29. What Cannibals? and A Necklace For the Queen

One entertaining afternoon as I sat upon the wall curiously watching all the people, a young Indian man stopped just before blocking my view.  Gesturing towards the available spot next to me he asked if he could sit there.  ‘Yes of course,’ I answered with a friendly smile.  

He parked himself and watched Marine Drive with the rest of us.  After a short while, he asked me where I was from.  I laughed a little to myself before letting him in on my thoughts.  

I answered him this way, ‘There’s a little bitty group of islands in the deep South Pacific, very near to New Zealand.  That’s the Fiji Islands.’  The puzzled look on his face said it all.  After a chuckle I said to him, ‘Do you know where Hawaii is?’  

He said yes so I continued, ‘Well it’s about 6 hours if you fly or 5-6 days if you sail from there going further south.  There are two big islands; Viti Levu being the one I was born on and the smaller of the two is Vanua Levu.’ I explained.  He seemed interested enough.

‘My island is slightly larger than Hawaii and there are several smaller ones in the group.  The smaller ones have a few coconut trees, rooted in the sand, and they’re just standing there.’  the stranger smiled.  

‘Who knows, some storms come and wash them away for a time and maybe even the whole island!’  I smiled big as he laughed loud and I ran on with my seemingly entertaining story.

‘Originally the natives were cannibals, before the Christian missionaries arrived. They ate some of them; the missionaries and their friends that is, until convinced otherwise by the remaining missionaries.’  

This is really fun I thought to myself as I kept talking.  

‘When no one visited for a while, they probably boiled the bones of dinners past and had themselves a good soup.’  I had to laugh because my wall-mate looked a little worried.  

‘Then the Indians eventually came along with some Europeans, a few neighboring islanders, and a handful of Chinese too; migrated to Fiji that is.’  

I must tell you here, this was the loose version of my island history as we knew it and told each other as kids back home.  I was done with my story for the time being.  It was his turn now.

This young man was just as fresh to India as I was.  He was born and raised in South Africa.  His parents brought him her to experience India, his blood-line.  They had an apartment home right there on the Queen’s Necklace aka Marine Drive.  That was where a good percentage of the wealthy lived, at least some of the time.  

We both realised our relation to one another was effortless as the hours passed in conversation and people watching.   My new friend and I agreed to meet up very soon and further our adventures; we made plans to buzz all over Bombay and her outlying reaches.  

We felt such a sense of adventure coming on; we’d go everywhere via double decker bus, taxi , auto rickshaw, train and most likely a lot of walking too!

C - Delhi street vending

Before I met this Jittu Singh, I had been told by a few people that I must get to the elevated hills behind all of this to witness a breathtaking view of the Queen’s Necklace in the evening hours.  They were right, it was stunning!  

Good times are rolling now and no I haven’t forgotten that I still must get to London.  All in its own time though I thought to myself.

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I laughed a little to myself from experience past, at that time not many had heard of the Fiji Islands.  I know, right?!!

Just a reminder:    Jittu Singh is the fictitious name of a real character, a wonderful addition to LBMs first adventure in India.

The point of interest here was Bombay’s Malabar Hill.  It is where It is where LBM stood to take in the view which was within the Kamala Nehru Park.  

I sure do wish LBM could find some of those photographs he had taken in India and elsewhere too, I mean, while we’re at it …wishing and all!

28. Bombay is a Beauty …

India!   And what a 1st experience it was.  I was feeling pretty good, carrying around a perception of freedom; away from confusing feelings and all at once I was excited, alone and …missing my wife.  I started to think it would have been very nice if she was with me.  

But this was also the heart of the monsoon season in Bombay!  It almost felt like the rains were mocking me as I was going through my own monsoon of sorts.  I had arrived in Bombay right smack in the middle of it!

Bombay in the state of Maharashtra, was to me, a beautiful place.  I stayed there in the city at a hostel, similar to an American YMCA, near the Naaz Cinema Hall.  These lodgings were run by a businessman with ties to an associate in the Indian Consulate back in Fiji.  

I was given the address of this place before I left the island by that connection.  Thankfully it was affordable and centrally located.  My weekly rate was approximately 25-30 rupees.   I ended up staying here nearly two months.

Each morning the proprietor had a bucket of hot water for my in-room bath, brought up to me with a knock at the door.  The heavily accented masculine voice said, “Saab-ji, garam pani.”  Also he would ask me what he could bring to me for my breakfast.

He’d go across the street to this Brahmin restaurant and bring delicious dishes for me to start my day with.  Masala chai, saag sabji, and of course hot, red, puffy puris!  If this didn’t suit my mood, I’d go out to one of countless restaurants in the immediate vicinity and chow down on amazing food.

Out and about in the city, there are so many people!  You cannot walk anywhere without bumping into each other though I never minded if it was a pretty girl.  That crowd was of yesteryear so just imagine today!  

The one place I really wanted to see and be a part of before leaving India, was Marine Drive.  As a youth this was a must!  I had seen it in the Hindi films so many times and heard that it was a very special street where so much happens.

Odds were that I’d be lucky enough to see in passing, an India film star.  Naturally girl-watching was part of the plan but the rest of the people were interesting too!  I would sit on the wall there with the Arabian Sea to my back and just watch this part of India go by.

I quickly learned that after 3 or 4 in the afternoon was the very best time to do this.  It was a place to see and be seen which lent to the girls dressing real pretty in their colourful attire; the lovely salwar kameez, saris and what have you, a blend of many nations really.  

Speaking of which, there would be 10 guys talking amongst themselves and each one’s native tongue is a different language of India.  There’s Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi, Kashmiri, Malayalam, Marathi, Nepali, Oriya, Punjabi, Sanskrit, Sindhi, Tamil, Telugu and Urdu (whew!) just to name a few, oh my!

But I wondered how they were actually communicating together and it wasn’t in English.  The common denominator here was Gujarati, Punjabi and Marathi and I must say it was to me quite a sight to see the Chinese man living in India speaking one of these 3 versions!

The liveliness of the crowds included the chana wala, “Chana garam babu, garam, garam chana!” singing his sales pitch as he walks by you.  Then I notice the thel malis guy singing out advertisements of his services; a quick-fix massage of various body parts -head, shoulders, arms, legs, etc., and the most important guy sells garam, garam masala chai and all for a few paisa!

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I shall tell you only what I can remember; the monsoon travels around the subcontinent and arrives at different times throughout the country.  I was soon to discover, this weather affects people in very interesting and sometimes baffling ways.  So much like the tides of life.  Well, that’s it, that’s what I got out of it!

Brahmin diet  a vegetarian lifestyle focusing on consuming clean foods thoughtfully so eating natural meant promoting peace and tranquility into one’s being; also referred to as yogic or sattvic diet

chana wala     the chickpea vendor(dry fried muttar/peas)  

thel malis       oil massage provider (quick on-the-spot)

garam              hot