Oh, Bombay! The spicy smell of chiken tikka from your roadside stalls, the hustle and honks of rickshaws on your streets, the towering posters of scantily clad actresses and dreamy actors slung on your buildings. Seriously, you have a never-ending supply of great experiences — that I never have enjoyed.You see, I have been traveling to India ever since I was a young baby, but I have never been able to go out without a parent or a driver. One can probably imagine how one-dimensional it gets: see family, eat food, nap, repeat.
Yet, my experience in Bombay in Summer 2005 was surprisingly different and one I will never forgot.After the usual 20+ plane ride and a stopover in Frankfurt, Germany, we finally arrived at the humid, chaotic airport in Bombay. My nose crinkled at the familiar smell of hot air and sweat. Through the sea of black-haired-brown-skinned people, I saw my grandparents waiting.
As they saw us, my grandparents approached us and gave me a large hug. Their soft, brown eyes sized up my lanky figure, and then my grandpa, Dadaji, squeezed my cheek. ‘Arjun beta, you are finally taller than me! Of course, your Ajji was always behind you in height.’ I laughed but felt that usual sense of monotony.
My grandfather had said the same remark to me and squeezed the same cheek every time I had come to India. I guess things were not shaping up to be any different — For the next few weeks , I stayed in my grandparents small flat in Jayvijay. I played the usual games of Carrom with Dadaji, stuffed myself with the endless amounts of my grandmother’s cooking (rotis, dosas, dhal), and watched reruns of Spongebob Squarepants in Hindi.
Of course, this cycle was also punctuated with the required visits to family members, some of whom I had never even heard of. I was beginning to sigh; the trip was turning out to be just like I had predicted.And then, about two weeks in, my mom gave me news that my best friend Ram, who lived in Chennai, was finally able to visit us. Ram had moved away to India in 2002, and all our prior attempts to meet in India had been fruitless.
But that was not the only thing! My other best friend Rohan, who I knew was taking a trip around the Northern India, was able to stop over in Bombay too. It would be a huge understatement to say that I was excited.When the two of them finally arrived, my trip exploded. It was just the four of us: Ram, Rohan, my brother Sameer, and myself.
Since we were finally ‘mature’ enough, my mom let us go out and explore Bombay by ourselves. We experienced the city how it truly should be seen. We played cricket in abandoned alleyways, we sucked tangy juice out of mangoes, and we laughed at the Indian ads with broken English.
(i.e. Truck signs that read ‘HORN OK PLEASE’, shops that had ‘SUPREM XEROX’, or restaurants with ‘hot, seizleing food’). We ate Indian Chinese at posh restaurants and ate crunchy dosas on the road.
Our wallets were considerably lighter after buying multiple posters of Aishwarya Rai and Mallika Sherawat, cheap sandals from Bata, and plain shirts that had the ‘Abercrombie’ logo glued on. Our trip culminated with a road trip to Kashid, a secluded resort that had a clean beach and endless food.The trip was so special because it was just the four of us. No parents, no restrictions, no boundaries. I had never truly experienced Bombay for its full worth, and I finally was able to do it with my best friends. Now, anybody up for New Delhi?
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