Ok, you know what? One doesn’t really beat the heat in Bombay. You stave it off from time to time, until it envelopes you again. Like mosquitoes and sticky hinterland relatives. You’ll hear a lot about ice golas, panipuris, sherbetwalas and so and so milkshakewallas on the road being tomtommed about during this time, but seriously, all that is fashionable slumming-speak.
Most people simply make a beeline for the malls. The big bad CFC spewing malls that are so trendy to hate (and correctly so), but which offer the best succor during times like this because they are so easily accessible, with a wide choice of movies in the AC multiplexes and restaurants. Two and a half hours of bliss. Until you come out into the car park, that is.
Thirst is a physiological condition that depends a lot on psychology too. So it’s probably more scientific to say that the narielwala is a better option because coconuts are green clean antiseptic and Nature’s best way to slake your thirst, but me? I’d go for a pitcher of chilled draught beer any day. That’s because I don’t just want to be quenched, I want to feel quenched too, and buttermilk, lassi and coconut water simply doesn’t do it for me. Mondegar and Leopolds at Colaba Causeway it is. But be warned — the decibel levels are are set at 60 db and above. I don’t mind the peaceful beer bar in the Eros building at Churchgate opposite the Oval Maidan.
I tried swimming pools. Got myself enrolled in a club in Goregaon (East) and stepped into the pool area sucking in my stomach, only to discover to my horror that the pool with its overabundance of flailing threshing limbs resembled my Bengali fishmonger’s catfish tank.
It always used to be warm in Bombay, but over the years with the concretisation of roads, proliferation of cars and the construction boom, it’s gotten warmer still. The walk along the promenades in Bandra or the Queen’s Necklace at Chowpatty and Nariman Point used to be nice with the sea breeze and the occasional salt spray coming at you, but now, they have concretised those places too and put up little toy trees that afford no shade, so those places are out. Thank you, BMC, MMRDA.
I used to hang around in the Irani restaurants and cafes a lot while a lot of them were around. The cool dark interiors were... well…cool and dark and I sat for a long time sipping a Duke’s lemonade or a Pallonjee’s strawberry soda and scrutinised the customers who came and went, sketching the more interesting ones. Once years back, I had gone to Britannia Restaurant with a few friends, when an old man came up to our table and smiled at us intently. Then he flapped his arms up and down like a chicken and in a sing song voice said, “One glass of fresh lime sweet / To beat the summer heat!” Then he peered at each of our faces, hopefully. How can you refuse a sweet old man like that? We bought fresh lime sodas, all of us, and it all came to a pretty penny. A couple of years ago, in January, I went there again and saw him shuffling to another table with another group of young freshfaced kids, doing the same routine.
On second thought, do you really need to beat the Bombay heat, or embrace it? Because it did for me fine to stroll along DN road in the summer, browsing the pavement bookshops, under the high roofs and behind the pillars of the old crumbling buildings like Kitab Mahal, with a nimbu paani or sugarcane vendor rattling away nearby. At a fraction of the price of the coolers you get in today’s cafes. But that was then, in another country.
No, we don’t beat the heat by putting khus khus on our windows, nor by making amba pani the way grandmother made it. We buy powersaver AC’s for every room, frostfree fridges, and liter bottles of cola, preferably over the phone, because who is insane enough to go out into the sun?
Lo fat yoghurt anyone? They’re from the mall.
(Gautam Benegal is an artist, writer and filmmaker)