MEENA’S JOURNAL

Journal Entry June 2018

Bombay looks so beautiful at one in the morning. My taxi driver, Wasim, decided to take the scenic route to the hotel and I am not sure if it was for my benefit or his, but either way I am happy he did, don’t mind the extra rupees for a chance to see the calm before the storm of city traffic. From the moment I slumped into the cushy back seat of the old Ambassador, which feels more like a sofa, a far cry from the bullet proof SUV’s the secretary travels in, Wasim has been blabbering non stop. He addressed me as madam and then continued in English, cant blame him, I’ve been away from the homeland so long, I don’t even know what language I dream in any more. So it was a choice between playing tourist or spending the journey explaining why I speak fluent Hindi and look like a white girl. I guess a refresher course in places to visit seemed a better option, or so I thought when Wasim started with his list of favorite dhaba’s and gardens and religious monuments and Gandhi, and Big Bachan’s home … my god I have never met a more knowledgeable taxi driver who goes between politics and banter better then John Oliver.

But what I love is this guys passion to convince me, a newbie tourist, to seek out the authentic Bombay, by having locals take me around. The hidden street food vendors, the sari stores in old city, the mosque during day, the Darbar in the middle of the river... I am not sure if I am being asked out on a date or will end up with a separate bill at the end of this ride from India travel and tourism bureau.
Either way, there are worse ways to spend a trip to the hotel and at least Mr. Khan got my mind off all the work I have to prep for the secretary’s visit. They didn’t make me lead agent for my looks, or maybe they did! I’ll take it anyway I can. I don’t have the heart to tell my new friend that I know all the random security loop-holes at most of the sites he wants me to visit, that I know Mumbai like the back of my hand and despite the complicated nature of our relationship, it’s still one of my favorite places in the world.

While he was speaking, my mind couldn’t help but wander off into all the things I have to do for work tomorrow. I don’t think I’ve ever been as busy and stressed, not even during my last semester trying to crunch out the thesis, Yale was no cake walk but working advanced team for the US secretary of State, never thought I would be in this position before I can even vote in America.
Waiting now at the lobby for the hotel manager to take me to my room, I can’t wait to take a bath and get some sleep. Kinda disappointed Wasim didn’t step up and ask me to a night out on the town with some back seat couch action! Ok now that I have painted that in my mind, there is no way to wipe it out, him in all his chadar covered glory and aged wrinkles is etched in my brain, so much for the plans to exercise my right to having sweet dreams tonight. I have jet lag. My eyes are shot, my head hurts and I don’t even know why. I’m so used to it by now that I almost never get it and on the rare occasions when I do, I’m pretty great at managing it. Tonight is not that night.  

The bath was amazing, finally feel a bit relaxed, the room is gorgeous, just how I remember it from the last time, and I think seeing how often I am here, the guys really go all out to make me feel at home. I think the spa books me out for every visit even though I end up cancelling half the time.
The manager was new, but incredibly polite, offering a bunch of services free of charge. Not sure if that’s for me, or the US Diplomat notes on my booking, can’t complain, the job does come with some perks now and then. This bed is to die for, forget sleep number when you have this ridiculous thread count on whatever heavenly sponges they have inside this thing. It’s so tempting to fall a sleep right now, but have to focus. I’m not even using my time productively, doing all the work I’m supposed to be doing. Maybe that’s what’s not letting me sleep, the weight of my responsibilities. Also, Devdas is on Netflix, I am not sure what is more surprising that the Taj has Netflix or that Devdas is on Netflix. Let me ponder, as Dola Re mesmerizes me for the millionth time. Madhuri, Ash and Shahrukh, done, no work for tonight. The only thing I hate about Bollywood is that it’s so damn addictive.

Oh there is the door, since no one is going to know, I’ll admit it, I ordered Nihari, Love that room service came through with the Adrak, Dhaniya, Pyaaz, and Hari Mirch (note: If you are a terrorist and have stolen my journal and are reading this at some point in the future – the only way I am going to give up state secrets is if you feed me Nihari and Tandoori Naan with all the condiments .. because as any self respecting Punjabi knows, that’s the only way to go) . For now though, lets deal with that look the Room Service guy just gave me, I swear he looked me up and down and was wondering how this tiny white girl was going to fit that much food in her tiny little frame, I think I was just body shamed for the body I am about to have post Nihari.
Feeling guilty, maybe I’ll go to the market in the morning and pick up some fruit for breakfast. I almost never have time to do this and it’s funny that I’m making the time when I’m this crazed. Oh well ! Secretary gets in at 10am, I have 7 hours, first meeting with Modi and RAW head Rajinder Khanna on Kashmir, then Minisitry of Environment and the Pollution board, that should be interesting.

Afternoon is light with the private sector CEO from Yes Bank and the head of Google in Hyderabad, tea with Sushma Swaraj and Sonia Gandhi who are going to eat him up with details if I don’t prep him, and then finally our glamorous evening at Mr. Bachan’s house, no one is complaining about that one, not yours truly that’s for sure. Wearing my Sabyasacchi to the IFFA awards after the dinner if they get it to me in time (or I guess I’ll just change on the way there, only if the back seat is as big as the Ambassadors) - Lahore is the next morning to meet PM Sharif and ISI Rizwan Akhtar I don’t know him at all, but I am sure they are really going to want to know who won the best actor award. I mean, everybody loves Bollywood, I am convinced if we just let the actors in India and the musicians in Pakistan manage foreign policy the place would be a hell of a lot more safer, not to mention the kind of awesome collaborations they would come up! Just imagine, sorry no time, I digress, back to the schedule.

I wish I could take in the sights tomorrow, but not with this schedule, hardly champagne problems, I know, but still. I want to take in the city and maybe visit Haji Ali Dargah and if I have time a quick run in Horniman Gardens.

Would make Wasim so proud of this tourist , He sounded so pleased with himself sharing his local knowledge, like he truly enjoyed giving me details, like someone who’s very much in love with his home which made it endearing. He definitely wasn’t recommending the stereotypical touristy places where people go and get ripped off. But more then anything, I loved the story about his daughter and how hard he works to make sure she goes to school, thinking about his 16 hour days and how difficult it must be to just make ends meet, for food, clothes, let alone to earn enough as a taxi driver to spend on a child’s education. Gives me hope to see the best in people.
Falling asleep, but just thinking about this one moment today then I walked outside the airport, something just hit me and reminded me of home, it was a smell, almost as if the air could feel me passing through it, a scent of dust and chai and smoke and food but nothing specific but all of it a the same time almost overwhelmed me with memories. I felt a little teary eyed, surprisingly, but It was nice, I wasn’t sad. I just miss home, I should make plans to go and visit soon. It would make my grandparents so happy.





Meena Jehan

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