The Fool Among Darlings: Bianchi in Bombay
The flight to Bombay was on a Tuesday. I had cleverly booked it just after my doctor’s appointment. It makes every moment interesting if you have a tightly packed schedule before a flight. My Ola driver gave me some advice about never booking a shared ride to the airport as I clinched my teeth looking at the two other passengers already seated in his car. I had made no plans for my week in Bombay. I knew I had two things to do. Ride a bike everyday and meet as many friends as I could. Bombay was home to a lot of lovely people whom i had befriended over the years.
I landed and called up Myra. I needed a place to sleep at night. She was very welcoming at her aunt’s place. We had a light dinner, met Lamba and called it a night. Next morning, I woke up at 530am and left for Zubair’s shack. He had promised a Bianchi touring bike for the week. It was pouring when I got there. It was great to see Zubair after such a long haul. I asked him about the rides I could probably go to this week. He told me to start with the Marine Drive spin, a must-do for anyone new to the city. It was pouring throughout the day, but surprisingly I was not ticked off by the constant showers. Halfway through my flight here, one of the air hostesses made an announcement about a delayed landing due to rain in Bombay, and I remember kicking the seat in front of mine, much to the surprise of the person sitting next to me. Thankfully the woman in front of me was fast asleep. Anyway, the rains. I realised that I hadn’t accounted for the weather forecasts for the week. Accuweather showed me the same artwork for the next nine days. The heavens had surely fallen, or so it seemed.
My response to the rain was very different. I actually loved every bit of the rain falling on my shoulders. It made riding difficult, what with the strong head winds and wet glasses, but I couldn’t ask for any other set up.
I zoomed past Haaji Ali and saw the on-set of couples making out behind colourful umbrellas. I had a good laugh picturing the same scene on the streets of Delhi.
I packed up my bags and headed out to Malad, to visit the famous Haazri; Arjun, Sappy and Dhruv’s latest endeavour to sell chai. They were equally shocked and happy to see me casually walk into their shop, asking for a cuppa and a samosa. The rest of the day was spent in the company of Doscos.
Day 3. The previous night I had done some research and parried my way through Google maps. I found a green patch in the middle of the city, marked as Yeeor Hills. Without a further thought, I decided to go have a look at these semi-ghat village settlements. I climbed onto the Eastern Express Highway, one that took me towards Thane. I was miles out of Bombay central. The road leading to the hills was almost as beautiful as the roads inside hill territory. The initial climb reminded me of the gut wrenching roads on the Bombay-Goa inroads.
The lush green ghats and the occasional water streams made this one of my most scenic rides ever! I couldn’t take in the beauty of Yeeor in one go so I promised myself to come back here once before I left.
On the way back I felt a strong surge of pressure between my legs. It was that feeling again. The one I dread the most on any bike ride. There was no shying away from reality anymore. It was time to take a dump. I realised I didn’t have any tissues so frantically started looking out for cars with tissues behind the back seat. They were all zooming past me at very high speeds. I managed to catch up with one, and the man handed over the entire tissue box with no fuss whatsoever. Four minutes later, the crisis had been averted and I trudged back home very pleased with my first attempt at a mid-ride ‘freedom-dump’.
After yesterday’s hectic ride, I wanted to give my legs a rest and go for a recovery spin. My bike was parked in Lokhandwala and I was sprawled on the floor in Santa Cruz. It amazes me how autos are always available in Bombay, no matter where you are or what the time is. This particular autowallah caught my attention for the Hindi hip-hop he was booming at 530 in the morning seemed the perfect remedy for the lack of proper sleep. I decided to go to Fort for a breakfast ride to Brittania, an Iranian cafe. By the time I got to Colaba I was exhausted and in desperate need of refuelling. What had supposed to be an easy recovery ride had really been a cross city expedition. I rode past Leopold’s and instantly Lin Baba’s name popped up in my head. Brittania could wait, I had to pay my respects to the gang -Lin, Karla, Didier and basically everyone else. Sausages, scrabled eggs and nimbu paani set me back by 400 bucks- a very expensive breakfast for my standards- but I had no qualms. I could almost picture Didier walking around with a drink in his hand, trying to harass the people sitting around him. It really was surreal, even if it was all in my head!
Having cycled on all types of roads in Bombay I would definitely like to believe that this city is in urgent need of city planners to get their shit together, really. There are four types of road in the city. Tar, Cobbled, Cemented and Pot Holed. The pot holed is basically screwed up tar roads but it deserves a category of its own. I had a good time riding on the cobbled around Bandra and Santa Cruz the last time I was here, but the rain had completely destroyed every bit of smooth patch of road. Zubair had warned me of the pot holes but I had paid no heed to his advice and tried to be a daredevil on two wheels. I had a few close saves, and very nearly killed a woman. I had to push her back into the bus she stepped out of otherwise I would have been the first cyclist to have had killed someone on a cycle. Oh the irony! It only hit me two hours after the incident that I had got very very lucky there, and I should be way more careful in this city than I was back home in Delhi. There was no space to lounge on the road, and any distraction would see my bottoms on the floor.
By day 4, the fatigue was really getting to me, and exploring the city in the evenings didn’t feel important anymore. On my way back in the mornings i used to think a hot cup of tea, Bowie in the background and Stephen Fry’s The Fry Chronicles. This seemed to be the pattern for the rest of my stay in the city.
I had shifted to Arjun’s flat and made myself very comfortable. There were 5 people paying rent but 7 or 8 would always be found passed out in parts of the house, me being one of them. The house and its people were very welcoming and it seemed like a scene out of The Spanish Apartment.
Friday morning I forced myself to plan out a proper recovery ride. So I picked a random point on the map. I was on my way to Vihar Lake, south of the Sanjay Gandhi National Park. It was a lovely ride, specially the area around Aarey Colony. A long narrow road with forest cover on either side and not a single soul in sight. It was the perfect set up!
planned on revisiting Yeeor once before I left and told my cousin about my plans. He wanted to ride with me and readily agreed to come along. He took me from a nicer route I had taken earlier and the revisit was definitely worth it! It was raining throughout and we both were drenched. But that didn’t stop us from pacing on the Eastern Express and then struggling up the Yeeor climb.
My last day in Bombay. I had a few things to take care of before I left but I decided to squeeze in a short ride anyway. This time i was headed westward, to Madh Island. Somewhere near Malad I was graced with a puncture. My spare was ruined from Sunday’s ride and I needed a puncturewallah to help me out. The only guy around was going to open shop at 9, and I had a half hour to burn in the middle of a crowded market. I saw a man get a shave on the footpath across the road, his legs tucked very intimately between the barber’s legs. For a while I watched from a distance, as people sat down, got a quick shave and walked away. It felt like they did this every day. The way they placed their legs seemed rehearsed and conversations with the barber about family and work very natural. Finally I managed to get in line and get a shave. It was a fine experience, and I am now very fond of UMT (Under the Mango Tree) shaves.
Madh Island was again worth every drop of sweat I had sacrificed to get there. I make it sound like a scene
out of The Gladiator, but trust me, it was way more serious than the tale of a man clad in bronze killing other men in a packed arena. I was on the lookout for Aksa Beach, but a fellow cyclist I bumped into, Raghu, felt otherwise. He said it was dirty and crowded and he offered to take me to a nicer beach. I was very grateful to him for taking me around, for he had a flight to catch in a few hours. On my way back I stopped at Haazri and joined the boys for lunch. I returned the bike to Zubair in the evening. The last few pedals from Mehboob Studio to his shack felt very reluctant. I did not feel like returning this bike at all. In fact, I was in no mood to go back home either. I always feel great when I experience such a feeling of attachment towards a bike or to a city. To find happiness in sadness is truly a beautiful feeling. This wasn’t the first time it was happening and definitely not the last time it would happen. My recce of this city was complete and it was time to go home.