Next morning I walked across to the nearby Landmark to buy some books. Bunny arrived at noon and we took a cab to Juhu. The plan was to spend the afternoon in the outdoor cafe at Prithvi theater.
Privthvi cafe had the relaxed atmosphere you’d expect in a centre for arts and theater. Bips joined us shortly and through the afternoon we chose one exotic item after another from the self-service counter:
2 Moroccan Mint Tea ………. 70.00
1 Chicken Mayo …………….. 45.00
1 Mushroom Melt …………… 35.00
1 Paneer Tikka Sandwich …. 50.00
1 Carrot Cake ……………….. 45.00
1 Cold Coffee ………………… 70.00
Occasionally a TV or film artist passed by. I recognized one actor but could not place him. Later it occurred that he had played a small role in Swades, as the wanderer Shah Rukh Khan gives a lift to and sings a song with.
Conversation was slow-paced and easy. The excitement of the first meeting had passed, and we had all afternoon ahead of us. I was still recovering from a bout of cold and fever (which explains the excess of tea in the menu); I was content to listen.
Bips spoke about her NGO experience, working with underprivileged children. The kids went to school and yet were challenged to explain basic ideas. She designed cards that explain concepts like ‘day and night’ through pictures. The NGO, which works with communities in cities and rural areas, typically engaged with a community and deployed teaching methods.
Bunny had a lot to say about ‘cultural chauvinism’. Some forces in Mumbai wanted outsiders – non Marathis – to move out. This was nothing new – Bal Thackeray has been singing this tune for decades now – but apparently it was getting worse. (Bips chimed in and remarked that at her workplace women preferred to speak only in Marathi during meetings.) The insider-outsider discussion led to other examples: Bunny talked about translated-works focusing on Bengali writers because the editor and chief of most publishing firms were Bengali.
Listening all the India-related talk, I was struck by the extent I had ‘switched off’ from the conversations in this country. I rarely followed Indian periodicals; my view of India was filtered through the eyes of foreign correspondents reporting for American and European magazines: Time, Economist, New Yorker. I had even lost track of the Indian cricket team and its fortunes, unthinkable a decade ago.