Step 3 – The Noisy Mingling
Generally speaking, I’m not the greatest proponent or practitioner of social small-talk. Not only do I not see the point, but I am actually physically incapable of talking for so long about so little. Also, after the fact my jaw hurts from all that forced smiling. But, that is if I’ve to deal with normal people who would like to discus a)How they are closer to whoever is hosting said social event than me, b)How much money miscellaneous people in the room are making, all presented to me in a verbally annualised pre-tax gross income statement, c)My plans for getting a job, getting married or getting a car so that I can be socially relevant and then have a few extra topics of casual conversation involving complaining about said job, said marriage and parking the car. However, if I’m with anyone I consider part of my clan (and this is not limited to actual family members), I can small talk to glory. And the best part is they are capable of small-talking right back without ever once mentioning the term “commercially viable” in the conversation. Aah … the small pleasures.
The thing with my kind of small talk though is that since it isn’t “social”, most of the social norms for designated small-talk behaviour go out of the window. Gone are the polite whispers and the carefully measured laughs that only last exactly 2.463 seconds, for the optimal impact without seeming too eager (unless the gathering involves alcohol, of course). No, here you’re more likely to see a bunch of people, slightly removed from the crowd, having an animated conversation about the relevance of neon-hued latex-rubber leotards in the fantasy films of the 1980’s, at a decently high pitch.
This noisy mingling has three very important functions in the plan. Firstly it maintains your sanity, secondly it keeps all those gross-domestic-product-discussers at bay, and thirdly it gets you noticed and places you firmly at the scene of the crime … err, social event. And that’s exactly what happened at our Sunday wedding in question. We chatted with our cousins and were soon joined by further arriving members of our clan (in this case more cousins), and we continued to “discuss” the time away — yes the wedding ceremony was still ongoing, you didn’t think this whole matrimony thing was easy, did you? Our remaining time at the place was spent in a fruitless search for a rumoured tankard of lemonade that was somewhere on the premises, and then a traditional Mangalorean vegetarian meal served on broad banana leaves. As fate would have it I wasn’t born into a traditional Japanese family, so the animated discussions continued into the meal and well beyond.
Step 4 – The Silent Escape
Just when you thought it was over, there is more. By the afternoon the wedding ceremony was complete and the bride and groom were whisked away in a car decorated with flowers. But there was to be an encore of sorts that very evening at a different location at the reception. The plan had been for us to go back home with our Grandmother and skip the second event, because spending the whole day out or doing a back-and-forth to attend the evening event would have been too much of a strain on her. After some convincing by others, however, she changed her mind and we are suddenly staying for the reception.
Easier said than done, because it was still 4 hours away and a trip home and back was impossible. So logistics were worked out and my Grandmother went off with my aunt to the holding area – a few hotel rooms booked by the bride’s family as a stop gap arrangement between matrimonial functions. The rest of us set out for our cousins’ place which was a reasonable distance away to step into for a while awaiting the evening’s festivities. So seven of us joined the wedding party in a bus they had arranged, which would drop us along the way where we would need to take a detour. It was a very interesting bus ride. The inside roof of the bus was decorated with what can best be described as some of that psychedelic carpet material you can find on dance-club floors, and for the next 20 minutes we were served a very liberal dose of even more psychedelic top-of-the-pops Kannada film music. Then, thankfully, someone decided they simply couldn’t take another step without some evening chai inside them and the entire company came to a halt outside some miscellaneous restaurant. While that was happening we helped ourselves to some ice cream down the street.
After the pit-stop we had to endure some more of that brilliant music for a while as the bus barrelled down a highway towards its destination. Then it was time for us to get off and make our way to Andheri. We got off on the middle of some major road that was arching over one of the numerous rivulets, hills, or other natural protuberances that have a way of sneaking up on you all over Mumbai. Half the road was blocked off as it was being concreted and renovated so that it could be left alone for a few decades. As the traffic roared by, we tried to find some transportation towards where we wanted to go. Seven is a very odd number of people to have when needing to get somewhere in the Mumbai suburbs. Auto-rickshaws are only allowed to take 3 passengers, and taxis only 4. The problem is taxis rarely want to take you short distances and are difficult to find, and in the wrong place like the one we found ourselves in, rickshaws can also be scarce.
Very quickly one rickshaw came along and we parcelled off the “adults” in that one so that we could handle the rest with all the great patience inherent in youth – yes, I’m serious, I don’t know who came up with this theory of people becoming more patient as they mature. Then as we walked along the road trying to get to a more convenient spot to flag a ride, we decided that maybe we should try to find a taxi so that we can all go together rather than in two batches. Ever adventurous and slightly bored, we decided to head towards the closest railway station since we were more likely to find taxis there. And that is the only trick to the silent escape, it’s spontaneous, unobtrusive and no one knows you’re gone.
The “closest railway station” of course is not always down the next lane. Mumbai is a large city. So this particular sojourn involved crossing the 6-lane highway we had just come down and then walking a few blocks towards the station. Being out and about in Mumbai on foot is always something that thrills me. There is a certain sense of life and freedom that you get out of it which is difficult to describe, and after all the socialising of the past few hours it was a welcome relief. It was nearing dusk as we stepped off the highway and dived into the various meandering lanes and narrow roads that would take up towards where we wanted to go. As is often the case in Mumbai, the main thoroughfare near major railway stations is a unique entity. It acts as a main artery for the people living in the area, and it hustles and bustles with activity, and commerce, and the strangeness that is India. The Jogeshwari station road was no different. Only a few hundred meters long, the street was packed with enough stalls, shops, vendor’s carts and of course people for a small country to be proud of. Old and expansive trees towered over the people, lining the street on both sides and growing precariously out of temporary roofs, roadside shacks and the odd make shift temple. The Sun was low in the sky now and it filtered through the tiny leaves casting an orange glow on the shimmering fabrics that hung on hooks in tiny clothing stores and on the masses of shoppers walking along on a Sunday evening.
While this was the first time I had ever set foot on this street, I felt at home because these were the streets and the scenes of my childhood. While the location might have been unfamiliar, the spirit was the same and I revelled in the familiar chaos. My senses sucked in as much as they were capable of devouring and the remaining sights, sounds and smells remained tantalisingly at edge of my consciousness. We continued our walk, going deeper into the market place and never forgetting our quest for a taxi, but unfortunately there were none to be found. Finally the strange bustling silence of markets, our long walk and the warm Sun got to us and we decided to stop for a while. Turning into a small side lane, we were greeted by the sight of a push-cart fortified with a wall of glass bottles, each holding a liquid more dramatically coloured than the last. Small hand scribbled signs announced the cost of the wares and the proprietor of this fine establishment stood around crushing ice to garnish his masterpieces. Finally we all got to partake of the divine limbu pani (lemonade) that we had been on the look out for since that morning.
Eventually we did head back to our cousins’ home, taking two rickshaws. We were a bit later than the adults but our blissful detour had washed away the tiredness of the day. We just had enough time to relax a little, change and head back out into the fray. There was a wedding reception that needed attending.