Friday, October 17, 2008

Water, Water, Everywhere......

Bhavika takes me somewhere for lunch, where I would not boldly go alone: the Cafe Madras, in South Mumbai. At ground level, it’s heaving, so we climb the narrow stairs to the mezzanine layer, ducking under the padded beams. It’s like tiptoeing into someone’s loft. I want to cast about, looking for boxes of Christmas decorations, but it’s 35 degrees out there, that’s no place for jolly robins and fat Santas. We slide along our plastic seats, filing ourselves out of harm’s way, industrial fans whistling round our ears.

Bhavika calls the waiter Bhaiya (older brother), but I don’t think they’re related, and anyway he looks about twelve. Ordering’s so slick, when you know what to ask for. We’re slick-with-knobs-on, in fact, because we don’t even use the menu. Some people love menus, like food pornography. Pas moi. I’ll have what you’re having, unless it’s a) duck or b) artichokes. Bhavika chooses. We have Mysore Sada Dosa, which comes folded onto stainless steel trays, with a crop of satellite dishes, brimming with spicy or coconut sauce. I sit on my left hand, so’s not to show Bhavika up in public, but no-one’s looking, which is as well, since my plate’s carnage within two bites. It’s delicious, substantial, but insubstantial. Then we have Onion Rawa Sada Dosa, which is even deliciouser – lacily crisp, more holes than pancake. Onion, green chillies and coriander seeds, glued together with batter: what could be nicer? We wash it down with tap water, which I don’t remember not to drink, until my stainless steel cup’s empty. I’ll let you know, later.

You like juice?” Bhavika asks, back on the street again. I’m so used to her in the classroom at Mankhurd, I keep expecting her to say, “Yes or no?” I do like juice, I say, but Monu won’t let me buy any from the street stalls. (“Dirty waters, no washes glass.” The Juice Gestapo.) Bhavika’s juice-stall of choice is a bit more credible than the usual orange crate with a lemon-squeezer, though. I stop understanding the menu, once it gets beyond pure single fruit, and put myself at Bhavika’s mercy - I just hope she’s not a fan of Lassi, that’s all. My good manners reach as far as, but do not include, fermented milk. Happily for us all, she orders a Zoom and a Boom. See, I said you have to know what you’re talking about. The juice-wallah kindly splits both, so we use up four glasses, for the sale of only two juices. I feel like offering to wash up for him. The Boom’s pale green and foaming, made with sweet lime, lemon and khus, which I’ve never heard of, as fragrant as guava. (Vetiver, I later discover, if you care, a relative of lemongrass. Educational as well as scrummy.) We’ve barely wiped off our froth moustaches, when Juice-Boy thrusts the Zooms into our hands. Pink and bubbly, sweet lime and lemon again, but with rose, this time. I thought Tropicana Pure Premium Sanguinello was cutting edge, juice-wise. I have much to learn. Sated, we head for the car.

Last night, at about nine in the evening, a little man arrives on our doorstep, to deliver our gym membership cards. You know, the ones which come included in the apartment lease, THOSE ones. How long is it since our arrival, I hear you wonder. Nine months, exactly. I could make – and have made – a whole new human being, in that time, yet they struggle to laminate two gym cards.... Indian efficiency at its shiniest, I feel. Today, I go for a swim, to celebrate.

It’s a decent twenty-five metre pool, a proper rectangle, I’m glad to see, not amoeba-shaped, like a poncey spa-pool. It’s open-air, as is the building site next door, unsurprisingly, but by the time the chlorine’s clouded up my contact lenses, what I can’t see, doesn’t bother me. A swimming-cap’s compulsory. Which sadist invented these? Getting it to go on and stay on, is more of a work-out, than flick-flacking up and down the pool for an hour. I’m supposing, rather defensively, that Indian heads are smaller than English ones, although curly hair does use up more room, I would have thought. I pop on my new goggles to complete a truly stunning ensemble. Small wonder that I waste no time at all, getting into the water. There’s only so much you can ask, of Lycra. Put your hands up, if you think you’re invisible, once you’re up to your neck in swimming-pool?... So do I.

At first, there’s only me and a pigeon, unless you count the assortment of pool attendants on hand. Whether they’re there to life-save, garden, or spectate, laughing, is anyone’s guess. I’m on my twenty-ninth lap, when it occurs to me that I’m in water. There seems little point, brushing my teeth in bottled water, and refusing ice in any drinks, and not eating salad, then going swimming. I’m assuming, here, that I’m not doing my best breast-stroke in 47,000 gallons of Bisleri but it ain’t necessarily so, as Porgi once said to Bess. I conclude, newly karmic, that it’s a done deal by this point, so there’s no point getting out now.

I’m on my thirty-sixth lap, heading for forty, when half the jeunesse dorée of Powai emerges on the balcony of the badminton hall, at the deep end. Except they’re not golden, they’re brown, obviously. Jeunesse bronzée, then. They’re still there, laughing and chatting, when I reach my target, so I have to stay in the pool, hiding, to do some more. I’m on forty-six, when they saunter off, twirling their bats, but there’s not only Mr Roland with OCD, in our house, so I notch up a half-century, before crawling out, hoping my legs don’t buckle under me, frightening the pigeon.

I linger longer in the shower, wallowing in the wateriness of it, compared with the spasmodic fizzing spout we still have at home. Then I hop about in the toilet, trying to get dressed without breaking one or both elbows. There’s something about communal changing-rooms that I can’t take to. The communal part, I guess. It takes forever, to thread my damp legs into my churidar, and I decide to wear something different, next time, something less taxing. Or, to bring the talc. Or alternatively, to dry my legs properly. I put on my sunglasses, to hide the attractive panda-weals left by my new blue goggles, and slope off home, forgetting to sign out. They’ll be looking for me, come ten o’clock tonight, when they want to close up and go home.

So, today, I have drunk tap water in a cafe, random juice from an anonymous street stall, and a swig of swimming-pool, by way of dessert. I can hardly wait for tomorrow.