x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Trying to be cool in Mumbai - I mean, Bombay

Intent on spending the New Year in India, I invited myself to a friend's place in Mumbai last December.

Intent on spending the New Year in India, I invited myself to a friend's place in Mumbai last December. There was a skip in my step as I disembarked from the plane and walked the unending, grey corridors of the airport. It was 4am, and I couldn't wait for the adventures to begin. The last time I was there, more than a decade ago, the city was still called Bombay. I was 15, and after begging, pouting and arguing with my parents, they finally let me spend the summer vacation at my cousin's place. From what I remember, it was very cool. I even mastered the Hindi dialect of the city - which is what all bad guys in Bollywood films sound like - only to have it cruelly suppressed by my father as soon as I got home. It was, he said, too crass.

Now I was returning on my own terms. I could spend at will, eat street food and best of all, visit all those "happening" places that I was too young to venture into. But having spent half my life in India, the other half abroad, I was no longer just returning from a foreign stint, I was a legit non-resident Indian (NRI), and acutely aware of the stereotypes associated with that image. I would slip up, I knew it, and would display all those traits that people returning to their motherland do. I would be clueless about recent developments. I would spend too much (and wear clothes in loud, shiny colours and too much gold) and most of all, bottled water and a hand sanitiser would never leave my side. So I prepared as best I could and read as many official and unofficial guides to the city. I even watched a few films such as Kaminey (set in Mumbai's underbelly) to avoid being an embarrassment to my friends.

My friend is a news television producer. We've known each other since we were seven and in boarding school together. His wife is an advertising executive. A couple of other friends, also from the same time, were young professionals there. They knew me before my NRI days, so they knew it would hurt. When asked what I'd like to do during my time there, I told them I wanted to go dancing at a club that played Bollywood music. Fatal mistake. Apparently, people who live in the city that encapsulates one of the world's biggest movie producers no longer dance to the industry's tunes. I cringed. They noticed. If I wanted to be one of them and discover the city as they saw it - and were proud of - I would follow without any flashy-NRI resistance.

So that is how we arrived at Blue Frog. Located in an industrial compound, of what used to once be the thriving textile mills district (till the government decreed that all industries be located on the outskirts of the city), the empty spaces were now being converted into gems such as this to host a variety of musical acts. That night, I watched Nojazz, a "trip-hop/funk/electro" jazz band from Paris while noshing on pork ribs and sipping locally produced champagne called Sula Brut. A black velvet cropped jacket with gold detail by JJ Valaya was seated beside a Missoni knit tunic top.

Does not sound like the India you imagine? The dapper crowds gathered there forgive you. This, my friends explained, was the new India. There was still poverty on the streets but there were six BlackBerrys on the table. The city had always been the most cosmopolitan of all the Indian cities but Mumbai, I told them, was now indistinguishable from the rest of the world. They agreed. Then corrected their ignorant friend again. Turns out, all the cool kids still call it Bombay.

@Email:sbhattacharya@thenational.ae Hadeel al Shalchi returns next week