I write in restaurants, I write in cafes, I write by the water, I write listening to Rock. I can’t write in silence. I need noise. I need buzz. I need talk. I need chatter. I need Cappuccinos. I need lentil soup. I need boiled eggs.
Bombay’s my muse, and its eateries inspire me — I seek to write in a colloquial dialect — Bombayspeak. And no place like an eatery to get the required raw material — teenagers chattering, work colleagues gossiping, families celebrating, lovers squabbling. We are not a quiet people, private conversations are public domain.
I’m that perennial fly on the wall. A voyeur extraordinaire. And our restaurants, with their conversations, character and colour, feed my brain and satiate my hunger, in equal measure. Le Pain Quotidien at Apollo Bunder tops my list — its large European style layout, long community tables, magical light, teak wood decor and salmon salads engenders creativity.
In contrast, Chinese Palace, in the Airconditioned Market in Tardeo is Indian Chinese in its approach to design. And inspirational, from another perspective — people watching. The city’s oldest Chinese restaurant is a culinary magnet for two of our most fascinating communities — the Parsis and Bohris — watching them tuck into American Chopsuey with as much aplomb as they would a Mutton Biryani/Mutton Dhansak, in two completely varying dialects of Gujarati is a treat. Huge, joyful, joint families, out for a “jamwano chalo ji” evening, delights all my senses.
And my suburban favourite — Great Punjab, Bandra, gives you that rare home-cooked meal. Situated at the fork of Linking Road, and SV Road, I head there for my weekly dose of salesmen and call centre employee speak.
In sheer contrast to the vibrancy of our city’s madness, I like the wistfulness of Varanasi. Not a laid back space like Goa, it does combine rabid religion and somnolent spirituality. In truth, the Ganges is at its filthiest here. But boy does it have atmosphere. 110 ghats, the river a mute but energetic spectator to the rites of passage. The Burning Ghats, the Maha Aartis, floating dead bodies, Bhajans merging into Bollywood tunes, wandering pilgrims. Yes, it is a place of repose. If 21st century Moksha has to be attained, this is the place.
And then there’s Istanbul. That’s the city I go to if I’m high, low, inspired, uninspired, batteries drained or batteries charged. It doesn’t have Paris’s artistry, New York’s energy, London’s culture, or Spain’s flair. But it combines glamour with grunge, in a way that us Indians will truly understand.
The Bosphorus, carving its path between Europe and Asia, provides a sight that no tourist attraction like the Eiffel Tower or Pyramids can offer. Istanbul is modern history at its most effervescent, Islam at its most moderate, and tourism at it most vibrant. Istanbul just is.