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, where I skipped about 30 pages of the painfully long and boring speech [the one that you begin to read most enthusiastically, but after a few pages, starts to gnaw softly on your brain, and which, in the end, gets blewhhheweeeugghhhh (the inexpressible feeling one gets when one imagines one's ears being meticulously chewed by an old man without his dentures) that Hank Rearden gives towards the end of the book (no one I know has ever read the speech in it’s entirety. The first thing I ask everyone, even the ones who swear by Ayn Rand endlessly, when they talk about the book is, “Did you read that big speech in the end?”, and the answer’s always a sheepish “No”)].

My cousin came home, and over lunch, she began to tell us about her new part-time tour operator business [she organizes tours to Raigad and other historical destinations in Maharashtra], showing us brochures and giving us historical trivia about these places. After a while, she and my sister got completely engrossed discussing this and other things in general, and I eventually tuned out and went back to read.

My cousin left a few hours later, and a couple of hours after that, I finally finished the Wodehouse book. It was around 6 PM. I checked my email, packed my things and called up railway reservation to check the status of my ticket, which had been in the waiting list during booking. No luck.

BIL and sis took me out to Spaghetti Kitchen, this Italian restaurant at Phoenix Mills for dinner. We had mushroom soup, which was delicious, and this low-fat pizza, which had a base so thin and crisp it crumbled in your mouth. It was more or less like the masala papad you get in all these restaurants, the only differences being that this was much bigger, and had those typical Continental food toppings in place of the usual tomatoes and chillies that adorn its Indian equivalent. It was a little bland but nevertheless good.

After dinner, they dropped me at the VT Railway Station half an hour before departure, which was convenient with me [One of the things I like to do is observe people rushing past me at railway stations: their expressions, peculiarities in their mannerisms, etc. At the risk of sounding like one of those weirdos hanging about in underground subways, let me tell you, it’s good fun. The number of people in railway stations is huge, so the potential entertainment value is exponential.

At the same time, let me clarify that I don’t go early to railway stations with the intent of observing people or anything. It just happens that I leave to the railway station intending to reach 15 minutes before departure, but I always end up reaching the station half an hour in advance. It happens like clockwork. I once left home to the railway station very late, with only 20 minutes to spare, and when I reached 20 minutes later, sure that I had missed it, I found the train had been delayed by half an hour]. I walked to the train platform, holding onto wallet dearly. After settling down in my seat, I sought out the TT and told him the usual lie I reserve for such occasions: that I had just undergone a spinal surgery and that I could not sit down in one place for more than half an hour, let alone the whole of the journey, and that I needed a confirmed berth. The TT promised to help.

A few minutes after this, a truckload (and I’m not exaggerating here) of firangs boarded our compartment and took a full hour to settle down and get themselves organized, during which they made life miserable for everyone: being loud, going to and forth the entire compartment with luggage, banging their luggage on everyone’s knees, etc; and somewhere in the middle of all this, I was requested to move and eventually sent to a berth at the end of the compartment, which was occupied by a young Gujarati couple and three friends [a guy and two girls (who had just returned from abroad, judging by their phony accents and constant train-compartment-hygiene woes)], who were engaged in shallow, brainless conversation. These five were expecting another friend to join them at another station, and in the meanwhile, the wife was telling the others, occasionally interrupted by blushes, her whole goddam life story: how she met the guy, how they got married, how he secretly met her before they married, etc. I’m sure that these anecdotes must have been pretty routine and boring in real, but then I guess everyone exaggerate events from the past with the subconscious intent to conceal the monotony of their life from others. These incidents, however, were magnified to colossal lengths, and ended up sounding like scenes from Karan Johar movies. The other two girls lapped it all up eagerly [I don’t have to tell you about the NRI fixation for KJ’s movies] and made frequent digs at the couple. I, on the other hand, was trying my best not to puke my guts out.

Their friend did not turn up, and so I got their friend’s berth, thanks to the TT. A while later, as they brought out the food and booze and proceeded to consume them, I settled down with Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy I had brought with me for the trip. The two foreign-return girls tried very hard but seemingly casually to look at what book I was reading, but were having a tough time, since they could only see the back cover of the book from where they were seated. I decided to kill time by making it hard for them to guess which book I was reading. Every time I kept the book down, I made sure the front cover was down and the spine was facing me. Every time their interest seemed to waver and they were about to give up, I would give them a quick glimpse of the front cover, but it always was a very quick glimpse, quicker than it took for them to notice the letters on the front cover. That the book was a cheap paperback edition with bad printing did not help their cause. A few minutes later, I got bored, shut the book [the back cover facing up, spine facing me] and tried to sleep.

It was pretty late, and most people in the compartment had slept [even the firangs] except for this group, which was making quite a bit of noise. Other passengers would request them to keep quiet, which they would do for a while by whispering quietly and all [which didn’t really help, since whispers can be loud in a quiet annoying rat-gnawing way too, like, for example, the squeak of an airport trolley wheel], till one of them would say something funny, which would induce a high-pitched squeal of laughter from one of the foreign-return girls, which, in turn, would induce another passenger to come scream at them.

My attempts to sleep were thwarted successfully by the girl’s pig-squeal and the eventual screaming the other passengers directed at this group. I agree, I could have asked them to keep quiet, but then, I couldn’t. I have to give menacing looks at people before I vent out steam [It’s sort of become a habit. Anyone pisses me off, and I give them a glare that usually makes them recoil in fright. It works to my advantage that I’m not good-looking. If you’re decent-looking and you glare at someone, the other person thinks of it only as a glare. But take a frightful-looking guy, and his glare carries a glint of menace in them, and the person the glare is directed at immediately thinks of something dangerous (“He plans to bury me alive!”, “I’m sure he’s gonna castrate me” or “A guy with a look like that, I bet, carries a mean-looking blood-dripping butcher knife on his person").

Also, glowering at someone is like laying a solid base. Seeing the other person cower gives you a little more confidence and a little more time to form your sentences before you unleash your wrath, and while the other person is thinking of the threat your words seem to be laced with, s/he doesn’t notice any minor mistakes that you may make (like malformed sentences, grammatical mistakes, pauses in the middle, sentences that don’t pack a punch, etc. that are typical of any rant. I guess this happens because your mind doesn’t get enough time to mentally form your sentences). In short, glaring at someone before you scream at them is something like the foundation that women wear before putting on all that make-up. It conceals the chinks in your armour.], but I couldn’t glare at anyone because the lights were out. So making a mental note to give them the dirtiest of looks in the morning, I tried to sleep. For a while, I thought dramatic thoughts by looking at the time and then thinking “1 AM. Another eleven hours to go. Eleven more hours of firangs. No no no... Andy Dufresne Guru crawled through eleven hours of imbecilic banter, intense whisperings, knee-breaking firangs and general nonsense and came out clean on the other side”, but gave up after a while. I even went to the extent of counting sheep, but after counting two of them, I realised what I was doing and stopped. I finally drifted asleep, still trying to think of things to think about.