All posts in 2024
  • Bombay Burning

    I don’t have to tell you what happened in Mumbai. You already know it. I wasn’t there that day, and although I may at some point in the future, I have never lived here. Not in the real sense of ‘living’ somewhere, with bank accounts and rented residences, or jobs. But Mumbai is my city, my friends are Mumbaikars, and I feel every bit one myself: I still call it Bombay, because Bombay is romantic and real and Mumbai isn’t; I love the city, have my favourite haunts in Bombay, both north and south, and know the city well.

    Perhaps too well.

    On any regular Bombay evening, my friends and I would be sitting at Cafe Leopold in Colaba Causeway. I’m there every night, not that I particularly like it. When the papers and news reports tell you the gunmen threw a grenade into a ‘popular tourist cafe’ in Colaba, you need to know first that Leopold isn’t just any popular cafe, Colaba isn’t any regular street… and Bombay isn’t any regular city. Leopold had a strange, inexplicable draw. Mr Shantaram was there, back when he was actually living in the slum a few streets behind it, and so were the real life cast that inspired his fictional motley crew of Bombay misfits, mafia and other things. Even now that Johnny Depp is going to play him in the movie, now that he’s a minor celebrity, he is still there. You never quite leave Leopold.

    My friends and I at Leopold would just be like any regular bunch of friends who might be sitting there that night. Young and foreign — photographers, wannabe Bollywood stars, scruffy Bollywood recruiters, writers. Drawn by the magic of Leopold: the bad music, the bad pasta, the Kingfisher and Cobra beer that was never terribly cold, but the coldest the city could give. And our friends: each other, and the chattering yuppie Indian middle classes. When we were done someone might say, let’s go for a kebab. We’d pop around the corner to the famous Bade Miya, just down the road from the Taj, sit in a derelict building outrageously (and illegally) outfitted with fluorescent lights, while more young scruffy expats and Indophiles like me sat with each other and with our yuppie middle class Indian friends — smoking, eating with our hands, and perhaps someone would say let’s go to the sea.

    Bombay is a city by the sea, but not in the usual sense of it. It’s beautiful, but only if you look hard. The Arabian sea engulfs it on one side, and on a hot Bombay night there is nothing more entertaining than sitting by the Arabian Sea, eating bhelpuri and drinking_chai_ with your love — and Bombay is a city for lovers — on Juhu Beach or by the rails along Marine Drive. You’d look out to the domain of old Bombay money, Napean Sea Road and Malabar Hill, shimmering away in the distance. The majestic Taj hotel behind you. The Gateway of India, and all its pigeons and pigeon shit and tourists, to your left. Bom Bahai, Bombay, Bom Bahai the good harbour, as the Portuguese called it.

    And CST was where it all started and ended. Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, so renamed to please the frothing at the mouth Shiv Sena, Marathi supremists and their Shivaji cultists. Victoria Terminus, or VT, was what the rest of us called it. You entered Bombay at VT, stepped over sleeping bodies, crouched all over the station and platform floor. They never did that in ones, rarely twos — the Indians do everything in groups, and especially in Bombay groups of ten, twenty, will all be sleeping, chatting, sitting, drinking tea on the floor, squatting by their ancient-looking luggages, waiting for trains to take them homes. Some of them would have just got in to Bombay, destined to a lifetime of pavement-sleeping in this crowded city; others would be veterans, waiting to go home for the week after months or years in the big city. You can tell who’s been here for a while by the way they talk about the city: there’s a certain degree of Bombay smugness. Or perhaps smug is not the word — it’s the air of knowing. When you know Bombay, whether you’ve lived there all your life, whether you’re Parsi, Gujarati, Malayali, Singaporean, American, British, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, whether you go back to sleeping on your pavement, to a Malabar Hill Road address or your expensive room at the Oberoi. It doesn’t matter. When Bombay is your city, it shows. Whether you stepped out into Bombay in the morning at CST, or in the dead of night, they were there. And to get out you had to step over them, shove your way through the porters, and the thronging multitude carrying what seems to be hundreds of kilograms of things they were carting home: sweets, hay stacks, goods. When you left Bombay, you did so at CST too. If you left for a day trip you might go to a place like Matheran, where I like going whenever I’m in Bombay, and you’d take the train from CST to Neral Junction to get there. If you lived in Bombay, especially in the north, you would take a train home from CST, too. You’d get on one of those dangerously overcrowded suburban locals, the ones I so love.

    But it all fell apart. The city of dreams is burning. Those sleeping bodies on the station floor are probably all dead, and so are the waiters at Leopold — two of them. So are the sorts of people I might have met and chatted up at Leopold. Heck, my career started in Leopold when a roving photojournalist chatted me up there and we found we had an incredible chemistry and worked well as a team, sealed off with Kingfisher, Gold Flakes, and Indian whisky at Gokul just around the corner. I never went to the Taj or to the Oberoi but as India’s finest hotels, they are not mere hotels — they are symbols, testament to the power of this city and its dreams. As a young man Ratan Tata’s great grandfather, Jamshetji Nusserwanji Tata, walked into the colonial Watson’s hotel and was turned away — because he was Indian. He vowed to build a grander hotel than that, and he did: the Taj hotels are the pride of India, and the Taj Mahal in Bombay was the crown in the jewel: the Beatles stayed there, and so did endless other kings and queens, especially the ones that matter most to the Indians, the cricketing gods. For the pavement-sleepers, scruffy backpackers, middle class Indian tourists, and locals alike, The Taj was — and still is — the landmark in the city by the sea.

    If something like this could happen to any city, it would be to Bombay, and it would be to these sites of great emotional resonance. The city has never been an easy one to live in. It is full of crumbling buildings and bureaucracy, it is the symbol of Indian inequality of class, wealth and status, it is the city full of people who have nothing right by the people who have everything. It is hard to imagine why anyone would live here. But Bombay, like Leopold and its terrible pasta, like the Taj and the Oberoi and its occasionally contrived grandeur, has an inexplicable aura that draws her people — and their hearts — to her. And she demands you love her despite the terror attacks, despite the gangland wars, despite the everyday inconveniences of living in a place like this with no living space, no drinking water and no dignity.

    Other writers more talented than myself have made the New York connection, and it’s true: Bombay is where people come from all over India, even the world, to chase and live their dreams — I did — and they’ll do it by grumbling a heck lot, but will always grit their teeth and survive. If the terrorists wanted to take Bombay apart and show the world that they’ve destroyed this great city, they will never succeed. They do not understand this city is a very different city, and its 14 million inhabitants are hardy people who are toughened but never disillusioned — go take a walk around the chawls and slums, including Asia’s biggest one at Dharavi, and in the midst of poverty and suffering there is always an air of incredible hope and optimism. It is a city of 14 million who have fought back floods, bombs, shootings, racial riots and gangland wars, because they fight daily the misfortunes of everyday living in this city of tough love. More than any other city, Bombay knows how to survive. And will.

    So be strong, my beloved Bombay. I will be with you shortly.

  • The Country Codes My Girlfriend And I Have Known

    Some people do long distance relationships. Most don’t.

    Some can’t spare the time or the effort. Others can’t be bothered. Some refuse because they think of the potential heartbreak the distance will cause: the time difference will compound the distance, the new social environment will open up possibilities that exclude you, or worse, what if they cheat — as we’re told they will, since that’s happened to all our friends who’ve tried?

    Or in the words of male friends, in characteristic male bluntness: “What do you mean you need to travel hundreds of kilometres just to fuck?”

    (Some people are worth it.)

    Not too long ago the idea of having to travel any distance for anybody was a foreign concept, having secretly ruled out relationships with dates who professed to live in the wrong parts of my island, one that’s 42 kilometres long. Too far north? Too far east? Too far northeast? East, at all? No go.

    One year on. I surprised myself, but I’ve been seriously dating somebody and have the phone bills to show for it. And it’s incredible.

    My girlfriend and I possibly run through more country codes in a month than some people do in years. We’ve practiced to high art the art of putting the other person (and/or ourselves) into various modes of transportation on various continents. For over a year I’ve had a weekly ritual of rushing to get into buses, almost missing them each time, and missing several on different occasions. Or I’m sitting in my balcony tapping my foot awaiting the arrival of a small car after a long drive. More frequently, I’m counting the trees on the North-South Highway and predicting which billboard will come next in each state. Her entry in the address book on my phone has the four latest phone numbers from the most recent countries she’s in. I have in my head, a running list of the best international calling cards and how many minutes each one buys me to the country she’s in that week; my account perpetually refills itself . Our friends have stopped trying to keep up with where we are and turn to our blogs, Facebook and Twitter for hints. Between us, we… need a shared Google Calendar to keep track of our activities.

    One thing I didn’t count on was dating someone who sleeps as deeply as I do, seeing as that this was an impossible feat and that my girlfriend strives to exceed my expectations in every imaginable way. This means we find ourselves springing out of bed at 5 am in Borneo one week, late as hell for our boat ride into the dense interiors, and two weeks later we’re jumping out of bed in a fancy room by Trafalgar Square, about to miss a flight to Barcelona. She’s the only person I’ve met who can dress and get ready faster than I can when we’re desperately trying to catch yet another mode of transportation, which is no small feat either. Before I’m out of bed I’m sliding into my clothes, putting on my watch, combing my hair. This woman beats me by two whole minutes. (Being a woman with a woman also means you can use toilets together at the same time, anywhere in the world.)

    As recently as six years ago I was sneaking out of my house to go on dates. This past year made sneaking out of my country for lunch or dinner, or both, a fairly regular occurrence. I’d be having dinner with friends and then getting into buses to travel a few hundred kilometres northwards, then heading back the next morning to make it in time to get a book deal signed. The coming year might see that upgraded to the enterprise of sneaking out of continents. Not that we haven’t had any practice: I’ve put her into planes in random Spanish airports so she can fly back to London to fly back to Southeast Asia. Just last week I travelled 400 kilometres to drink a milkshake and a bottle of wine, took off for Jakarta that evening, and from a couch in Jakarta watched a live feed of her packing her life’s belongings to get ready to move to London — the next morning. I’m now packing my bags for my Middle Eastern adventure, and something about the idea of going on dates in any of the exotic locations in between us is rather enticing, particularly the one starting +90.

    It all began with +65, and the hot, balmy night in my city. We were strangers with impossible situations, yet hardly a month later in +60 you were mine. Every other week since that one, somewhere between +65 and +60 i find myself wishing: if only half the state of Johor would disappear you would be so much closer to me. One week I’m punching +27 to call you in Stellenbosch, and the next you’re telling me silly jokes about St Francis from a +55 number from your hotel room in Porto Alegre. With a surprise 6 hours with you in Singapore since it’s supposedly partway between Brazil and South Africa, and since you do seem to like popping into my city to surprise me.

    I squatted by toilets each night in +88 to talk to you on Skype, when trying to win your trust, continued the next week from +62, but it was the country codes I didn’t have to dial that did it for us. Not needing to dial a prefix means you are here. Not needing a country code means you are next to me. The country codes I haven’t had to dial made, and shaped, us; they were those times we were finally alone, those times we were going somewhere together, those times I was waiting for yet another delayed flight and you were by my side. It was those magical times in various parts of +66, in deserted islands or in bustling cities, between +66 and +60 in a cabin on a 15 hour ride, that we found each other’s place and pace in our lives. Other times, intoxicated with too much tuak, asleep with half the village in our bilik: you were always next to me, on that tilam in**+6083**. Then of course, cycling adventures in +34, after +33+44.

    To put things into perspective the 10 000 kilometres between us means we you are only 20 times further from me than you usually are, and soon that will half to merely 5000. I can’t talk to you without shouting into a computer or pressing a million calling card digits followed by # followed by country code#city code#yournumber#, and you’re not here for dinner 95% of the time. Why this works, I think, is because the 5% of the time in which we are having dinner, in which there are no country codes needed, no matter where in the world dinner or conversation is for that particular date, we are a hundred and twenty percent about the big things. What life brings, what careers we build, the places we will travel to, and the future; our place, in all of this, the things we will do and places we will go together. Why this works is we actually end up doing these things, and going to these places, even when we least expect it. In the other 95% of the time I sometimes potter to my telephone forgetting I’ve run out of phone credit to call you at your latest prefix, but know anyway it doesn’t matter where we are or what you’re doing at that exact moment in time. Because when it’s time to get into planes it’s to come home to you.

    Because this works, with or without a country code, and it’s one of those improbable things and combinations you never think of but that work out to be the best idea. Like chocolate and potato chips, peanut butter and ice cream, you and me. Us, the world, and all these possibilities.

  • Peanut Butter, This What?

    postcard from Banten

    I never learn.

    If there are two items you must not forget when travelling, they are your universal travel adapter and your watch.

    I keep forgetting either one but that is seldom a problem. Forgetting just a travel adapter means you can tell time with the other essential item, the watch; forgetting the watch but having the adapter means you can tell the time with your mobile phone, iPod, or computer.

    I had neither this time.

    And so it was that I woke up on Thursday morning with a jolt. I had a flight and it was one I could not miss: I had a dinner appointment in another country. Not having a travel adapter meant my phone was dead for days and I therefore couldn’t inform my dinner date of any changes in the plan; the only alternative then was to make it for dinner. Not knowing what time it was I leaped out of a sofa in downtown Jakarta and sped into the bathroom, having stripped fully and redressed entirely in the 5 steps it took to get there, swept all my toiletries off the bathroom counter, administering the contents of these toiletries on my face and mouth before they got into the bag, relieved myself concurrently, and was out of the house (also having checked three times that I didn’t leave any thing behind, which would be disastrous: I don’t have the key into this apartment) exactly four minutes since I woke up with a jolt.

    Downstairs at the foyer I cut the line and jumped into a taxi still worried I might miss my flight. It was 11 am.

    On checking my flight ticket I realized I was, for the first time, grossly early for a 2.55 pm flight. At least that gave me enough time to get through the predictably unpredictable Jakarta traffic.

    By 11.45 am I was at Soekarno-Hatta airport. If you’ve ever been there you know how that airport does not in any way resemble the airport of the capital city of the fourth most populous country in the world. The way it’s built it looks like someone took a bunch of the dullest looking Lego bricks and lined it up in a row. At each break between a set of bricks someone else started labelling them: International, terminal A, B. Domestic, terminal C, D. You can only enter the airport if you have a boarding pass and a passport, everyone else had to clamber up some steps to the Waving Gallery. The only thing you can do at the terminal is check in. The international terminal is too crowded; it makes you sprint from place to place looking for where you’re supposed to be, before going through another hurdle (to pay fiskal, 1 million rupiah for Indonesians, 100 000 rupiah for everyone else), then getting into the grotesquely long passport control lines. The domestic terminal is far more sedate and cuts to the chase. You enter the terminal; look at the screen; the check in rows are 5 feet in front of you. You check in your bags, then walk 100m to pay fiskal (30 000 rupiah, domestic). Then you get on the plane. I have seen airports in small tribal town India that work and look better. Guwahati airport in Assam, for example, is light years more advanced.

    But never mind all that because Soekarno-Hatta airport has a Krispy Kreme outlet — outside, as all the shops are.

    While attempting to check in early I notice my flight had been delayed to 4.15 pm. I take to delays with a certain degree of nonchalance that only experience with budget airlines and Indian trains can afford. I sit at a restaurant eating overpriced soto babat, and only because A&W Indonesia doesn’t have curly fries, and talk to strangers. One man sitting next to me with an Eee PC tells me he is Vietnamese American and is travelling the world; he’d quit his job, but as a world class backgammon player… plays backgammon online and makes more money from that than some investment bankers I know. We both have not showered in many hours and as solo travellers, need each other: to watch our things when we go to the toilet to wash our faces.

    When it was time to check in for my flight at the new timing, I roll my trolley all the way back to the domestic terminal. The screen has been saying “retimed: 4.15 pm” all this while. Announcements are impossible to hear in this airport, if they exist at all. While trying to check in I find out my flight… berangkat! Departed. At the old time. It wasn’t delayed after all. Although the screen still said my flight is leaving at 4.15 pm.

    So I’d missed it and was put on the next flight to my destination… at 6.40 am the next morning. I was running out of Indonesian currency, and money changers don’t really exist in this airport (or they do, but in the most inconvenient place possible — at a location which necessitated me taking a shuttle bus there); I was getting cranky. I decided to stay in the village nearest to the airport rather than brave traffic back into Jakarta, preferring village life to hanging out at Soekarno-Hatta even though I knew my new friend the backgammon champion was going to be playing backgammon online at the airport until 10 am the next day. Every minute there was depressing.

    Someone booked me a decent hotel in that village, and they also came to pick me up. When I arrived in Banten I felt nothing. No panic, no horror, just one question: what am I going to do until 4.30 am tomorrow? (Remember, not having travel adapter = no laptop and mobile phone.)

    The hotel was decent enough. I’m used to hotels of all stripes. My accommodation preferences sway two ways: either extreme luxury of the private retreat sort, or bottom of the barrel. I mostly dislike everything in-between and would rather stay at a place scraping the bottom of a barrel than yet another soulless hotel. The bottom of the Banten barrel, this Sri Permata place, wasn’t too bad. I mean, I have stayed in leprosy mission guesthouses in Bangladesh, longhouses hours away from cellular coverage in Borneo, and box-sized rooms in Calcutta. And enjoyed them all.

    It’s the sort of place where everything on TV is in a language you don’t understand.

    In my case, everything on TV was in a language I understood in fits and starts. My grasp of Malay/Indonesian is shaky, not having done it in school, and with the sentence structures of a two year old and the vocabulary of a three year old, it’s frustrating to understand bits and nothing else. Though my dedicated efforts in reading signboards in Malaysia mean my abilities in this language are slowly improving (Me: “What’s_faedah_?!”, on an insurance signboard. Her: “Say it again! Hahaha!” Me: “Frown!”) it still counts for nothing. If anything at all I feel like an idiot. Watching TV affirmed this. I understood one in ten words.

    So an Indonesian comedy program, which I’m sure was very funny to the native audience, sounded to me like this:






    (Audience: “Hahahaha!”)

    Me: “There are many mosquitoes in this room alright.” (in my head, and in English /switches off TV) Though to my credit, I did understand that they’d written in a product placement for Hak Hak Bento prawn tempura: they’d erected an entire shopfront on the set and were discussing how delicious prawn tempura was. Not entirely useful linguistic skills, then.

    By which time it was 5.50pm and every channel on TV was a call to prayer for buka puasa(break fast). I wandered out into the village in search of food.

    Since I had 11 hours to kill in this place I picked a warung at the brightest spot in town — Cafe Rindu, right outside Indomaret, Indonesia’s answer to 7-Eleven. In a town like this, 24h convenience stores did not exist. They closed at 10pm. I had 4 hours to go in the bright lights of this warung.

    Reading Indonesian menus are never too harrowing. Being from where I am I understand 98% of menus in Indonesia and have probably eaten most of it. It seemed like a day for_roti panggang_ (toast), but so many options! Coklat! Keju! Strawberry! Selai kacang! It didn’t seem like a night for chocolate, cheese or strawberry. But just what was the last option?

    I puff up my chest slightly and furrow my brow.

    “Kak. Errrr… selai kacang. Ini apa?”

    If anyone ever asked me that in English I would react the same way 18 year old Yati did. Stumble, laugh, giggle, and not know what to say.

    “Peanut butter. This what?” What is the world? Why is the sky blue? Why does my Indonesian suck? Why am I so hungry? What is life? Why are we here? How does one answer that?

    Yati pondered the deepest existential question posed to anyone since The Answer is 42. What is peanut butter, indeed?

    She made me some, and I understood. I understood the secrets of the world, and why we are here. To eat peanut butter toast at a warung in a random, faceless small town in Java. To do all that while attempting to talk to people in a language I don’t entirely understand or speak.

    When it was all over she asked me to be her friend. In Indonesian, of course. (“What? Huh? What did you say? Speak slowly? I is from Singapur. me speak Bahasa Indonesia a little bit a little bit.”)

    I wanted to ask her to leave me her address so I could send her a postcard.

    “Please give me your maklumat.”

    Blank stare.

    (Maklumat = information)

    “Sorry, please give me your alumat.”

    Another blank stare and a giggle. I vow to stop trying to speak Indonesian if I get it wrong again.

    (Alumat = doesn’t mean anything)


    Yati clapped her hands, giggled, actually shrieked and did a little jiggle. And wrote excitedly on my writing pad. In English. Name = Yati. Age = 18. Address = xxxxx, Banten, Indonesia.

    I’m not used to girls behaving like that towards me at all, certainly not used to tudung-wearing girls in Java (or anywhere else) being so excited about me.

    I wish I could tell her peanut butter is the world, but knowing my shit Indonesian it would probably come out as “in the world, peanut butter is”. Or “peanut butter, in the world”.

    It was time to leave. And I had her alamat, and all the maklumat I needed. Now to tidur, and balik ke SingapurLangsung!

    A few Malay/Indonesian language elves died in the process of writing this entry.

    (Incidentally, for years my mother thought I was dating a Javanese girl named Yati. And chose to call her Yeti. How that’s anywhere close to Z’s real name is a mystery to all of us. My mother was also fond of boasting to her friends that Yeti was the colour of _kopi susu_and like hitam manis — milk coffee, and black and sweet, which I guess ties into the whole abominable snowman idea — so I guess irrelevant Indonesian skills are something I inherited.)

  • My City

    My city is often made out to be a boring business city, sterile and lifeless. Not entirely. No amount of protestation at how we’re really unique, though, is effective in driving home the truth about (some parts of) my city — how there are bits you can really love, if you look hard enough.

    My city, tonight, started off innocuously enough, with a solo train ride back to the city from the airport. Wondering around the east, feeling like I’m exploring a new country altogether, one I only go to in order to leave and return to the country, before running back towards the familiarity of the places I know and the places I love.

    Little India was my first love. It was here where I wandered about, as a kid visiting relations, demanding ice cream and discovering kulfi, my first taste of something new, different, bold — pistachio, spices, cream, all the better to quench the heat. Then as a teenager, discovering the back roads of Little India, talking to everybody, wandering into every shop; how I can always count on being fed for free by Indian hawker families who now treat me as their own niece, how after twenty years, I am still in awe, still finding new places, new tastes, and new people. Then going to places like Triplicane, Chennai, and feeling entirely in my element, knowing where to find things and occasionally, what to say.

    Then Arab Street, adjacent, separated only by that canal. It is a walk I make often, in either direction, past the thieves’ market at Sungei Road where I followed my father to as a child, complaining, sweating under the heat looking at old, dirty things and deciphering rude Hokkien shouts they call Hokkien conversation, which I now love. Past Kelantan Road, which I know for the laksa my mother loves. Jalan Besar: that Chinese fringe of Little India. Kitchener Road, Maude Road, Tyrwhitt Road. The parts in which I find myself, often, thinking of as Scissor Cut Curry Rice, Pu Tien (Henghwa restaurant), Min Chung (Henghwa coffeeshop, amazing clams), and Northern Thai (what was once my favourite tomyam soup haunt, with fried fish).

    My city, tonight. First off the train into the city, then Haji Lane, Bussorah Street, Arab Street, Kandahar Street. These are the streets where my memories, both happy and tragic ones, were made. Then that walk across that canal and into Little India; years before I was born my grandfather worked at that huge market in the area, now I know it almost instinctively. Desker Road — you know it for the transvestite brothels — I know it for Usman, the Pakistani coffeeshop at the end of the street, in bright blue. Shahi paneer, fried dhal, kadai chicken, and the first palak paneer that even remotely agreed with my by now demanding tastes for food from this region. They knew us, we regulars; after all this is where I once ran up a tab for the copious amounts of tea I used to drink here. Tonight I was here with someone more regular than I, someone who could actually speak their language (someone so regular they deliver to his doorstep when he asks!). My rudimentary Hindi won me plenty of points.

    If you don’t know a thing about South Asian cultures, you might find Little India one big, scary, monolith (I still find it appalling that Chinese people here think there is a language called “Indian” and one uniform “Indian identity”). But you get the South Indian, Tamilian influence everywhere along Little India, them forming the primary Indian population after all; but the further north you get, the more diverse. Pakistani and Bangladeshi restaurants and shops, sporadic and not entirely large enough to form Little Pakistan or Little Bangladesh, but thousands of miles out of the subcontinent, co-existing in harmony. Tonight, I wolfed down my lovely Pakistani meal, had a never-ending discussion about travel in Pakistan and Mughal-e-Azam, then popped over to a Bangladeshi restaurant on “Bangla Square” to get us a misti doi each.

    Cultures clash so often in this part of the world, I really shouldn’t be surprised anymore — but as I made vain attempts to show off what little Bengali I knew (this doesn’t take very much effort for a yellow girl), the owner of the place spun around from the hilsa he was scooping and said: ni zai wo de guo jia… zou lai zou qu ma? (were you walking around in my country, Bangladesh?), and was happy I’d been to his “native” (Rongpur). He apparently worked in Taipei for a while, and his Mandarin was probably as bad good as my Bengali. But still. The misti doi was great. The misti doi made me ache a little for the subcontinent. As a parting shot, I took a stab in the dark and asked if he would know where I could buy Hemanta Mukhopadhyay’s Bangla music. This being Little India, after all, he shouted out of his shop — someone came running by waving a TV controller about shouting “what is it?” — and promptly led me away to a little cornershop in an alley. The name? Dhaka Corner. They had my Mukhopadhyay, as well as the Ornob album I wanted, and recommended a new Bangladeshi popstar called Habib, who really is excellent. All this, just a stone’s throw away from where I spend so much of my time, Mustafa Centre. So in one evening alone, I had dinner at a Pakistani restaurant with a Nepali boy and some Chinese friends (and generally felt like we were showing them around a new country), bought misti doi from a Chinese-speaking Bangladeshi, found the Bengali music I’ve wanted for ages, then long conversations about Lahore with random intriguing Pakistanis.

    Some nights, I really love my city. Tonight was one of them.

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