Last call for India Jones

For just short of forever I have been nattering about adding a page to Gastropoda, a sort of annual report for my retirement account, which happens to be memories of all the amazing travel I have been so lucky to have done thanks to my consort’s unbelievable generosity (and patience). It would be called One Perfect Day, and a leading candidate for Post One would be the just over 24 hours Bob and I spent together in Mumbai, near the end of his National Geographic story on caffeine in 2003. I had to fly home while he went on last minute to Vietnam for a coffee shoot, which made the time even more bittersweet after two weeks jaunting from Delhi to Kolkata to Bangalore to the Indian Tibetan settlement and back to Bangalore and finally Mumbai, which was pure and total magic. We got in very late to find a white Mercedes and driver waiting to take us to our hotel, where I crawled into bed with the covers over my head while Bob haggled with a tech guy for hours over connecting his computer to download his photos. But next morning we were up for the London-worthy breakfast downstairs after showers in a glass cube with sandalwood soap I can still smell. Afterward we walked over to the Gateway of India and saw the Taj Mahal hotel, passing this indescribable array of street food and street vendors and street life along the way. We had lunch at an awesome Gujarati place near the hotel, sleek and modern and wonderful, and took a cab to a famous mosque on the water where we were blown away by passing the most staggering display of human miseries combined with forbearance, then walked back toward the hotel, ducking into bookstores and gift shops and gaping at the intensity of the streetscape all the way (having read “Midnight’s Children” on the trip made the place even more cinematic). There is no place on the world like India, with the sounds, the smells, the colors — you need all five senses and could use five more. We had a surreal dinner together in one of the hotel’s restaurants, then walked down the surreal beach out front that was so close to skyscrapers’ glitter before I had one more revel in the glass cube of a shower and Bob took me in a cab to the airport (don’t ask about his ride back).

I got home on Thanksgiving afternoon exactly five years ago. And then all this shit happened, and it was like a flashback, because everything seemed so centered right where we had been. But I never made the connection till the morning after a couple of float parties where a few people mentioned the news. I dug out my food notebook and it was like a kick in the stomach to remember where we had stayed. Yep, it was the Oberoi.

I don’t think it was India’s 9/11, though, more India’s Columbine. And I would go back there tonight.