I am savoring my tap beer at Café Mondegar in Colaba and staring at the people seated around me. That’s something you can do in Mumbai without shame, even when within elbow-touching distance, as nobody here is bothered with anybody else’s business.
Space is at a premium in Mumbai, and so is time. So everybody goes about their work in these close confines, detached but focused on what they are doing. A student turns the pages of his CV and explores his job prospects eagerly with an older man. Three colleagues are taking a lunch break, while going over the discussion they have just had at a client meeting. A group of women friends file in with shopping bags and sit down to pore over the menu stuck securely under the glass tabletop.
The only person at a loose end is a distinctly British gent. I take the liberty of asking whether he’s here as a regular or a tourist. It happens that he’s come on a recommendation by a guidebook, since Mondegar is a south Mumbai landmark, along with the neighboring Café Leopold that was made notorious by a terrorist attack in November 2008.
I prefer Mondegar to Leopold because the atmosphere is more laid-back, the waiters more friendly, and the walls more bright with a larger than life mural by the late Mario Miranda, India’s favorite cartoonist. I order a spicy, cubed steak or “pepper steak boti” but note sadly that the meat is stringy buffalo rather than cow. There has been a recent ban on cattle slaughter by the state’s right-wing government. The jukebox is a popular feature here and favorite Mumbai melodies by Michael Jackson, Jim Reeves and other pop legends waft through the air.
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