Angelina Jolie and I were having chai in a Bandra eatery this morning. (No not Brad Pitt’s wife, my Argentinian friend, Andrea — she just looks just like the pouty Hollywood star).
Bandra, on Sunday mornings could easily be mistaken for La Ramblas in Barcelona, as foreigners of every creed and colour freely wander the streets, carrying packets of take-away croissants and cappuccinos.
Andrea is an Indophile, actually a Mumbaiphile. An obsessive trekker, she made Bombay her home seven years ago. She knows Hindi, eats spicy Mughlai food, shuns Mineral water — “Aquaguard paani chalega”, rides the train, has mostly desi friends, avoids foreign embassy events and learns the sitar. She works in a Dharavi-based NGO. But this morning, her sunny South American face looked grave as she threw the bombshell — “I’m going back to Buenos Aires”.
“Okay…going on a vacation ?,” I asked, optimistically. “No Raool, I will not be returning. My time here is up.” Andrea looked sadly out of the window — “For an adventurer like me, Mumbai was the perfect mix — friendly, traditional without being orthodox, modern without being clinical, cosmopolitan, international, quirky in a good way, having plenty of heritage, lots of history, a decent nightlife, and offering a variety of cuisines. Mumbai had a buzz like no other city, including New York. It was electric. And women — especially foreign women like me, felt safe in a foreign country. I came here on a holiday and it ended up becoming my home.”
“And now?” I probed, scared of Andrea’s answer. “Mumbai’s personality has transformed. She’s gone from feminine to masculine, from gentle to aggressive. An essentially positive vibe has turned negative.”
Neither of us wanted to broach the topic of the Spanish woman who was raped in Perry Cross Road. “Rahool, rape is the worst thing to happen to a woman. But to be violated in a foreign country, somehow makes it more traumatic. And lonelier.
But in the new Mumbai, the poor woman will never get justice. You and I both know that. The cops have bungled with the accused, repeatedly let him out of jail. And they fondly refer to him as, “The charsi who climbs pipes. A month ago they rounded up 200 innocent guests at a night club. Your law seems more intent on harassing rave party goers than punishing rapists.”
“So are you scared, Andrea?” “No Raool, not scared, disillusioned by what you people are allowing to happen to your magical city.” Andrea, my nomadic Argentinian friend finished her chai and left her home of seven years. And there’s not a thing I could do to stop her.
Rahul da Cunha is an adman, theatre director/playwright, photographer and traveller. Reach him at rahuldacunha62 @gmail.com
The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper.