Marie loved Laburnum Road.
If the bus ride from Colaba along scenic Marine Drive on an idle Monday morning (while everyone else was rushing to work, heh heh) wasn’t it, or the delicious mutton kheema golata at the Cafe New York, it was most definitely this sign:
This is a Silent Zone: Do Not Use Horn.
After four months in and around the chaos of Indian cities, Marie was actually shocked at hearing nary a honk, whistle or squeal on the roads. Why? Because that’s where Mani Bhavan is – Mahatma Gandhi’s digs in Mumbai.
You’d be surprised: this is a house of great historical importance, the residence of perhaps the most influential man in Indian history, and there was no Indian in sight. I dunno if it’s because it was a weekday or something, but I was the only Indian guy amongst many foreigners who dropped in. And of all the Indians in the world, it was me, Gandhi-hater.
I have another confession to make. I’ve always thought of the Legend of Mahatma Gandhi as a little overrated. Partly because we Indians always tend to paint our glorious history in gold and pearl and opal. Partly because I used to think it was cool to have a differing viewpoint, if only to shock and make me stand out. Partly because, a lot of his actions and principles seemed to be those of any other politician with a vision. A grand vision, and a radical Modus Operandi, but a politician nonetheless. Plus, he came across (to me) as a very self-centred, self-righteous man who was too taken with what he’d started. Some other time, I would love to explain why I think thus, but I am afraid I will a) bore you to death, or b) get beaten to death.
Inside Mani Bhavan, I had to reconsider my judgement of the man. Aside from the fading, mildewy memories of what I’d learned about Mr G. at school, I realized I knew next to nothing about all that he’d done. It was a simple old house, with old photographs and daguerreotypes on the walls, with little footnotes and such. More informative than those, or the glowing tributes made by schoolkids all over the country, were the miniature tableaux on the second floor. Little boxes with figurines inside, depicting the significant stages in Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi’s life. It was – for the lack of a better word – enlightening.
Yes, I have read “The Story of My Experiments With Truth” (both in English and Malayalam), but my knowledge was very vague, on the historical outset. This quiet place brought it all together – the story of a simple man who, against all insurmountable odds, forged forth a path for his countrymen. The path to liberty.
Respect, Mr. G.
I suggest every Indian visit Mani Bhavan. It’s free, y’know.
That was all we could do, on our third day in Mumbai. Fun Fact People Never Tell You #1: The Prince of Wales Museum, Colaba is closed on Mondays. A shame, really. The building was magnificent! And from what the brochures told us about it, Rs. 300 (ouch, yes) must’ve been well worth it. Fun Fact People Never Tell You #2: the Rs. 300 entry fee I mentioned is for foreigners only. In fact, this is the case in every heritage monument in India. For Indians? A mere Rs. 10. So if you haven’t seen the heritage sites within a hundred miles of your neighborhood, it’s a shame indeed.
The least we could do before heading out of the city, was try out stuff to eat. One dish has always intrigued me: the bheja fry. Why is it called so? It literally translates to “Brain Fry”, and it was written just like that on the menu. Of course we tried it! Is it really the brain of some unfortunate animal?
Lovers of French cuisine, do try Le Pain Quotidien, Colaba. Marie says it looks just like a typical boulangerie in Paris, with the exception of the wine cabinet, and boy did she love that addition! The Special of the Day was the delightful Mango tarte, that set us back by 285 rupees. Budget tourists, you have been warned. The croissants are reasonably priced, but stay away from the specials.
Next stop, Udaipur. It was lucky for us, that we got two seats at the eleventh hour. Not so lucky, were the four dozen other people who decided they’d take the bus anyway. I mean, imagine a bus designed for 40 or so passengers, and imagine a little more than twice that number packed in. We were a can of sardines on wheels. Oh yea, it was fun. I begrudged every breath of air, to the seven other guys whose faces were two inches away from mine. For the whole 18 hours.
At least it made good copy. Marie clicked away, and so did two Italian snowboarder dudes across the aisle. “Amazing,” said one, fiddling with his SLR, “I’ve never seen anything like it. Two years in Bangalore, and I thought I’d seen everything. Man!”
“Ah, Bangalore,” said I, glad that there was someone I had a remote connection with, “do you work there?”
“No,” said he, “I’m a student.”
Turns out, he was a student at the The Indian Institute of Journalism, and yes, he knew Alexina Correya, an ex-colleague in my now-ex-company. “Wow,” said Mattia, “small world.”
Small world, indeed. Les Trois Voyageurs just turned Les Cinq. :)
Coming Up Next (and hopefully, soon): The Charms of Udaipur.
Images Courtesy: loulouttonerie