The first thing I noticed about Bombay, on that first day, was the smell of the different air. I could smell it before I saw or heard anything of India, even as I walked along the umbilical corridor that connected the plane to the airport. I was excited and delighted by it, in that First Bombay minute, escaped from prison and new to the wide world, but I didn’t and couldn’t recognise it. I know now that it’s the sweet, sweating smell of hope, which is the opposite of hate; and it’s the sour, stifled smell of greed, which is the opposite of love. It’s the smell of gods, demons, empires, and civilisations in resurrection and decay. It’s the blue skin-smell of the sea, no matter where you are in the Island City, and the blood-metal smell of machines. It smells of the stir and sleep and waste of sixty million animals, more than half of them humans and rats. It smells of heartbreak, and the struggle to live, and of the crucial failures and loves that produce our courage. It smells of ten thousand restaurants, five thousand temples, shrines, churches, and mosques, and of a hundred bazaars devoted exclusively to perfumes, spices, incense, and freshly cut flowers. Karla once called it the worst good smell in the world, and she was right, of course, in that way she had of being right about things. But whenever I return to Bombay, now, it’s my first sense of the city-that smell, above all things-that welcomes me and tells me I’ve come home.*
- The above is true.
- Some of the best and closest friends live there and it’s as good as a second home. Even a loss in touch doesn’t dampen the enthusiasm or the chemistry. The now mandatory trip is totally worth it.
- People show their wealth. Be it their dress sense, the way they walk and talk, what they do, what they don’t do, they sure show a lot of wealth. And in a very nice aesthetic non-showoff-y way. And I believe it is a good thing. That is something the city of Madras is not so great in. There are loads and loads of wealthy people in Madras but they all like to be locked up somewhere.
- And they sure know how to dress. And that is a something I would quite love in anyone.
- How much ever wealth you might possess, Rs 250-450 for a movie ticket is not justified. Sathyam, I love you (whether this love has lifetime guarantee depends entirely on you).
- Crazy couples still make out inside auto rickshaws. Any time of the day.
- They know how to build malls. The malls in Bombay kick the ass of the ones I’ve been to in NJ or Raleigh. And what are we in Madras stuck with? Spencers and City Center? Have to visit that new Ampa Skywalk and see if anything has changed!
- The kids that came up to between my knees and hips in 1999 go to college now. They talk about visiting Hard Rock Cafe, hookah and sex. And I tell people I am only 24? Bah!
- Madras-avdhu, Bangalore-avdhu. Bombay is Bombay.
*That’s from Shantaram – Gregory David Roberts.