I left my home in Santacruz West, a suburb of Bombay, in 1976. The anticipation of moving to Kerala did not diminish the pangs of saying goodbye to the only home I had known. For my mother, who had moved to Bombay with my father, this would be a homecoming. For me, it would be a series of temporary spaces till I found a place to call home again.
Three years later, I returned to study creative writing at Sophia’s College in South Bombay. In the years I was away, I had carried a mental map of home and the immediate neighbourhood with me: Main Avenue and its arterial side lanes; Khar, where my old lending library stood; Bandra, with its shops and theatres; Juhu, where we spent summers on the beach. Its scope did not extend beyond Santacruz and the immediate localities: my world—except for the occasional foray into “town” with my parents—was in the suburbs.
That first homecoming was not about nostalgia; I was there to reclaim the city as my own. I was in Bombay for the first time alone, now an adult, rediscovering the city and expanding the landmarks on my map.
Evening classes ended by 10 PM, and after wandering around Breach Candy with my new friends, I would take the train or bus home by midnight. Travelling alone at that hour was unimaginable in most cities then. But Bombay was alive and pulsing with life at night, and I felt safe and anonymous in the crowds.
It was a carefree and exhilarating year. This was the first time I caught that distinctively Bombay state of mind, a certain attitude that comes with the privilege of calling one of the world’s most captivating cities home. You could plunge in and be a part of the city, or you could be an outsider. I was in.
During the day, after pottery classes, I went to Leopold’s in Colaba Causeway and Cafe Samovar at the Jehangir Art Gallery, where you never knew who you might see—M.F. Hussain, Mario Miranda? There was jazz at Venice and Talk of the Town, places my brothers frequented, and Bombelli’s, where I discovered cappuccinos.
I splurged on brunch at the Shamiana at the Taj, feeling chic and sophisticated, dining alone with a confidence I hadn’t known I possessed. I shopped at Vamas and bought a vintage clock from Chor Bazaar, feeling like a true Bombayite at last.
On weekends, I went with my schoolmates to faraway Madh Island, as the Juhu Beach of my childhood, full of beach shacks and vendors, was now passé; so was Macronals, the only restaurant in the suburbs that served anything close to international cuisine.
I also discovered a darker side of this era of freedoms when a childhood friend nosedived out of a window in his apartment, too high (on cocaine, we heard) to realise he was on the seventh floor.