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Friday, February 10, 2006

Apollo Bunder

What is more poignant than being a stranger in your own land? Via Murali, I met up with Jimmy M Framjee and his daughter, Rukhsana, who are, they say, the only Parsis in Islamabad. Jimmy used to own a thriving business selling liquor, which collapsed once prohibition was imposed. Rukhsana now has a small business selling soft drinks from her house, but they are essentially living on the past, and in the past.

Jimmy is from Navshera near Peshawar, and he used to own a shop – M Framjee and Sons – that sold liquor there. When it was outlawed in NWFP, he shifted the business to Islamabad and settled here. But then came the Zia years, and prohibition wiped out his shop, which was based in Islamabad’s popular Super Market. “I couldn’t afford to pay the rent,” Jimmy said, “if I couldn’t sell liquor. So I had to shut it down.”

“What did you do then?” I ask.

“What could I do?” he asks back. “I was growing older.” He pauses. His eyes are moist, and I change the subject. I ask Rukhsana about Mumbai. Rather, for her, Bombay.

Rukhsana bubbles with energy, and seems particularly excited that guests have come, and she can speak to them about shared places. She loves Bombay, and has many relatives and friends there. She starts speaking about it, and every sentence seems to have two exclamations marks at the end. Her voice dances when she goes over the names of places, and her eyes light up. I can’t remember the exact words, but I remember some of the places she mentions, and the sentiments.
You know, we travelled once to Bombay by train in a dining car … Such lovely chicken curry … I love fish …And what local trains … Andar ka jhoka, andar, baahar ka jhoka tho bahar … Once I was travelling from Churchgate to Dadar, and I couldn’t get out! My purse got stuck! All the ladies said, leave your purse, but I said no, why should I leave my purse? I got down in Andheri!

How I loved travelling in the BEST buses! Double decker, single decker, sab kiya re!

And Delhi! How I loved Chandi Chowk! … Once I went to that underground market near Janpath, kya naam hai, yes, Palika Bazaar! How much time we spent inside, every shop I visited. We went in at 12 in the afternoon, and when we came out, it was dark! Chhe baj gaya tha! … I saw a pani puri man and called him and said idhar aa, pani puri khila! …

And once we went to Delhi and took a Rajdhani to Bombay. What a train!
Rukhsana then starts talking about Bombay again, all the places she goes to, and her friends in Parsi Colony. And at one point, Jimmy, his eyes still moist, speaks up.

“Apollo Bunder,” he says. “I used to go to Apollo Bunder.”

Rukhsana beams at me. “Arre, why are you talking about all this to me, I feel like I’m in Bombay again, I feel like I’m sitting in Bombay.” The room is full of memories, and she is happy. And yet, though she smiles, I sense a sadness as well. The memories are fresh now, and yet I can imagine how far away the past must feel sometimes. As if it’s another country.
amit varma, 11:58 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage

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