Where we are

“This one a long time have I watched. Never his mind on where he was. Hmm. What he was doing. Hmph. Adventure. Heh! Excitement. Heh! A Jedi craves not these things. (turning to Luke) You are reckless!”

– Yoda, from The Empire Strikes Back

Re-reading my posts here, I’ve noticed that I’ve been doing a lot of writing about who we’re seeing, what we’re doing, what we’re planning to do, what the future holds etc, and not a lot about where we actually are. So I thought I’d write a bit about the place we’re staying, our home for the last few weeks and the forseeable future.

So we’re staying in a place called the Sea Shore Hotel. It’s on the top floor of a four-storey building that also houses two other guest houses, one of which is the India Guest House (of Shantaram fame, although we didn’t realise this when we first lobbed at the Sea Shore). The building’s on a little side street off the main road that runs along part of Colaba’s foreshore. At the other end is the palatial Taj Hotel – the standard of accomodation kinda decreases as you head along the road. You get to the Sea Shore by climbing four flights of ball-breakingly steep stairs. The stairwell is no oil painting – paan-stained walls, stairs that could do with a good sweep, and a cobwebbed hotch-potch powerboard that makes you think that Indian electricians must have a hell of a time not to get themselves killed.

Still, for all that it’s not much to look at, the building’s proven a lovely place to stay, mainly because of the people who inhabit it. On the way up the stairs, you first pass Indian Cottage Industries Emporium, some sort of trinket showroom that occupies the first floor. It’s staffed by the amusingly-named Ganesh and Ganesh – Ganesh 1 is the doorman, a lovely softly-spoken chap who we’ve befriended of late – I do my best to chat to him in my rudimentary Hindi, and he’s always keen to know what we’re up to and how we are. He was fascinated with my MP3 player – “4,000 songs!? How can this be?” – and I found it kinda humbling that it probably cost several months’ worth of his salary. Ganesh 2 hangs out inside – I’ve not chatted to him much as yet, but Leila seems to have made friends with him.

The second floor houses the Sea Palace hotel – a palace it most certainly isn’t, but the staff are friendly and always give us a happy “Namaste” as we struggle up the stairs. The India Guest House, on the third floor, is owned by the same people that own our hotel, so the staff often wander upstairs to hang out. Most of them are Nepalese, although they also speak Hindi – I guess they come here to work and send the money home to their families. It’s a hard slog – they live at the hotel, and rarely seem to leave it.

And then there’s the Sea Shore. Run by a Tamil chap called Mr Kumar, it’s got 16 rooms, of which we occupy #16. It’s the best room in the place – all the others are along a corridor and separated by thin partitions, but #16 is down a little flight of stairs and thus is a lot quieter and more private. It’s a decent size room, with a desk, TV, air-conditioner, and a big window which gives us a scenic view of the building below, where they seem to be adding another floor. Incidentally, Indian construction methods are a thing to behold – whenever they run out of space, they just whack another floor on top of the building. It probably contravenes every building safety regulation you can think of, but it seems to work (well, we’ve not seen any that have collapsed yet, anyway).

Anyway, we pay 600 rupees a night – it should be 700, but Mr Kumar seems to like us (especially after all the hullaballoo about the poor guy who died there) and thus gives us a discount. He’s a lovely chap – he was telling us the other day that he’s been working there 26 years, and only gets home to see his family in Kerala during the monsoon. The rest of the time he lives and works at the Sea Shore. As he’s the manager, he at least gets a bed of his own – the rest of the staff, along with the India Guest House crew, sleep either in a little hidey-hole they’ve set up for themselves in the attic, or in reception (on the desk, or on the floor).

Apart from Kumar, the staff consists of two stern young Nepalese boys and one older Indian dude. The boys are great. They clean, cook, mop, scrub, do laundy, the works – when they’re not doing that, they’re wandering around in their underwear or playing cards. One sports a disproportionately deep voice and the spectacular moniker of Rampasampandu – unfortunately, their English is of a similar standard to my Hindi, so in either language, our conversation with them is exactly the same, day after day:

Boy: Hello!
Tom / Leila: Hi!
Boy: How are you?
T / L: Fine thanks. How are you?
Boy: I am fine, thank you. (gives a big smile and scurries off to do some work)

There are three shared bathrooms, none of which have hot showers – we wash with buckets of water, which are sometimes hot and sometimes not. Still, given that it’s so hot and humid here, a cold shower is often a relief. The TV has no cable channels, so we never watch it – we spend most of our time in the room sitting next to the air conditioner, reading or just hanging out.

So, that’s our life at the Sea Shore hotel – us and Mr Kumar, the Nepalese boys, the shared bathrooms, the construction site and Ganesh and Ganesh. Outside, there’s the old dude who sells hot peanuts for 5 rupees a go, the even older dude who sits hanging out on his verandah watching the world go by and always gives us a wave when we go by, the cobbler who always remembers our name, the begging gangs who know us well enough by now not to bother, the restaurant that sells us yoghurt for breakfast, the old dog who hangs out in the stairwell to escape the heat, the street dog with a swollen eye who mopes about looking sorry for himself, the local cats… It’s a whole little scene, and for now, it feels like home. A good home. It’s amazing how quickly you can adapt to a situation. And how much you can get out of it.

Other thoughts since I last wrote:

Great India moment of the week: spotting the latest innovation in luxury budget transport – a cycle rickshaw with a portable DVD player installed in the back.

Amusing India fact of the week: the words for “tomorrow” and “yesterday” in Hindi are one and the same. This probably explains a great deal about the Indian attitude to time.

Oh, and a special mention for the Roger Waters concert – it was great. Explosions, projections, and a giant inflatable pig… everything you could ask for from stadium rock! He played the whole of The Dark Side of the Moon from start to finish, along with plenty of other Pink Floyd classics (including heaps of songs from The Wall , which remains my favourite Floyd album). His solo stuff was a bit hit and miss, but I guess you can afford the man his indulgence. Also amusing was his guitarist, who is basically a Xerox of Dave Gilmour of Pink Floyd – same guitar tone, same solos, same effects, same voice… everything. Presumably he does everything Gilmour did, except argue. Old rock stars just get more cantankerous and controlling as they get older, it seems.

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