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Showing posts with label London. Show all posts
Showing posts with label London. Show all posts

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

In My Life
All These Places Have a Meaning…

The single dominant memory that I have of Alan Oscar (pictured above on the right) is of him sitting next to my bed, where I was confined with measles. He was my friend and neighbor in Court Royal, an airy old apartment house in Christ Church Lane in Bombay’s Byculla Bridge. It was the 1950s and our neighborhood was the happening place: gorgeous dames, strutting guys, great music, a mind-blowing diversity of middle-class cultures and above all, the green lung of Christ Church School, complete with trees, parks and a variety of birds from parrots on down.

Alan sat with me through my measles attack and made my convalescence bearable. For a lad of not even 10 summers, there could be no heavier sentence than to stay at home while his friends ran riot in the building and around the Lane, playing carefree, pre-teen games. Alan is six years older and was at the time a TEENAGER!  He became my lifeline as I tossed and itched in bed; the wise, mature, compassionate guy among our tight knot of friends in the Lane.

A tsunami of nostalgia whisked me back when Alan and I re-established contact and he sent me this picture. Christ Church Lane was a defining phase in my life after I left the rarefied precincts of Juhu Beach and plunged headlong into bustling, vivacious Bombay’s 8th arrondisement, Byculla Bridge. A celebration of India’s middle class diversity, Nehruvian-style, this wondrous place was the hope that all of India would burgeon to embrace different cultures and lifestyles with strong middle-class values of work and civic pride. 

Within days of leaving the Lane, I realized most of the rest of India was not like it nor headed in that direction. It also became apparent that cosmopolitan Bombay itself was slowly being transformed into the hapless Mumbai about that time. 

Ah…but that’s another story. Staying with life in the Lane is immensely more interesting because it is about relationships in youth between the unlikeliest of people. That these can be revived a full half-century later is a story that began for me in the mid-1980s when I had my high-school friends (St Xavier’s Bombay, Class of 1965) over to dinner at our house in Oak Park, an old, gracious suburb just west of Chicago.

My friends showed up on a hot July evening; many of them I knew since the fifth grade. The reunion turned out to be good fun but I have never met them again. And that’s largely because I didn’t keep up with them. Having had a taste for nostalgic reunion, when I next went to London, I tracked down my friend Aasif; hadn’t seen him since 1973. So nearly a decade later, I caught up with him. We remain the same good friends to this day: he lives in Goa and we meet every other month.

Having never been to Delhi, in 1981, on my first trip, I looked up Anurag Chowfla, a friend from my days at the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda. In an amazing twist of fate, Anurag is now, family: my daughter married his nephew. Over the years, I also looked up Mark Warner, with whom Anurag and I shared the Shakespeare Society experience in Baroda.

In the same vein, I attended a much larger reunion of the St Xavier’s class of 1965 in January 2008. There I met, among others, my friend Lawrie Ferrao, whom I have known since the fifth grade. He is now Fr Lawrie, SJ and head of the Xavier Institute of Communications. We got along smoothly all over again and he agreed to bless my daughter’s wedding at our village church in Goa the following November.

Over the years, I sought out old friends and re-established contact that I still maintain. Every now and then, I hang out with another Baroda friend, Yogi Motwane, with whom I reconnected in the US…and other friends from the MSU engineering school. Last November, we had a  reunion that attracted other friends from afar: Venky Krishnakumar from Singapore and Harry (Harish) Chopra from Perth. Renewing ties is fun and while it’s not like we meet every day, if I’m in Bombay, Singapore, Perth or New York I will make sure to call them and at least have dinner and a few drinks. Main thing is we are friends all over again.

In my search for old friends, my Eureka moment was when Victor Rodrigues, Bombay’s celebrity dentist, emailed me after he read a column I wrote in DNA. Victor, like Alan, was one of my idols at Court Royal in the Lane. He did this Elvis hair and sang rock ’n’ roll with abandon; his “Hard Headed Woman” still haunts my memory.

Funny though: both Alan and Victor had younger brothers, who were actually my friends. But the older guys became heroes for me because they were TEENAGERS! They had absolutely no need, according to the serious senior-junior hierarchy of those days, to engage with a pre-teen, vegetarian, Gujarati sod.

Nostalgia is a theme that Homer has written about with passionate, poetic elegance; Milan Kundera did a modern prosaic version. Mine is merely a journalistic report that rambles through the 20th and 21st century. There is an echo of Homer in my experiences, though. Despite the allures of Circe and the Sirens, I left America to come back to India; and I had hoped to find the olive tree just as I had left it: older but fecund; familiar but new; and always a defining feature.

Alas, just this morning I received a message from Shawn Fleming Rodrigues, Victor’s younger brother, who has lived in Court Royal forever…he is a friend of my brother, who turned 60 this year. “Byculla has changed so drastically and regrettably not for the better, that I feel that the old Byculla was my past life and this is a reincarnation,” he said.

Everywhere, they honor days gone by with respect and a touch of nostalgia. Court Royal and Christ Church Lane could have been treasured and conserved as a wonderful example of middle class values and lifestyles rooted in cultural diversity.

India seems to kill the past with its brutish reality!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Goan Journal

The Monsoon Magnificence

You’ve got to be a hardy soul to come to Goa in the Monsoon. It rains incessantly and does drumbeats on the roof; the percussion is as good as anything Max Roach did, especially on his album, Money Jungle, with Duke Ellington and Charles Mingus. Still, as Credence Clearwater Revival sang, the rain keeps falling. And I don’t really wonder, amid the sophisticated Roach-style beat of the rain on my roof, who’ll stop the rain.

Goa in the rains is a sight for sore eyes and a balm for troubled minds. It has a calming effect: nothing really matters, except the drain of stress. We start from the chaotic airport. You can deal with it because in minutes you can get in the car and leave India behind. Goa is our foreign destination where people are civilized, traffic is orderly and everyone looks out for others. The skies open up with huge rainfall and all you want to do is stop the car, jump out and let yourself be drenched in the Monsoon rains.

We arrived in Goa on an afternoon in July and later that evening drove to Chicalim in the north to celebrate a friend’s birthday. His place is approximately in the middle of nowhere. I may be wrong but even the Portuguese didn’t venture there. And so we’re in our car, negotiating the twist and turns to get there. Once we reach his people-friendly house with its inviting “come, hang out” charm, we forget the world. The only bummer was Germany destroyed Argentina in South Africa; the South Americans were the team I picked to win the Cup.

Goa in the rains is a magical mystery tour. Green is the operative color; moss is your ground cover and the world stands still. Here, you add years to your life. Time is stretched out. Read a book, listen to music, and drench yourself in the rain: you can do stuff you wish you could do in the stressed out reality of India.

In the rain-lashed season, Goa can also be an adventure. There are few places open for lunch or dinner; all the beach shacks are closed; in fact, even the beaches are run over by the sea. You have to be resourceful and find spots that are open. You may have to travel a fair distance or experiment with all manner of local places. But the best thing is to eat at home and then find a rock on a beach, sit on it and watch the thunderous majesty of the sea in the rains.

We’ve had a place here since the turn of the century. More important, this is my sasural; my wife’s family is from Goa and our place is just 15 minutes away from her family home. Also, we have other family here in Chicalim and Aldona and good friends in Panjim, Anjuna and Colvale. For us, this emerald haven is not a vacation spot; it is our second home. We feel we belong here.

Plus Goa is full of random surprises. At dinner one evening at a local diner, a bunch of people showed up. There was this handsome guy sitting in a chair right next to me. He pulled out a bottle of scotch and offered to share it. We demurred but he was insistent. So we had a drink from his bottle. He said his name was Kumar Gaurav, son of the famous Bollywood tragedy king, Rajendra Kumar. He said he was married to Namrata Dutt, daughter of Sunil Dutt and Nargis. As such he is the brother-in-law of Priya Dutt, the Congress MP and Sanjay Dutt, the actor of Munnabhai fame.

We struck up a conversation in this diner called Starlight and he was insistent to take us to his house in Parra, a suburb of Mapuca. It turned out to be a gorgeous place, slick and breathing of wealth. He showed us around and when we left after 15 minutes, we drove away impressed. In the end, we marvelled that something like this could happen in such an impromptu fashion. But that’s Goa for you. You meet some guy in a restaurant or in a market or a grocery store and you become friends.

That’s the social part of Goa. And it’s wonderful. What is equally spectacular is the majesty of nature here, especially in the Monsoon. As I sit in my verandah, surrounded by a cathedral of coconut trees and watch and hear the rain falling, I am struck by the bounty of nature. As the rain stops, the garden is awash with fireflies everywhere, lighting up, for a brief moment, the darkness of the clouds.

My friend Aasif, an architect, who lives here, having come from 30-plus years in London, tells me that the glow in the fireflies is about sex. “It’s their penis that lights up with a view to attract to females,” he says. He also added that fireflies are rapidly becoming extinct with growing urbanization. Because of city lights, their glow doesn’t show and they cannot mate.

Aasif can identify bird calls, butterflies and constellations in the sky. He lived for 30 years a busy life in London but now he is a connoisseur of Nature. What a wonderful way to spend the rest of your life.

So you live and you learn. When all’s said and done, you can be alone in Goa in the rains and have the soothing and disturbing sounds of the falling water to keep you company. Soothing because it lulls; disturbing because in a 250-year-old house, you never know where water will drip. You simply feel at the mercy of nature. So we look at the bounteous aspect: green, blue and grey.

We all know from the news media that Goan politics is all about rent money; corruption is rampant and crime starts in the cabinet. And so it is everywhere else in India. In Goa, though, our local primary health care center has doctors, nurses, ambulances, medicines and diagnostic equipment. The schools have teachers; the roads are well paved and the traffic is orderly.

Sometimes, I think we should just move here and be done with the chaos of the rest of India.

Copyright Rajiv Desai 2010