The Saturday morning is fulfilling its promise of non-stop reading the newspaper without any thought of getting ready and going to office. While I find myself lost between the colorful pages, the phone ring brings me back from the world of newsprint. I answer without looking at the screen to see who the caller is. “Ready for an adventure?” asks the caller. It is Mihir on the other side. “What?” I am startled by this sudden inquiry from a person for whom the only real adventure lies in gulping pitchers of beer down in as less time as possible and it’s still too early to go to a pub! In that state of bafflement, I still ask what kind of adventure he is referring though I am sure about the answer. But it turns out to be a different one. He wants me to accompany him to City Market. Now for those who think that going to a market does not qualify as an adventure, it will be good to know that in the world where we do most of the shopping online, visiting small and crowded shops in narrow alleys of a bustling market and bargaining about everything gives you some sense of adventure. I have been hoping to visit the market for a long time and grab the opportunity at first go.
Along with the obvious cost-advantage, these markets also offer the charm of old world: criss-crossing of streets, frantic negotiating of vendors and buyers, an occasional roadblock by a cow or a hand-cart, people rushing like ants and delight of some tasty street food. Our shopping list includes dry fruits, books, spices and thermocol balls (you heard it right, the tiny balls with which a bean bag is stuffed). Not surprisingly, the market has designated streets for different items: there is a street for spices, for dry fruits, for books, for sarees, for clothes and on and on. The trouble is that we do not know the names of these streets or their locations. We just decide to roam around and find our way somehow. We start with the dry fruits as the quantity is less and it also empties the wallet faster. We just need to unburden, don’t we?
The spices market is really the extension of the street where we find the dry fruits. You cannot miss it as the smell of the Indian spices is unmistakable. That moment you realize what really drew Vasco de Gama to India five centuries back: it was not the temptation of gold; it was the smell of the famed Indian spices over the oceanic air. The closure of the spice route must have been crisis for the Europeans from which they had to bail themselves out if they wanted to add spice to their lives. For a few moments I breathed more pepper, chilly and turmeric than oxygen! Mihir comes up with this patentable idea of inventing cameras which can capture images as well as smell. Very imaginative but I hope it does not happen else people will never get out of their couch in their air-conditioned rooms once they capture the smell.
Cubbonpet delights us beyond limit. We want a coffee/tea break and there is no better place than the one we have just hit. Curiously named Indian Coffee Bar, the place serves exquisite South Indian filtered coffee (as per Mihir’s testimony as I do not drink coffee). Mihir is ecstatic, again, for the idea of combining a bar and café together which can serve finely brewed beer and filtered coffee, both his favorite drinks. We also buy some coffee powder from the opposite shop and observe the big machine eating the coffee beans and grinding it to powder form.
While roaming around, we find the shop which sells thermocol balls. The shop is full of the little things for decoration and parties. From every corner, the glossy and funky specimens are dangling above your head. We buy two big packets, each around 3 feet high. The tiny ultra-white balls shine through the thin transparent plastic cover. As we head for the Avenue Street (the book market), someone pokes a hole in one of the plastic covers. Mihir goes back to the shop to get the cellotape while I wait outside when the other plastic bag also decides to give company to its cousin. We somehow patch both the bags but the thin plastic remains a constant threat.
Avenue Street is the place to buy the books for schools/colleges. Mihir has a long list of Computer Engineering books to buy so I wait outside the shop with the bags of thermocol balls. The fun begins now. Within seconds the bright thermocol balls seduce the onlookers. They become the object of their curiosity. Everybody wants to know why I have bought two full bags. A few of them want to know the price. A fellow - obviously inspired by the Indian film industry – assumes that the plastic balls are going to be used in a wedding scene in some movie. He wants to know the movie name. I unsuccessfully look for a place I can hide behind to fend off the questions. Luckily Mihir does not take too long and I survive the onslaught of the questioning brigade.
It takes a while to reach to the place where we have parked the bike from the Avenue Street. Chikpet, Balepet, Nagrathpet, Tharaupet and many more streets are on the way. On every corner or cross-road, I try to put the image in my memory so that I can call upon these images when I need to visit it again, though I am quite sure I will not remember it; not for my memory will abandon me but because what I see embodies beautiful chaos and there is no fix pattern to chaos which you can recollect. As a pillion rider, my duty is to hold those two bags containing thermocol balls on my lap, one on each side. They completely shield me from both the sides so much that only my back is visible. If someone sees Mihir driving from front, she will imagine that he is propelled by two white cylindrical engines on the back of the bike. I have more romantic version though. Remember that poster of a popular Bollywood movie, in which that lady with a soft voice, Karishma Kapoor, and ever-smiling Madhuri Dikshit are in arms of SRK on each side. I, in fact, have fairer beauties on my lap – the Karishmas and Madhuris of the world are pale in comparison to those white balls. And the plastic covers give them a transparent skin. My mother once told us a story in which a beauty of a princess was described in terms of her transparent skin: when she drank water, one could see the water rushing down her throat. Such was her skin! This is by no means to suggest that I am SRK (!!!) but when a 3 arms length plastic bag full of mushy balls can be Mrs. Nene, nothing seems too far-fetched. And ultimately, dil to pagal hai! Enough of the silly fiction! Our SRK falls flat when the bike stops at Church Street on Brigade Road. Mihir wants to have coffee at recently moved Coffee House.
In a friendly gesture, I give one of my dashing girlfriends to him, for the time being, of course. Coffee house has changed the building, but still it feels the same as the old time. But my mind keeps nagging me that there is something really eerie about the place. It takes a while for me to figure out that it’s not as much about the Coffee House as the company we used to be with. Before career, family or ambition moved many friends to different cities, we used to come here in a big gang. There were constant blabbing and fights and discussions. I can still hear the chatter as if it happened the day before. I am happy at least Mihir is there. What the place will resemble when there is no one to sip coffee there from that happy bunch of people who formed my world then? A cemetery…may be. A ruined palace…perhaps. Time brews us all. That’s the bitter truth.
Fortunately some people cannot allow you to be sad. Mihir is one of them. My cup of grief is empty before he finishes his. We head back for home. On the way the mouth of one of the bag is open and I am not aware of it. A scooter-rider points to that. Before my fair lady dismembers into white spray like a falling star, I manage to shut the mouth off. The bags reach to the house safely, and so do we. We stuff the bean bag. By virtue of carrying the bags, I earn the right to dump myself on the bean bag whenever I am in the house. I do not waste much time to use that privilege. There certainly is fun in being a lazy bum once in a while.