Life in the fast lane

Chintan Girish Modi regales us with snippets of Mumbai life: the priorities, the art scene and the hopes for Indo-Pak harmony

Life in the fast lane
You must be aware of the big dilemma Indians are facing these days. No, it’s not about choosing between the BJP and the Congress. It’s about Dilwale and Bajirao Mastani.

My friend Pinky is one of the few people who have their lives sorted. “I am sorry, I can’t watch a Rohit Shetty film. If you pay me, I’ll take your money but won’t go. His humour makes me puke, not laugh. No, I swear I love Kajol and Shah Rukh Khan but I’d rather watch DDLJ on DVD.”

In Mumbai, our lives are faster than bullet trains so we shorten names - like DDLJ

You see, in Mumbai, our lives are faster than bullet trains so we shorten names like Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge. The last time I watched that film was ten years ago when I snuck out with a college sweetheart to Maratha Mandir, a cinema hall that played it for years after its release. We shared the hall with bugs in the seats, and a motley crowd of young couples, taxi drivers, and families with cranky babies trying to compete with Lata Mangeshkar to fill the air.


It is Art Night Thursday, that delicious part of the week when galleries in South Mumbai stay open till 9:30 pm instead of downing their shutters at dusk. Art-lovers hop from one gallery to the other, and the evening is alive with conversation. I am at a stunning preview of a young artist’s first solo exhibition. Her landscapes are intense and I could spend hours here, drinking in the colours, but there are too many distractions.

The man with the tray of basil pesto hummus and pita bread moves around briskly, and two college students standing beside me break into laughter.

“Man, the booze is great. And it’s all free!”

“Yes, but the next time I hear someone saying ‘subversive’, I’m throwing this glass at them.”

“Oh, and ‘liminal spaces’ too.”

“You forgot ‘the human condition’.”

“We should totally do a novel about the art world. Lots of masala here.”


I missed my school reunion. My mother was a bit unwell, so I stayed home to cook a watered down version of her brilliant Pav Bhaji recipe. Thankfully, I reconnected with at least one school buddy on Facebook and we are meeting at a coffee shop this evening.

He waves a wedding invitation in my face. It’s a bit of a surprise but I am excited to know how they met. “I was in bed when this happened,” he says. The naughty look creeps into my eye. As I am doing a fake clearing of the throat, and saying “Wow, that’s a great way to meet”, he laughs.

“I was advised bed rest because I had a car accident. My spine was badly injured, and I was home for six months. The girl I’m marrying used to come over to see me, and we became close friends. But hey, I like the way you think. Maybe that’s the story I should be telling.”


Jinki chingaariyon se bilkul aankhon par roshni parti hai, woh unhein bandh kar nawaazish karein.” That is the veteran poet Gulzar requesting press photographers to turn off the flash. We are at a literature festival, and he is in conversation with artist Salima Hashmi, daughter of poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz.

Faiz Saahab inke vaalid the, aur hamaaray liye vaalid se kam nahin. Uss naam ki hum ibaadat karte hain. Woh naam hai bhi ibaadat ke laayak,” he remarks. (“Faiz was her father, and not less than a father to me. I worship that name. It is worthy of veneration.”)

Gulzar, Salima Hashmi and Ali Sethi in Mumbai
Gulzar, Salima Hashmi and Ali Sethi in Mumbai

Salimaji, who has travelled all the way from Lahore, is overwhelmed with emotion. “Mumbai was so dear to Abba’s heart. This is where his friends lived - Balraj Sahni, Rajinder Singh Bedi, Ismat Chughtai, Ali Sardar Jafri. Today, I took a taxi, and as I drove past Marine Drive, all those memories came flooding in. I tried hard to hold back my tears,” she says.

The stage is shared by singer and novelist Ali Sethi, who sings ‘Mujhse pehli si mohabbat meri mehboob na maang’, ‘Gulon mein rang bhare’, and ‘Hum dekhenge’ - each one a gem crafted by Faiz, and rendered by Ali with beauty and devotion.

Yaar, yeh Ali Sethi na burra hot banda hai. Isko yaheen rakh laitay hain. Bus woh gaata rahay aur main sunti rahoon!” exclaimed a filmmaker a few seats away. (Dude, this Ali Sethi is a really hot guy. Let us keep him here. He can just keep singing, and I can just keep listening)

Chintan Girish Modi is a Mumbai-based writer. That he shares his last name with a Prime Minister is purely a matter of coincidence. He tweets at @chintan_connect