8 pm is a time which holds different connotations for different people. For housewives in general, it is the time to finish off kitchen chores and dig in front of the TV for a dose or two of the soaps. For kids, its time to wind up the nonsense, stow away the toys under the bed and settle down with homework. Men, who are lucky enough to reach home early, would find solace in either a cup of tea or a shot of spirit, depending on how their preferences have evolved with their promotions. For lovers, it’s the time to surrender their souls to each other (with an eye on the infinitely more desirable ‘physical’ surrender which would follow in due course!).
For me, that particular August evening, it was time for a touchdown at Chowpatty.
Having dumped the books in a heap on my bed, I showered, changed into casuals, slipped on a pair of sandals and hopped out onto the street, looking for a taxi to take me to Chowpatty. August Kranti Marg was buzzing with the commotion generated by a frenzied scamper of pedestrians returning from work, with cars and taxis honking madly for a right of passage. All my efforts to hail a cab seemed futile, as taxi after taxi dashed past without even caring to look at my gesticulations. Nah, the strategy was not working. I remembered having seen a few taxis standing in front of the August Kranti Park gate in the morning. Now where was that? I had to ask someone. Okay, there was a small cubicle selling toffees and trinkets. I fished out a two rupee coin from my pocket and asked for Mango Bite. Five Mango Bites for two rupees! Great deal. I asked him about the taxi stand. Over there. He gave me elaborate details. I started walking in the direction he gave. Took out a Mango Bite from the pocket, unwrapped the sticky yellow pellet and popped it in my mouth. I love Mango Bite. I may have devoured two thousand Mango Bites in my life already. Awww! This one seemed extraordinarily gooey! Appeared to be more of a mango-chew! Now wait. I had not yet thrown the wrapper away. I peered in the light of the street neon.
It was a Mangoo Bite. Man + goo + bite. Hell. The taste in my mouth changed from sweet to sour to bitter, and finally settled for something which was strongly disagreeable.
Presently, I saw a taxi, with a bold ‘Shinde’ in red adorning the hind screen. That cheered me up. It was already 8.15. I approached Mr. Shinde with considerable hope. He was chewing lazily on a mouthful of paan and counting his cash when I interrupted him.
Now that was a serious setback. Here was a taxi in black and yellow. But things were already looking bleak and hollow for me.
“Kyon nahi chaloge?”
Shinde raised an eyebrow. A little bead of red appeared at the corner of his lips. Turning away from me, he shot out a mouthful of spittle, wiped his jaw with the back of his hand and went back to counting his earnings. I stood there expecting an answer.
“Arre toh Chowpatty kaun sa door hai? 10 minute ka rasta hai”, I persisted.
“Bola naa, time up ho gaya. Apun ko ghar jaane ka hai.”
I strongly brushed aside the image of a hapless Dilip Kumar running around here and there and howling “Arre bhai…arre bhai” in the middle of the road searching for a taxi. On the contrary, I was increasingly feeling like Mithun Chakraborty, and even considered screaming once “Aaaaaayyye ssaaala”.
“Toh theek hai. Mereko rasta bata do. Main paidal chala jayega.”
Shinde’s eyes popped out. I was pestering him no end.
“Kya bhaisaab. Doosra taxi le lo na.”
“Idhar doosra teesra kuchh nahi hai.”
Shinde surrendered. Spitting out the remainder of his paan, he turned the meter down and with a shake of his head, jerked the rear door open. I jumped inside.
“Saala apun ko roz late ho jata hai…..bibi kehti hai 9 baje tak ghar waapas aa jana..apun ka ghar Dadar ke paas hai…roz saade dus gyarah bajta hai…..”
Again that rush of salty air. Distinctly cooler though. The assault on Chowpatty was on.