I've only been to my aunts' and uncles' places in south Bombay so far - one opposite Congress House, one at Chowpatty and one at Napeansea Road. The other homes I've been to have been only in the suburbs. But I've wanted to experience a middle class old Bombay home. And the freelance artist's parents' place provided the perfect opportunity.
So Saturday morning turned out to be a relaxed one - woke up a little late and ambled down to the artist's set up. As if the area I live in isn't quaint enough all through the week, it acquires an extra glint of Technicolour over the weekends. Routines assume an even slower pace and the breeze cooling instantly under the shade of bougainvilleas towering over high compound walls of old Parsi "mansions" add to the romance. I got off the taxi right before Kennedy Bridge and ambled wondering-eyed towards Behndi गल्ली. It is truly only a गल्ली. The distance between two BUILDINGS is about three fourths the length of your arm. I am not exaggerating. Promise.
This distance, or the lack thereof continues until the end of the building [which thankfully doesn't span too far and wide], after which the गल्ली widens to allow a motorbike to stand across and block it comfortably. Not a soul here except a couple of passersby using the lane as a short-cut. I follow the rule of three to ask where "Raut building" is, and the watchman finally emerges and directs me. Raut building is a two-storey dilapidated version of all those homes you see on American tv shows and movies - only, it stands individually with the same 3/4 hand length distance from the houses on either sides.
The staircase leads straight to the door. Quite no-nonsense in that. It reminded me of the old houses at Mandvi and even the description daddy ranted of his place at Rajmahal road in Baroda. Once I entered, I seemed to have left Bombay for the umpteenth time. Wood. All around. And space! And a cat looking ominously at the door, perched on the sill of a pane-less window opposite the entrance. Except the occasional space utilization measure [like a sliding door instead of one on hinges], everything was so home. The flooring, good old concrete tiles smoothened over the years from growing - growing older and growing old. The walls, probably painted for Diwali or Gudi Padva last year. Everything neat, in its place. No embellishments, yet aesthetically non-conformist. As any home in any old city area. Functional. Comfortable. Comforting.
A mixer-grinder buzzed from somewhere inside and my heart leapt! It reminded me of ma being all enthusiastic about making धनिया चटनी for the week's breakfast sandwiches or grinding दाल for idli batter for the evening's बड़ा खाना. The door was knocked a couple of times - the रद्दीवाला once and then the fish vendor. The disruptions of a regular Sunday morning while you're trying to finish things you put down on your to-do list through the week.
It's such a luxury to be able to offer water/ chai/ coffee/ neembu pani to even a casual visitor like me, leave alone guests. The more we isolate ourselves, the more we distance ourselves from our culture; our traditions; the little parts that make whole that phenomenon we call childhood. And it doesn't take much in this city - just three fourths the length of an arm.