16-Jul-2006

Mumbai Rains


I love the rainy season in general and I love staying at home and watching the rains from a vantage point near the window. I love watching the sea when it rains. I love eating hot food when it rains. In short, the only activity, which I dislike when it rains, is going to work. Apart from having to get wet when wearing nice clothes, it also means spending the day cooped up in a soulless cubicle corner, oblivious to the weather outside. Luckily being in Chennai means very few opportunities for such regrets, given the sparse amount of rain we get most years. Fortunately my visit to Mumbai timed nicely with a spectacular cloudburst and I got to enjoy the whole range of rainy season activities.
The initial annoyance of getting out of the airport was forgotten once I hit the roads. I had spent twenty happy minutes in the lounge reading, quite appropriately, ‘Chasing the monsoon’. My friend, whom I had convinced to pick me up before we headed for lunch, had meanwhile been struggling to park his car. In the end he just parked his car in the middle of the still traffic and waited for me to hop on board.

Both of us agreed that it would be a perfect waste of completely good rains to sit in a closed restaurant. Being a true born Mumbaite my friend knew a not-so-popular place close to Band Stand where one could order cheap coffee and watch the sea.

Café S was a plain brick building with one wall lined up with windows facing the sea. The windows had no bars and were covered with transparent sliding panels that could be opened fully to get a good view of the sea. There were just a handful of people and we could choose from one of the many empty plastic tables by the window. My friend kept warning me that he had not been to this place in years and he was not too sure about the quality of food or service. I was too thrilled about finding a normal looking building in Mumbai that faced the sea and did not charge the moon and ignored minor concerns like this.

We sat at a slightly wet table. The windows had been closed on account of the rain. After positioning myself comfortably with my feet against the wall, I opened the window just enough to be able to see the sea without getting wet. A waiter came running immediately and chided me for getting the tables wet. He pointed out that he would have to wipe the table non stop if I kept the window open. I tried convincing him that he could just wipe in the end when we left and finally compromised by closing the windows just a bit more. Satisfied he went back to his task of chiding other erring patrons. The rest of our stay I noticed he pretty much continued to jump up and close the windows at the slightest sign of rains. Interestingly enough when people wanted ashtrays, he just asked them to use the floor. Clearly, he was in charge of cleaning only the tables.

The restaurant also did not believe in taking down orders in spite of its obvious surfeit of labour. One had to go to a counter to order the food and my friend had been doing all the hard work thus far. I guiltily took on the job and found the payment counter empty. The five waiters were spread about, twiddling their thumbs and informed me that I would have to wait while the counter guy came back from lunch. I was astounded by this perfect division of labour and the complete inability of anyone else to take down an order. Luckily the youngest waiter (and clearly the only one with some enthusiasm left to do the job) took down my order. I came back holding the receipt in my hands and my friend pointed out that I had to give the receipt to the guys at the food counter two feet away from the payment counter. All of them had been watching me walk away and had not bothered to ask me for the counterfoil nor had they bothered to get started on the food I had ordered. The mystery of why this café was not so popular was slowly beginning to get solved.

While I was waiting I looked around and realised the décor comprised photos of Brad Pitt and Elvis Presley. It suddenly struck me that perhaps all the waiters in the restaurant were just actors bidding their time. I began to look at them afresh with more empathy – strangers all stuck in jobs they may not have particularly liked.

After nearly three hours of staring at the horizon and watching the sea reflect the grey skies, we realised the place was beginning to get a bit crowded. Bombay’s usual crowd was taking over this haunt too and it was time to leave.

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