I went to an InterNations event, taking a taxi from Bandra over the Sea Link suspension bridge to Worli village.
I met Hitesh, we got along well and at around 1am when the event was finishing, he took me on a drive through the city. Surrounded by dark water and lights, Mumbai is incredibly beautiful at night. The roads were peaceful and deserted, and Hitesh drove slowly because it was not about getting somewhere in a hurry, but about the journey itself.
We drove from Worli, down through the city, south-bound, via Mahalakshmi and other names I knew from the train line: Charni Road, down to Marine Lines. He showed me the beach at Chowpatty where the Ganesh immersion takes place. Ringed all around the bay was the glittering string of lights.
He was playing hiphop and dance music and Hindi remixes and we were singing a lot, companionably, with the windows open to the night. I had not seen the city from the road much before, only by foot and train. Hitesh told me he often drives around in the night at the weekends like this, playing music, driving slowly, because of the freedom and perspective it brings. He opened his world to me, and showed me his city, and it was very beautiful.
We drove through Churchgate to Colaba, and parked in a little street. While Hitesh was being harangued by another driver who wanted the space, I watched the biggest rat I’ve ever seen scurry past the railings of a fancy hotel, where a sleeping figure wrapped in a blanket lay on the pavement. We walked to a street that was throbbing and alive with people, though it was late. After some confusion, pushing and queuing, and thanks to a kind older man who helped us, we procured some delicious street food. I had a chicken roll, with I think grilled chicken tikka in a kind of thin chapatti bread wrap. I decided not to pay much attention to the hygiene about where it was being prepared, but fortunately it was dark so I could not see any details anyway. (I cannot extricate my Western paranoia from me completely, but I can ignore it.) It was very tasty.
We wandered slowly through Colaba to the seafront and harbour, eating our rolls.
The golden evening lights at the Gateway had been turned off, and access to the promenade was barred by police barriers, leaving the Gateway looking quiet and darkened, and mysteriously lonely, in its emptiness against the deserted harbour.
We drove slowly north again, windows open and I leaned out into the breeze, watching the breathtaking lights glowing on the water all around the bay. Hitesh explained to me about the police vans we saw, who were arresting some drink-drivers and telling people generally to move on homewards from Marine Drive, because it was after 2am.
There is a Muslim tomb called Hajji Ali, which is on an island reached by a causeway. I hadn’t seen it before but I saw it then, faintly lit and appearing adrift in the dark water, white minaret towers rising from the sea.
Hitesh pointed out the temples that were lit up brilliantly with light. We drove through the Reclamation and up through Bandra. It felt like we were part of the thread of the city’s light and life, part of the night air and the water that surrounded everything. An almost full moon hung brightly over everything, above every lit temple, above the dark ocean and the unseen beach.
He dropped me off by the park, outside my building, and I went in silently through the iron gate and into the building, past the dogs and men sleeping in the lobby. Into the caged lift with its constant jingle tune that was implanted in my brain after only one day, and now it is the first thing that comes to mind in the morning, because I have been hearing it all night long in my sleep. And my heart was light and happy because the night time freedom of the city had been given to me.