Real Mumbaiites don’t whine, they dine, when it pours, says Kunal Vijayakar
As dark clouds gather and the skies rumble, Mumbaiites run helter-skelter in panic. The thundershowers are dark omens of waterlogging, waist-deep water at Lalbaug, a crippled Central Railway. But the Mumbaiite does not fear the waves that lash Marine Drive. He has learnt how to survive the potholes, wade through the currents and embrace the red rivulets that stream across Shivaji Park.
He knows that an umbrella is an extraneous appendage and a raincoat a waste of time. When it rains in Mumbai, as it has in the 50 years of my memory, what happens, happens. We get drenched, we take holidays, we wade through floodwater, jump onto whatever BEST bus passes by, help push taxis that have stalled and are stranded in the glut.
The other thing we Mumbaiites do is eat.
My school was in low-lying Byculla and even a little rain would mean our football field was ankle-deep in muddy water. Sometimes, we’d file into the school bus at 7.45 am sharp, but by the time we got to school 15 minutes later, a holiday had been declared. We’d all turn back with a feeling that I rarely feel nowadays — a sense of absolute and utter freedom.
Either I’d jump right back on the bus and head home, or we’d cross the road and go to a little place called Queen Mary’s Café to eat some breakfast. Breakfast when it poured was hot Omelette Pav; a two-egg omelette spiked with green chillies and onion; a plate of Special Kheema served with hot Laadi Pav; and a cup of hot Irani chai. On some days, I’d skip the omelette and ask the guy to serve the kheema with a half-fry on top. Half-fry, as you know, is Bambaiya for an egg sunny side up. Let me tell you, the joy of soaking a slice of pav in the yolk of the egg and mopping up some oily mince is unparalleled, especially if it’s raining outside and the water is threatening to creep into the roadside café.
I grew up at Chowpatty, where Café Ideal, a corner restaurant with French windows, offered views of the lashing waves and the beach. Café Ideal is the only vegetarian Irani restaurant I know of. They serve eggs, though, and on such a day, sitting by an open window, the rain coming down in torrents, the air wet and the throat parched, a bottle of London Pilsner and a plate of cheese and corn balls was bliss. Also a Parsi Akuri with Brun Pav, with a side order of Veg Patti Samosa.
On a grey rainy day, a bunch of us would sometimes board the BEST Bus No 123, a route that had only double-decker buses. We’d clamber in just before Marine Drive. If you were lucky to get the front row on the upper deck, it was a breezy ride with the sea lashing to your right and palms swaying to your left and no one in between.
En route to Colaba, there were stops we could make. Often we would disembark at Churchgate and go to Pizza by the Bay, with its bay windows opening onto the sea. Or stop over at Gaylord, whose al fresco section has wrought iron chairs and serves snacks all day. Hot buttered bread rolls, with a pot of mint tea. Or Grilled Chicken Sandwiches with Hot Chocolate. And you could always step into their patisserie and get yourself a large chunk of meringue or a slice of lemon tart.
The 123 goes down Colaba Causeway and stops right outside Kailash Parbat. If you haven’t tried a steaming hot plate of Ragda Patties or Ragda Samosa with chutney and pickled onions on a very wet day, you haven’t experienced heaven yet. If you want to do the Pakoda in the rain thing, then their Sindhi Bhajiyas and Bhee (lotus stem) Pakodas are a treat.
When one felt richer, there was always Sea Lounge at The Taj. An occasional snooty eyebrow would arch as we’d stumble in with wet rubber chappals and dripping shorts, not a care in the world, preferring to sit on those cane sofas on the open verandah instead of in the carpeted, air-conditioned section. We’d watch the sea, grey and snarly, a lonely dinghy bobbing atop it, the waves trying to break the barriers of the Gateway and come across the road.
We’d order the Cona Coffee in round-bottomed flasks, with Mumbai Toastie Sandwiches and a plate of really expensive Sev Puri. As the sky grew darker, we’d walk along the pier munching on hot bhutta, freshly coal-grilled, rubbed with a wedge of lemon dipped in salt and chilli powder.
I don’t do these things anymore. Though I do enjoy sitting on the verandah at the Willingdon Club with a hot bowl of Cream of Asparagus Soup, as the water cascades down its colonial columns and onto the golf course. Or sipping a malt and chomping on Golden Fried Prawns on the terrace of the Chambers at the Taj, as the top of the Gateway of India peers through the trees and the cloudburst.
Or simply looking out at the old trees getting drenched outside my big window at home and eating a bowl of piping hot, freshly made Maggi. Which brings me to the point I’m trying to make. That no real Mumbaiite fears the rain.