It’s that time of year when Mumbai tries on the winter, like a student on a budget trying on an oversized sweater at an export surplus sale. I’m not complaining. The temperature outside isn’t nearly as cold as the 2020-shaped block of ice in our hearts. But it’s cool enough to bring out the shawls and the blankets to gently bait the Delhi crew, who’ve relentlessly been posting wintry updates that range from picnics at Sunder Nursery to gajar ka halwa from legendary halwais.
There’s something about this season that makes me seek out the old-world charms of the southern end of the city. With trips around town being curtailed, the experience is especially fulfilling. That’s if you’re able to ignore the apocalyptic construction activity that’s blocking the view to the city’s greatest pride – its ocean front. Stay strong and speak up, thou much tormented spirit of the ordinary Mumbaikar.
On a recent drive into Colaba, I treated myself to a twin art escape, all the more exciting for it being a truant Tuesday. Sameer Kulavoor’s You Are all Caught Up at the Tarq gallery in Apollo Bunder was worth the advance booking – here’s an artist whose colourful canvases, in the grand tradition of unfettered art, neither wear masks nor use sanitiser. Having had my fill of the poetry and protest of his pandemic-inspired – necessitated? – art, I lost myself in Chirodeep Chaudhuri’s Seeing Time: Public Clocks of Bombay at Project 88 gallery. From a 1700s clock in the naval dockyard, to a late 19th century still ticking in the first quadrangle of my alma mater, St. Xavier’s College, the black-and-white photo exhibition was part history lesson, part time travel. Long live art galleries and the many freedoms they foster.
Release the day
The seasonal allergy that gets me every year is sloth. That dappled light that hits your face on your morning walk is where it all begins. The chorus in your head starts to sing a seductive song – one that tempts you to abandon work projects and write a poem instead. But if writing is what you do for a living, then the song tweaks its lyrics, luring you into any activity other than writing. So I find myself doing improbable things like cleaning the cupboard, deleting thousands of phone pics or buying a new pair of sunglasses, instead of seizing the work day. It’s only after my afternoon nap that the moral police come storming in, placing all leisurely thoughts under arrest.
The days are shorter still when you’re in the zone that Mark Twain describes: “Good friends, good books, and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life.” The cult of productivity and the busyness syndrome peaked along with Covid in 2020. As we face another uncertain year, I’m hoping we’ve learnt to adapt better to inclement conditions. For instance, if you gulped down Fabulous Lives of Bollywood Wives in one ill-fated night, you now have the time for introspection and atonement. I prescribe reruns of the India cricket team’s 36 all-out performance in Adelaide. It’s just the thing to shock the debutantes and cavaliers out of your system in one horrid purge.
The pao of resolutions
These are the days of warm buttered pao – I swear by A1 Bakery on Hill Road – and hot toddys at any of the swank bistros in BKC. But it’s the homemade payas and haleems that go best with the season. Note to self: buy a copy of Desi Delicacies: Food Writing from Muslim South Asia edited by Claire Chambers.
This is usually the time of year for resolutions, broken as easily as the empty kulhads at a Kolkata tea stall. Of the many revelations of the last year, the pointlessness of grand plans has been most stark. No doubt, people will better their personal marathon records and get closer to paying off loans this year, too, but curled up in bed with a warm laptop clacketing away in the lamplight, all I can honestly resolve to do is remember to shut the windows to keep an intruding mouse away. Next, I solemnly pledge to send belated birthday messages, get my sole pair of grimy sneakers cleaned and make some hard decisions about the three oranges shrivelling up in the fridge. Half-written manuscripts and unfinished relationships can wait.
From HT Brunch, January 3, 2021
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