My son walks to his school. Nice, but as a school commute, not a patch on the run up and down Malabar Hill that I used to do, years ago. Great stands of bushes and trees on either side of the path. Little hideaway under one bush which we stocked with water and biscuits, from where we threw pebbles on tin roofs below causing mirth (in us) and rage (under the roofs). July rains burbling down the hillside. Young couple necking under a bush, whom we teased for days. Then he told us, genial to a fault: OK, you're having fun, but when you're thirty like us and looking for some quiet, it won't be such fun any more.
We snorted. Who would ever hit thirty? Have a girlfriend?
Been there, done that, walked up recently.
We have liberalized and we're licking poverty, but the lower reaches of this sumptuous slope are lined with shacks and littered with 21st Century trash. Tin roofs still there, but the mud path to our bushy hideaway is so garbage-strewn filthy that I don't feel up to negotiating it. Age catching up? Or age sanitizing my memory?
The last stretch is a steep 30 steps, and the excitement mounts just as it used to back then. For home, then, was right across the street.
Yep, wait for a break in the Sunday Hanging Gardens-to-Kemp's Corner traffic, dart across to the little guard's hut; look down that long familiar Municipal Waterworks driveway and memories of chest-high days float up. There's the balcony from where I'd fling bananas into the Parsi Panchayat compound, to avoid eating them. Got caught when my uncle, breakfasting downstairs, looked up idly just as a skinned banana skidded across the blue sky. There's the little niche where I particularly liked hiding when Raju Gulgule was "it" at hide-and-seek, because I knew I could beat him in the pounding race to the den. There's the spot right above the den where I'd sometimes climb ...
... but hey, it isn't there! Wait a minute, waaait a minute, something's missing in this driveway view.
For several seconds on this Sunday, I'm speechless, actually physically unable to make a sound. We're talking here about one of Bombay's original landmarks, the Tower Bungalow that was once at the end of the driveway, part of this Municipal Waterworks complex. We lived right below and beside it. So for me, the tower was more than a landmark; it was the comforting familiarity of home, peeping above the trees on the hill as the 123 double-decker swayed along Marine Drive. The highest point in the area for years, it housed one of the sirens that blared out 9am to the city.
No more siren, no more double-decker 123, OK. But no more tower? "Torn down two, three years ago," mumbles the cop on duty. Why?
More images float past. Buddies Jamshed and Sohrab lived in the Tower. We rigged up a toy telephone between their bedroom and ours. Struggled to use it, then emerged on the balcony -- the banana balcony -- and told them in their window, irony lost on us all, that it wasn't working. Their cook, Theresa, had a husband who would turn up drunk every evening, brandish a knife and bellow below the tower: "Therese! No phood phor me!" Until bro, brave at 15, walked over and said, "Give me the knife." Husband handed it over, returned to bellowing.
Think I hear him still. For here I stand on a Bombay Sunday, sorrowing for, of all things, a tower. Age must be catching up.