Putting down Roots
In a laid back beach town enroute to Chennai, the sun is beating down hard on the concrete. Undeterred tourists clad in pyjamas and tees ride around on Enfields or walk through narrow roads, peppered with restaurants and tourist shops selling everything from clothes to artefacts to bags. It’s a little past 1:30 pm and the restaurants are slowly beginning to fill up. The restaurants on a certain street seem to be filling up faster than others. These are the establishments that tourists seek out because they are featured in travel books and websites and on television as “must visit” and “most popular” and “local favourite”
In one such establishment amidst potted palms, cane furniture and Tanjore paintings we met Jacob.
Jacob** was the manager and politely stood back as we debated the merits of prawn versus fish, grilled versus fried. Lean and relaxed in jeans, shirt and a staple in hot climate – sandals – he waited as we perused every single item in the menu (it’s amazing that the hungrier one gets, the longer one takes going through menus!) Piping in after a momentary lull, Jacob suggested we first cool off with something refreshing, and proceeded to decide our order. Of course like all good restaurateurs he made it look like we had chosen the best dishes in the house!
Once we had tucked in (we even chose from the catch of the day) Jacob ambled over to enquire after the quality of the food. A cricket match was on that day, commentary blaring out over a flat screen hooked to the wall. Conversation moved from the food (lip smacking, if I may so) to the merits of various cricketers. Before long like any good host, James started enquiring as to where we lived. He became quite animated when he found out that one amongst us lived in Mumbai. “My hometown” he said. Which led to my next question “So, how did you end up here?” He laughed and still standing said “Well, I left and moved around here and there till I found this place. I wanted a place where I could find peace and this was it.”
Over pancakes with grated coconut, James started to ask our friend questions about Mumbai. He knew about the new flyovers and the towering high rises, but was more keen to learn about how life had changed. “I still have family there” he said, leaving it at that.
James – still standing – started to open up more about his life in Mumbai. Referring to Bandra as his playground, he said there wasn’t any part of the city that he was not acquainted with, but preferred the areas with access to the sea. Like Bandstand. Growing up in Mumbai also puts you in touch with people from all walks of life and in James’s case it was no different. He had friends aplenty and was living life in that particular larger than life way that is common amongst most Mumbaikars.
Before long, his family who were quite secure financially were able to open a store for him. “It was a large store dealing in sanitary ware near Andheri. Business was very good.” So, as the money grew so did James appetite for life. Before long he found himself part of a swish set, who also made up the entourage of a famous actor. Now this actor has been known to deal with illegal substances both as a user and a dealer. Before long James found himself addicted to a certain substance. Without embellishing his story any further, James said that he had hit his lowest point in life because he was on drugs and all he could think of was how to get his next “fix”. With his store “all gone” he was sent by his parents to a rehab centre in Chennai run by a church. James did not go into the details which led him to the small coastal town he now lived in. He said “So many things happened, and I landed up here. I am happy and peaceful here. I miss Mumbai – but that is in my past.”
As we prepared to leave, James bids us goodbye politely. Looking at him it was hard to imagine him in his earlier life. He looked like he had lived here, in this town, his whole life. But there is a saying “Storms make trees take deeper roots.” I don’t know about the storms that James has lived through, but they have definitely helped him put down strong roots. I don’t know if we will meet him again, but I still can see him sitting at a table, going through some ledgers and looking up briefly to catch some cricket action on the telly. Yup, he looked like he belonged.
** Names and some other details have been changed to protect personal identity.
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