KAPOORS ON THE ROAD
On Saturday night we said adieu to Rajan and Kusum, and headed out to visit the home of Kajal and Deven Parabu. Kajal is the daughter of Anil's only sister, Manju. They live in the suburb called Bandra - farther north of Mumbai city center - and near to the Domestic and International Airports. We had decided to fly to Delhi (and hour and a half flight) instead of taking the train (sixteen hours if the train is on time).
Deven wanted us to spend some time with the two of them as they are avid travellers and he wanted to give us some pointers on travelling in southern India - he has travelled there extensively himself. He had great plans for us to get up early on Sunday morning and take a long walk on Juhu beach before heading to a South Indian restaurant for breakfast. Then he wanted to drive us around Mumbai, to places that most people would not bother to show tourists and we were only too happy to accept. Deven and Kajal are expecting their first baby in January 2007, and we knew that if we didn't do all these things with them now, they would not be able to spend as much time with us when we return in a few months.
It's amazing how easy it is to recognize the "spirit of the road" in another traveller. We talked for hours, looked at their photo albums of their trips to Sri Lanka and New Zealand and dreamed together of a possible trip to Canada for the four (five?) of us.
The walk on the beach was refreshing in the early hours of the morning - there were tons of others out enjoying the fresh air and we walked for over an hour until the pick-up games of cricket sent us off for breakfast. The Cafe Madras was chock full of people and there was a line-up outside the door. We didn't have to wait long as there is no lingering over a meal there. The place was bustling with waiters - all barefoot - delivering wonderful dosas, idlies, uttapams accompanied by small bowls of sambar and coconut chutney. The place was spotlessly clean and our table was wiped after each separate dish was consumed. We finished off with South Indian coffee (the northerners usually drink tea not coffee). This was the first time that I had ever seen it served in two small stainless-steel bowls. Kajal showed me how to pour the coffee from one bowl to the other to cool it a little and to make it frothy. It was heavenly!
After breakfast, Deven drove us through all the tree-covered lanes of Bandra and pointed out many of the homes of the famous Bollywood stars. Bandra has come to be known as the "Queen of the Suburbs" and I can really see why. It now has some of the priciest residential real estate in Mumbai and there is an amazing assortment of ethnic restaurants and cafes springing up along the main thoroughfares. It is really quite cosmopolitan and I can see why the yuppies of Mumbai choose to live here. Kajal and Deven each have a car to get around with but Kajal is working from home just now and Deven often takes the commuter train or the local buses into central Mumbai to work. He says it's much less stressful than trying to fight the traffic. On the whole, we found Bandra very charming and I am looking forward to returning in the spring.
After a peaceful afternoon nap, we sat on the floor of their apartment and enjoyed the sun streaming in through the large open window. Anil was in heaven watching cricket on TV and I used Kajal's high speed internet access to upload all the photos of the wedding and the days since we returned to Bombay. That evening, Deven wanted to take us back to the ocean for a walk through "Jogger's Park". When we came out onto the street, the traffic was exceptionally heavy and we debated on walking to the sea instead of driving. Deven casually mentioned that we could take the bus, and I jumped at the idea. It's hard to believe but in all my previous visits to India, I had never ridden on a local transit bus. We waited patiently for the Number 220 that would take us to the park, and were pleased that it wasn't too crowded when it did arrive.
We climbed aboard and Deven paid the fare of 5 rupees per person (about 12 cents). The bus was not packed, but there were no seats free so we stood as the bus started. Just then Deven pointed out to a single seat at the front of the bus and told me it was one reserved for women passengers. There was middle-aged man sitting in it. I could see some Hindi lettering on the back of the seat and I do know that they reserve certain cars on the commuter trains for women, so I took him at his word and went up to the front and asked the man to let me sit down. He stood up immediately, looking a little apologetic and I sat and enjoying the great view of the street ahead was we lumbered along to the beach.
Deven signaled to me it was our stop and we all hopped off as the bus pulled to a stop. It was only then that Deven told me that the seat behind the single seat was the one reserved for women - the one I took was for "the elderly and the disabled". Anil and Deven had a good laugh at my expense - I felt a little sheepish, but I had enjoyed the view...
That night, just like the night before, we slept on futons on the living room floor and awoke refreshed to the sounds of the birds in the trees out the living room window. Deven headed off to work on the train and we packed our bags and hailed a taxi for the airport. We said a fond farewell to Kajal and wished her all the best in the coming weeks. We told her we are looking forward to hearing the news of the arrival of their baby and reminded her to be sure to get a birth certificate as soon as the baby arrives. Things are all computerized in the hospitals now, but who knows what things will be like sixty years from now when it's time for the little Pabaru to collect a pension.