Before I moved to London I was told often how similar it is to Bombay.
Locations made familiar in Bollywood films, Victoria carriages, a melting pot of communities… and for the days I felt homesick I had Wembley, Southall and Brick Lane. They said I would feel right at home.
Of course I didn’t.
I especially resisted Shoreditch for years. A lot of that had to do with constant invitations to test how authentic the “curry” is. And some had to do with the city’s coolerati constantly trying to put Shoreditch in a box (that it always triumphantly wriggled out of).
And then three years ago, the day I stopped feeling homesick, I set out for Brick Lane. I braced myself for the assault of sweet shops, Bangladeshi curry smells and filthy streets, and instead lost my way to Arnold Circus. I’m not sure if it was the monsoon-like July afternoon or the sudden quiet that surrounded me, but for my first few minutes in Shoreditch I thought I was in Bombay’s Horniman Circle Gardens. I felt right at home.
In that instant I was back in the Bombay of 1992, walking through Horniman Circle to Cafe Mocambo, for my first ever chai at my first ever Irani Cafe, for my first ever date. I remember sitting on a bench in the little garden and asking Bombay to help settle my nerves.
This garden in South Bombay really should not be the sanctuary it is… the Bombay Stock Exchange is a stone’s throw away, the city’s Mint isn’t far either, and one of Bombay’s busiest business districts – Fort/Fountain – kisses the edge of the gardens. And yet the labyrinth of streets that surround Horniman Circle are like caravans of calm, guiding weary visitors to hidden gems like Bombay Paperie, Cafe Mocambo, Jimmy Boy and Apoorva. Is the quiet out of reverence for the imposing Asiatic Library whose brilliant white steps lead into Horniman Circle? Or does Bombay herself need to stop for chai in the middle of a Tuesday afternoon?
Since that day, Arnold Circus has represented all that Horniman Circle does for me. A space to escape from the Suits, the clatter of Brick Lane, and the skyscrapers of the City. Lazy afternoons of ambling around the cafes and stores that weave their protective net around Arnold Circus have found a permanent place on my Greatest Hits of Memories playlist, that I often replay in my mind.
And so London became what Bombay is. Both are cities you can get lost in to never be found; and yet find yourself over and over again. These are cities where destiny, loss and love are just round the corner. Maximum cities where anything is possible. Everything is possible.
From Thums Ups at Café Mocambo to Thums Up Flips at Dishoom Shoreditch, life seems to have started all over again. Thank you, Dishoom.
Many thanks to Pooja for the guest blog post. Visit her blog.