I arrived home on Wednesday night in the midst of a party for visiting family, complete with skirmishing uncles and aunties hissing at them to stop it. My cousins arrived and many scattered conversations were had. It was nice.

On Thursday, I lolled around resolving to get my eyebrows done and giving up when my dad came back from a business trip. In the evening, mum and I went to Shopper’s Stop. As the elevator doors opened and we made our way to the first rack of clothes, we were accosted by enthusiastic salespeople. I headed to the fitting rooms arms laden where, for once, I was thankful that several things were tight and remembered that the last time I bought something in one of these malls, the colour ran the first time I washed it. On being asked, the salesgirl kept nodding in the Indian way and saying “normal wash” until I twigged that normal in India does not mean in a machine but by hand.

Dumped all the clothes and decided to focus on jeans and shoes, which I really needed. The main target was to get mum a handbag but I also did a detour to Mothercare. After about 45 minutes of this, we headed to the cashier where I had a mini heart attack at the bill. Quietly paid and resolved not to buy anything else thereafter. Ever. The problem is that I really liked everything I bought so although I went through it all twice at home, I couldn’t find anything to return.

Very chastened, I headed for dinner with Curly. Obviously, I wanted to eat Chinese food, the inauthentic kind. I ordered chilly chicken and tucked into it happily. I can testify that the leftovers were yummier (salivating again). Hilarious moment when I asked the waiter if they had Chinese tea and he said yes and then I asked what kind and he said “Chinese!” Turned out to be Jasmine and very well brewed but in a miniscule cup, which I am sure also cost the earth and apparently can be refilled but I didn’t know.

Because we didn’t want the evening to end, we went to Eat Around the Corner, which is a fancy version of JATC which used to be my regular adda, and had coffee (me) and cake (her), again at what I consider high prices for India. We had insightful conversation on the exact cost of living a certain lifestyle (the kind I would want to live) in India which has begun to scare me. We ascertained that it is a lot. Curly also made the case for Bombay not being the ugliest city in India because of the seaface which is a fair point. We also discussed how we had had little ambition and no idea that there were possibilities beyond Bombay when we graduated, and those of us who had an inkling that there was a world of academic possibility out there (like yours truly) were too lazy to act on this awareness.

On Friday, I visited a friend who has had a baby and lives near Powai in a gated community that is like an oasis. It overlooks Aarey Milk Colony so you can stand in her balcony and fantasize that you are in some verdant village, complete with villager strolling down a mud path, milk pail in hand. Her apartment complex reminds me of the one we live in in Hong Kong with the difference that when you step out on to the street it’s complete chaos. She has also moved from abroad and confessed that until she moved into this complex, she was depressed. I am beginning to understand the appeal of gated communities, mostly to people who have children.

On Friday afternoon, mum and I went for a facial to Mudd spa, a recommendation I gleaned from Ashwathy’s comment on one of my earlier posts. In terms of the slog work of blackhead extraction, this one was only so-so but the massage was thorough and the ambience decent, albeit a little messy. My mother emerged dazed from the pampering and swearing she is going to do this every few months.

Met Curly and another friend for drinks. We were supposed to go out but a Singapore-like evening downpour that seemed to be happening every day the week I was there and so we canned that idea in favour of sitting around in her living room. It was fun gossiping and reminiscing over cocktails, until they noticed that I was almost horizontal on the couch and alas, had to be driven home.

Saturday morning was a family brunch in honour of some far-flung relative who was in town. I planned to pay my respects and make a fast exit in order to do some street shopping and get a pedicure but ended up staying till everyone started leaving. Ended up with a pedicure at Lakme salon which had prices I could understand although it was crazy busy and a little lacking in ambience. I had a shoe bite on my foot which the pedicure guy brushed over so it opened up (gros!) and now I have visions of having contracted some horrible disease which I shall ignore.

In the evening, I met my baby cousin, who is a teacher and doing her Masters, at Bagel Shop (Café?). The last time I had been there it had just opened and was madly crowded but now people seemed to have moved on to the next big thing and so we had our pick of armchairs and didn’t have to shout to hear each other. The autorickshaw situation in Bombay is beginning to replicate other cities where the drivers just don’t take you anywhere unless it’s far far away. (Sorry, R’s Mom, I know I pontificated on your blog a bit when you wrote about this. I still understand why they do it, just that it’s horribly annoying to be at the receiving end. I noticed that most of people I know have their own car, often with driver attached. It results in very little walking though.)

Then went to other cousins’ house for pre-dinner drinks, where I startled them my enlightening them that the sexuality of women is fluid. And I was informed that my cousin’s daughter had, at the morning’s brunch, pegged me as a foreigner and on being quizzed why she thought so, said: “Because she’s so fair!” We all collapsed giggling helplessly at this but since cousin’s wife had promised daughter she would never repeat her error to  a soul, we had to countenance the little one with straight faces.

I got to sample the Bandra-Worli sealink which was very cool, one part (we kept saying “where is it pink?” like plebs for the longest time) was lit up in pink in honour of Breast Cancer Awareness Week. We were deposited in Palladium mall where you have to go through a security check to enter. We had a beautiful dinner at Indigo but I realised that I have done this enough. I don’t need to eat/party/shop in this kind of splendor anymore except maybe very infrequently. I don’t think I can live the life of the streets either but the in-between is good enough for me. So maybe there’s hope for me surviving economically in a modern Indian city.

On my last morning, I did middle class India. I zipped around Bandra with my dad on his motorbike buying banana chips, idli makers and 1 litre bottles of Maaza that turned out to be my bête noire. Baby cousin came over for lunch and we oohed over the wedding album of just another family wedding I missed because I was due to give birth. We ate more Chinese food.

Too soon, it was time to go. I had had hopes of going to church and if not praying, viewing relics and memorabilia on display for the church’s 160th anniversary. These were dashed when my mom said I should stay home and Granny-sit while the parents went to church. I had hopes of walking down Hill Road and buying things dirt cheap without bargaining. These were dashed when I realised that the shopping of the morning had resulted in suitcases bursting at the seams.

At some point, I looked out of my kitchen window and watched the children screaming and playing at 8 pm exactly as I had done when I was a kid. If I had waited just half and hour, I’m pretty sure I would have heard parents calling and the kids whining: “Aunty please, let him stay, just one more game!”. This one thing has not changed, then, and I am glad for it.

When in Bombay, there are always too many people I would like to meet and I have to pick carefully. It has been a small effort in prioritizing and knowing how people rank in my life and how I rank in theirs. There were three people I contacted, who were on my second list of people to touch base with, who  didn’t make an effort so they have been struck off. It was just as well because I was struggling for time anyway but it’s good to know where you stand.

On the whole though, I was touched by the warmth and strength of the ties that are still there. It really made me take stock of what I am missing in terms of people and all the goodness they bring by living abroad. More on that later.

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