Banganga Tank, Bombay Stories, Fictional curry

The Tank

“…And then I saw you, and my soul whispered, ‘doesn’t she look familiar’. I said, ‘she does’, but I couldn’t place you from this time or place. So I asked my soul, ‘if it knew since how long back had we known each other’? And it replied, ‘since forever’.”  
“Since forever.”
That’s what he first thought when he saw this woman sitting on the jagged, moss-infested stone steps of the tank.
Her blue cotton skirt was partially inside the green pool of water so he didn’t know where her feet ended. He gauged from the length of her back and the broadness of her shoulders that she was tall, probably taller than what was just normal.
The morning sun glistened and shimmered like sparkling stars on water. He saw it, even as he saw her observe it. She was smiling; beaming helplessly. It made her feel happy and he could not tell why.
They were at a considerable distance from each other – he standing and she sitting, both on different angles of the rectangle – enough for her to not notice that he was noticing her.
Rukshad was a photographer, an amateur one. He didn’t love Mumbai, as much as his parents did. But today, at the tank, beauty had snatched hate off some of its glory.
Banganga – it was a beautiful place. Here, it seemed like another world from another time had not only been preserved, but had continued seamlessly, undisturbed and unaltered, even as everything changed or manifested into something new. The stoned stairways on all four sides led deep down to a bottomless pit from where a natural spring drowned each step as it rose, disappearing layer by layer. Legend had it that Laxman, the brother of epic hero Lord Ram, had shot an arrow on this earth, eons ago; water sprung soon after to feed the thirsty elder brother. Some claimed that the arrow was shot after Sita – Ram’s wife – had sought pure water for a temple offering.        

Rukshad’s friend had told him of the tank.  
“Very few know about it,” he was told. “Go visit it, you may get some good photographs that could land you that job,” the friend had advised.
He wanted to intern at the photography magazine desperately, so he came here. But now, he was more than just stunned by the magnificence of the place. And then his eyes fell upon her, and he did not know what had left him more spellbound – the tank or the girl sitting by it.
It was strange, this attraction he felt for her. She was ordinary to look at, not somebody anyone would take to on the first glance. Her hair was tied up messily in a hasty bun with strands falling carelessly on her face. There was something about her very presence though, that felt familiar.    
So while he toyed with his SLR, shooting aimlessly, his mind kept travelling back to the woman. But he parried his view the moment he thought she had become aware of his presence. She was still sitting there. And he realised that the water had risen a bit, because her skirt was now hidden knee deep.  
She looked at him, first casting him a nervous stare, but then smiled. It was a very knowing glance. Before he could pull himself together, she was waving at him, asking him to come hither.    
Rukshad didn’t have time to think of what was happening, so he quickly walked to the other side, down the slippery steps, carefully towards her.   
“Photographer?” she asked.
He nodded, fumbling with his words, struggling hard to give a reply.
“You want to take my picture?” she asked questioningly.
If that was the excuse he would have to give for those stolen glances, he had no other choice. He sheepishly took the bait. “Yes.”
“Okay…go ahead,” she said, and pushed her hands behind, to hold herself back in a tilt, as if readying for a pose.
After fiddling with his lens, Rukshad took a couple of photographs. She smiled and posed without complaining.
“Thank you.”
“No problem,” she said. “What will you use this for?” she asked.
“Job interview.”
“Oh! I hope you get it then,” she said.
And, as if no conversation had happened between them, she went back to treating her eyes to the green of the waters. Her face looked calm, but lacked the curiosity that he had for her. There wasn’t an ounce of emotion, to reveal what was on her mind. She hadn’t even bothered asking if there was a way she could get hold of the copy.     
Rukshad moved back quietly, not knowing whether it would be polite to ask her, her name.
He left Banganga soon after, taking the steep stairway that was butted by old homes and temples on either side. It was only when he had climbed up to the exit that he realised he had forgotten his lens at the tank. It was an expensive zoom lens and he remembered asking the young woman to hold it, while he busied taking her pictures.
He rushed back to the tank. As he walked down, a slew of thoughts ran through his mind. Rukshad saw it as a sign; a sign that they weren’t over as yet. May be, he would gather some courage, and ask for her name or probably, her number. They would meet again, and then…

Were they meant to be?
The last thought struck him when he just reached the tank. He immediately looked in the direction where he saw her last. But there was no one there who resembled her. He glanced around the tank, assuming he probably got the spot wrong. She had just been here five minutes ago.
For a moment he thought that she had followed him to return the lens. But he knew deep down that she never really would. She had appeared to be in a daze, not to be disturbed or stirred. 
From the distance though, he could see something cylindrical, a few steps above where she had been seated. His lens had been waiting there, beside a pair of red sandals. She was nowhere around. He sat there till dusk, hoping she would return to take the shoes that he presumed were hers. She did not.
He got the job the following week. It was her picture that did the trick.

He would remember this woman “since forever.” 
Bombay Stories, Fictional curry, Marine Drive, Mumbai

The Bay

Marine Drive 

Her laces were worn out, duller than the pale blue of her shoe. She looked at them in disgusted haste, reminding herself that she needed to save up to buy a fresh pair soon. This time she would opt for a black one, so that she wouldn’t have to bother spending on a new one again.

The darkness of the black would hide the harsh wear and tear that her shoes were being put through each day. If life could reveal anything blacker than black, it would have to be hell. And Lekha wasn’t going down there yet.

Yes, she was ageing with day, had retired years ago and currently, found it hard to make ends meet; but unlike her friends, who had already suffered a handicap or two, she could still walk. And that’s what she did every morning, sharp at 5.
Lekha would leave home daily, skipping the ginger tea made by their Maharaj (cook). She loved tea, but giving up on what she enjoyed most, seemed like a piecemeal offering to her son, who would time and again remind her that she owed him for the roof above her head.
They were a rich family, but not her. She lost everything when her husband died. Now, it was just the measly pension that kept her going. Lekha never asked her son for money, he never bothered giving. He fed her twice a day, and his job ended there.   
She rushed out, just five minutes before 5. In October, the sun rose a little later than it did in August. It reminded her that winter would be here soon.
A few hurried, rapid steps and she would get there. Their home was just a stone’s throw away from the bay. They couldn’t see it from their window, but its salty breeze found a way inside always, corroding their cast iron shelves. It was a nice home, she thought; it had come down to her husband from his father, and all these years, she had nurtured it well.

It barely took ten minutes to get to the seaside. The flailing waves of the Arabian Sea were welcoming, more welcoming than the home, she had once cared for.

When she reached the asphalt stretch, she persevered, dragging her feet with quickened pace. They would be waiting for her opposite the monstrosity of glass and concrete – the InterContinental, an odd spectacle on the stretch of simple, yet telling buildings from Bombay’s past.
She wasn’t late. They were still there when she came. They wouldn’t go anywhere for the next one hour. But it always felt good to be on time. One of them – Kerson – was in a wheelchair and his servant brought him here everyday; the others could walk fairly well, though Shradha complained that arthritis was getting the better of her. And Domnic wore knee pads now; every time they asked him why, he would say in his typical Goan English accent, “Looks cool men. Don’t you think?”
When Lekha arrived, the circle was complete. They didn’t ask her much and instead joined hands. Shradha, who lead the group, chanted something, and they all bent forward; soon enough they were all howling, laughing heartily.
The passersby looked unperturbed. It was a regular scene, played out at the bay daily: Old people having a merry time.
The constable had picked on them the first time they did it. But Shradha had interrupted, “Laughter yoga…you can’t take us to jail.”   

An hour later, they were done. Some left for home, while a few like Lekha would head down for a walk on the same stretch. She would only go back home at 8, after drinking tea at a stall near their house.   

Today, Kerson stopped her.
“Lekha, can you drop me home. Raju won’t be coming, so I would need help.”
Kerson, a 75 year old Parsee, lived in her neighbourhood. They rarely spoke at the yoga sessions and even otherwise, so Lekha was amused that he asked her for help.  
“Please,” he requested again.
Since they lived in the same compound, it would just seem wrong to say no. So, she agreed. 
The drive by the street was smooth, though she had a feeling that people were throwing them curious glances. Two old couple, one on a wheelchair, the other one happily driving him along. She was probably just conscious, so she ignored them.
“I see you drink chai at the stall daily,” Kerson said, breaking her thoughts.
“Yes, I like the tea there,” she said, sounding more than just curt. 
Kerson realised that he was infringing upon some unspoken territory. They did not speak after that.
When they reached his building, she saw Raju stand outside anxiously.
“Sir I was worried,” he said. Kerson beamed a calm smile.  
Raju politely took over from Lekha, and pushed the chair up the slope that had been specially built for Kerson. Lekha stood there awkwardly, not knowing whether to say bye or just leave.
When Kerson made it to the platform, she silently moved ahead.
Noticing her leave, Kerson called out, “Lekha, wait.”
“Raju’s made piping hot ginger tea…” he cast a knowing look at his servant, and hesitantly added,“…for both of us.”