A Bombay Day in the 80's (diary extract) by Frank Kusy
January 28th 1986
Today was earmarked for rest, which was just as well since all of Bombay's public transport – owing to three consecutive price increases on oil and fuel in just one year – were on strike. After fighting over the shower (why do women take so long in the shower?), Megan and I left our cosy but stuffy little room and absconded to the wonderfully air-conditioned Empire cinema near V.T. station to watch one of the latest Bollywood epics. 'Bombay is the film capital of India and produces more films than the real Hollywood,' I informed Megan knowledgeably. 'So we might as well see what all the fuss is about.'
This film was a real eye opener. A non stop extravaganza of colour and excitement, every few minutes the action would stop for a song and a dance. The hero and heroine were both plump, which struck us as reflecting the ideal in a country where most people were very thin. It must have been an old movie too, not a new one, because kissing was still not allowed on screen. As a compromise, the two lovers moved toward each other, the music heightened to a crescendo, and at the last possible moment the film broke off into a montage of glorious symbolic scenery. Taken as a whole, it was a fascinating blend of Hitchcock, James Bond and 1930s screwball comedy. The intermission was quite brilliantly managed, an unseen pair hands pushing our stout heroine off a cliff, the curtains closing, and the lights coming on all in the same moment. We returned to the cinema after the break to find the leading lady resting safely in a hospital bed – no clue was given as to how she had avoided her watery grave.
During the intermission Megan had showed me a postcard she'd just received from a friend in Agra. 'Hi Megan,' it read. 'I've just been handed a letter from a tout on Agra station. It said: "This is Ram. He was very helpful to me in Agra. He is very gymnastic and athletic in bed. I am sure you will be satisfied."'
Further amusement was afforded us as we came to a zebra crossing along Veer Nariman Road. HOP ALONG IN LIFE said the road sign. OR CROSS THE ROAD CAREFULLY. 'The dogs of Bombay could do with reading that one,' grinned Megan. 'Quite a few of them only have three legs.'
'Most Indians don't take a blind bit of notice of street signs,' I grinned back. 'Particularly the NO HAWKING signs which seem to have a cane-juice vendor or a shoelace man doing their business right under them.'
Tonight, our hotel laid on a 'disco party' on the roof. Very lively it was too, with lots of twinkling fairy lights and lots of animated guests pouring in from other hotels. They played the whole soundtrack of Saturday Night Fever, and laid on a non stop stream of Indian snacks. Then things went horribly wrong. In a moment of misguided impulsiveness, Megan dragged some puzzled local onto the dancefloor. Whoa, what a big mistake. Next second, he had both his hands on her tits. 'He looked lonely, and I felt sorry for him,' she said as she stormed off the floor. 'Well, what did you expect?' I laughed. 'This is India, remember?'
I felt sorry for Megan. She was no beauty, with her short cropped hair and square, almost masculine jaw, but she did have an impressive chest and it did get an inordinate amount of attention from the Indians. Why she had just made it so available to one of them was beyond my understanding.
The night view from our top floor balcony back at the City Lodge was remarkable. The old and new of Bombay revealed themselves in startling dissonance: on the left, the palm-fronted, gothic GPO, faded and grey; on the right, the ghostly, white monolith tower of the uber-modern Oberoi hotel, looming up like some kind of weird spaceship in the heart of an otherwise black, hopeless jungle. Staring at it through the mesh of TV aerials and the crush of tall slum tenements, I could only wonder at the stark contrast of poverty and wealth in this most modern of India's cities.