I’m finally back to work after three restful weeks back in the States. Besides traveling around and seeing family and friends, I had the chance to while away a few afternoons in some national and state parks, including Wakulla Springs, where I saw alligators grinning in the sun, and Sagamore Hill, the former home of President Theodore Roosevelt. October in Central Park was such a wonder – crisp, cool, on the verge of autumnal metamorphosis – that we even spent an hour one afternoon in a rowboat on the Lake.
Now, after having felt the first chill of fall in more than 14 months, I’ve returned to an incredibly temperate and languid Bombay. It’s post-holiday time here (I missed Diwali and Eid-al-Ramzan festivities), but it’s approaching wedding season. Soon all the cricket lawns lining Marine Drive will be alight in candles and torchieres and festooned with marigolds.
For sure, I missed the U.S. (and my friends even more so), but being back in India, and especially in Bombay, I can understand its allure. It’s November, and the weather is a perfectly dry 85 degrees. People are everywhere and traffic is horrendous, yet there’s a sense that you can move at your own pace. It’s a bit refreshing, coming off of three weeks of scheduled flights and packed itineraries.
My return visit gave me a chance to satisfy other cravings: salads, barbecue, and a wide range of delights from the diverse American food landscape; soundless streetscapes, including three weeks of almost horn-free driving; the chirping of birds (rather than the incessant cawing of crows). After months of looking the outsider in Bombay, even though I knew my way around, it felt good to be anonymous again. And, clean air, free from the smoke of small cooking fires, was not something that I took for granted.
Certainly, the air here is not as bad as the weather channel (which almost always displays a “smoke” icon for Bombay’s weather forecast) would have you believe. In fact, there are many facets to life here that are better (or more interesting) than international preconceived notions of this exotic, messy place they call Bombay (Not Mumbai. I’m calling a moratorium on using that title. More on that later…).
Back in Bombay, I know now that there are a lot of things that I will appreciate once I’m gone: the evocative curvature of Marine Drive (I haven’t decided if it’s more beautiful in daytime or at night); the sight of kites (relatives of hawks) constantly swirling around in the thermals of the air, waiting to swoop down for dinner; and the colors and costumes of the millions of people that flood Bombay’s sidewalks and streets, from the salaryman on his motorscooter to the sextagenarian female fruit seller with her sari tucked up in her waistband to create a sort of swaddling trousers to the smattering of Sikh men who deftly coordinate their under-turbans to their ties or dress shirts. Dressing up here is all about ornamentation and lovely colors, not about the latest cut, shape, or trend, so shopping is never a dull affair. I love hot, milky chai, and watching locals drink it out of saucers instead of cups. And, though I once giggled about the head bobble, I now wish that more people around the world employed it: it’s the perfect way to say “maybe,” which fits with my rather unfortunate trait of being indecisive.
I’ll be in Bombay a bit longer – a little less than a year at this point. Knowing that has made me want to enjoy the rest of my time here because it will go by in the blink of an eye. Nevertheless, I’m happy to be here – not least of all because the sun is shining bright during a month that I usually associate with grey dreariness.
It’s good to be back in Bombay.