Romancing the rains

August 1, 2010

There’s something about a rainy afternoon in Bombay.

Idling at a roadside cafe with the drizzle in your face makes you yearn for prawn and beer. At least, that’s what i felt the other day after my wife left me to the elements and dashed off to Bandra to dine with a friend.

Cafe Universal in Bombay's Fort (Courtesy:

Cafe Universal, a Parsi eatery in the Fort area, was my stop for lunch. I chose a table by the door and watched the world pass by — actually, labourers loading and unloading rubbish from a construction site. But somehow it reminded me of the monsoon in Calcutta: slush, filth and muck made tolerable by a cool wet air.

I settled for a pitcher of draught beer and pepper prawns and let a fine drizzle — we call it ilsheguri brishti in Bengali — tickle my face. A fly joined my table, but i felt too lazy to swat it. In fact, after a few swigs and a bite or two, i let the indolent Saturday afternoon take control over my senses.

I stay put in the cafe for three hours, ordering another pitcher while passively watching three college kids polishing off as many Budweisers, a couple daintily feasting on chicken biriyani and four old Parsi men, presumably friends, nursing no grudge but their whiskies.

It was 4 pm when i stepped out of the cafe and took to the footpath. One moment the rain increased in intensity, the other it was gone. I put to practice the fine art of rapidly opening and closing my umbrella, perfected in Calcutta but forgotten in Delhi, while weaving my way through a maze of umbrellas and cars till i reached the Gateway of India.

It wasn’t as crowded as i feared, so i sat on the waterfront, pulled out the camera and started clicking away, taking tea and chana breaks.

The chai and the chanawallah near Taj. Pic: Dwaipayan Ghosh Dastidar)

Suddenly, a busload of tourists from the southern part of the country poured in front of the Taj. A couple of vendors materialised from nowhere and the visitors in their shirts and mundus pounced on them. Nearly a hundred samosas (@ dus ka paanch) were sold within what would have been a maximum of 10 minutes. Chaiwallahs surfaced — hail their impeccable timing — just as the last of the samosas were being killed. Another coordinated pounce and steaming cups of coffees were poured out and gulped down in minutes.

Staring at Taj made me yearn for a bite into a teppanyaki at the legendary Wasabi by Morimoto. How would ‘Iron Man’ Masaharu’s glazed Japanese kebabs be different from the superlative ones i had in Connaught Place’s Bonsai? Would his chef in a generous mood shave a truffle on my sushi?

A call from a friend broke my reverie. We were to meet at the press club in the evening. I sprang up and hit the road for VT, promptly got lost and was stranded under the portico of Regal cinema hall, waiting for my Bombaiyya friends to rescue me.

Spent a couple of hours here. (Pic:

Help came in time and i was shepherded to Alps beer bar a few paces from Bade Mian; the kababiyans were just setting up the shop, so we didn’t hang on. Downing another pitcher — my third of the day — i was surprised to find out that Bombay, like Delhi, serves you surmai if you ask for a fish finger or a fry.

Kolkata, to its credit, tends to stick to the true blue bekti fillets, though now a days you could find yourself chomping on shark meat that many Bengali caterers pile with the more costly bekti. (An easy way to call the bluff: prise open a side of the fish fry — however gawky it might look — and if you find a reddish tinge in what should be pearl-white fillet, be sure your trusted Chatterjee or Mukherjee babu has deftly served you a shark that was trucked from Digha a week back.)

A few swigs and a chicken fry more and we were ready to hit the trail to VT. Minutes later, the small taxi dropped us and for the first time in life i walked in, appropriately humbled by its dimensions, into the Old lady of Boribunder to meet a friend who was to take us to the press club, a few hundred paces away.

The Press Club Mumbai (Pic:

Unlike the Calcutta version, the club looked swank but felt as easy on our pocket. As we settled down on the terrace, i found out some things in life don’t change, or if at all, change just a bit. My friend S, like his Calcutta years, still orders four drinks at a time, pours water into all four glasses — “Arre, you need to pour water to save the spirit from evaporating,” he lectured me when i stole a cheeky smile during his exercise — and steadily finishes them one by one. The only thing time has changed: he has switched to gin and lime from his Old Monk.

The corn and veggies tasted fresh and the fish fries were — surmai again — okay with my beer, another pitcher! S browbeat a teetotaller into sipping on Breezer (Jamaica Passion, or jamai ka passion, as an attendant at an old office used to mischievously dub it). Our spirit hit a crescendo, fuelled by memories of yesterday and chitchats of today.

Suddenly, everyone fell silent. Or rather, nothing could be heard. The rain beat down hard on the terrace and drowned all voices; i felt numbed as if frozen in a hypnotic trance but with all senses open to the onslaught from heavens. I had almost forgotten this experience during my three-year stay in Delhi. A shower in Bombay transported me back to Calcutta and i realised, not surprisingly, that the two cities were kindred in soul and spirit.

Was i falling in love, so easily on the first day, with the Maximum City?


4 Responses to “Romancing the rains”

  1. Sharmi said

    Well, well, at last! Falling in love with the maximum city??? You have not encountered the traffic snarls then! Else you would not fallen so easily in love, I’m sure. The city is lovely, I admit though, and it does remind me of Kolkata. The fishes are the best part, tasty and teasing! Thank you for the trip 🙂

  2. netdhaba said

    I have fallen for Bombay, traffic snarl notwithstanding. Let’s see when we can get back to the city. Thanks for the comment 🙂

  3. Tareq said

    Hi, Dunno why I feel I was somewhere in this story. Or, maybe I was. Teetotallers usually don’t forget 😉
    Nice descriptions. Keep it up. U’ve given Maximum coverage to your Saturday in the City.

  4. netdhaba said

    @Tareq: Of course, Sir, you are there in the story. Your company was a pleasure. Looking forward to flying down to Bombay again.
    Thanks for the comment 🙂

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