Last night, or early this morning, since it was past, midnight, my cousin returned to Bombay from London after some-40 years. He had left Bombay a young man, a spring in his step, a song in his heart, slightly stooped, grey-haired between large bald patches. Or bald-headed with a few grey hair around the frings.
He came in by Alitalia, along with a lot of Kerala nuns; few priests, and some budget travellers. They say that Alitalia is about the best, the most organised and comfortable among the cut-rate airlines. I would knot know, I only travel when I get a free ticket when I get a free ticket and that is seldom.
The Sahar air-terminal was on one of its security binges. A small hand-written notice said. Visitors were not allowed in the visitors' area. At 12 o'clock in the night, half asleep, I did not see the notice inconpicuously stuck in some corner and walked in. a large, dark man, in a dark suit, rudely and severly ordered me out, threatening to arrest me and refusing to show me his own identity. I do nto mind the strict security, if it is necessary, it must be three. What I do mind is that after all the security and the harasement to the passengers, wanted criminal do manage to escape out of the country and saboteurs enter airports and planes and cause damage.
My cousin came out behind a trolley with one bag. Forty years abroad and just one bag to show for it. "Ah! Back in India!" he said, making one of those philosophical statements that people make when they cannot think of anything better to say on momentous occaasions. Did he find the airport changed, I asked him, knowing fully well that it was a new airport. He could not say, he said. When he had left, he had gone by sea, a P & O liner, and he had nevr seen the Bombay airport before.
We put his bag in the boot, put him in the front seat next to the driver, and drove out into the Bombay night. One consolation was that I would not have to apologise to him for the stink, the bodies sleeping by the roadside, the condition of the roads. After all, he was a Bombayman, born and bred, though he may have spent more years outside Bombay than in it.
Instead of taking the usual and sensible route into the city via Shivaji Park and Worli, we drove over the Tilak Bridge, through Dadar, Parel and Byculla, via Clare Road and Bellasis Road and through Foras Road, where night is like day and streets are crowded, AIDS or no AIDS.
We drove down Balaram Street and stopped at Balaram House. Do you recognise this? I asked. My cousin did not have a clue. This is you old house, I said. Slowly, recognition dawned on his face. May I get down and have a look? he asked. I nodded assent.