Last week, I looked for love, peace and joy in Bombay. (Yes, that’s what it will always be to me, ‘mum-bai’ sounds like a really badly treated mother!).
As my feelings swung in a yo-yo like manner from pure ecstasy to melancholy nostalgia, I realised how much some things change and dont change at all.
Stepping out from the airport, I could feel a sheer whirlwind of energy. Some force that created a sense of hope. An anticipation. A close friend, exiting the domestic airport had a similar experience. Only it wasnt that similar. My whirlwind of energy had been replaced with an aggressive cabbie and the anticipation by a rather long queue at the taxi stand.
It was hot, humid and noisy. Seriously noisy. I wondered why people even bothered to have radios and CD players in their cars when they hardly ever took their hands off the car horns. And then it rained and suddenly everything was washed and cleaned and the asphalt (strangely!) smelt like freshly watered garden soil.
A man in oil-stained clothes bicycled past a shining, white mercedes and paused long enough to turn back and glare at the driver for not giving him the way. He had right of way. One of them anyway. One tring tring-ing gloriously, the other honking relentlessly.
Everyone scurried about like on the sets of a doomsday movie, but made time to sit in a rally, stop at a protest and take part in a roadside squabble.
The roadside kebab wala, selling kebabs from an aluminium tray, refused to pack me some kebebs because I questioned him twice about their freshness. The five star hotel I stopped at for a coffee checked my bag for bombs before frisking my body.
A old friend cancelled dinner, then lunch, then coffee because he could not get away from work. Another old friend threatened to come live in my 400 sq ft hotel room if I didnt spend a few days with him in his 3500 sq ft, sea view penthouse.
Yet another friend insisted on cutting off each of my sentences with a disapproving shake of the head, a tut-tutting and a barbed “You NRIs…”
And another friend took me to a restaurant that had the finest wines and delectable french, greek and italian cuisine.
Right until I got past the immigration I couldnt make up my mind whether I wanted to extend my trip or run back home.
Where was home? In a safe, clean and comfortable place? Or in a an exciting, colourful and unpredictable place?