My rendezvous with a banker in London and his story of where in Bombay he lived, and why. I was asked not to disclose his name if I wanted to write this.
It was a Thursday afternoon at the Charlotte street hotel. He ordered a glass of diet coke and I asked for a glass of wine and some olives.
SG: So how did you end up in Bombay?
Banker: I went to Bombay to pursue a career in investment banking, working for a multinational corporation based there. I had never been to Bombay before and I don’t speak any Hindi. I got into a taxi and asked the driver to take me somewhere I could stay. He took me to Colaba – to a building with a few rooms – all fitted with red light bulbs – the smallest room I had seen yet, at 150 rupees a night. There was no window – only an Air Conditioner and a small vent. The AC took up most of the space. There was an enclosure with a tap and a bucket that was meant to be the bathroom, right next to the bed. This situation was only temporary though, as I was going to get some help to find a room through some people I was introduced to through a common friend. I didn’t know what they did for a living but they were great guys. Barely spoke any English. I drank with them in my first week – in a garage somewhere in the slums of Colaba. It was almost like a character test I had to pass to get the room.
SG: So did you get the room? Where was it?
Banker: The room, I later discovered, was in a slum in Colaba. The same slum that the writer guy from Australia lived in apparently (Shantaram). When I got there I had an interview with the landlord (or slumlord?) They told me to keep my head low and be respectful. Even though I did, I didn’t get the room and to this day I don’t know why. I found something else though – this was better than the slum of course. It was the back of a building in a posh area of Bombay, Bandra. A big new build – except that I stayed in the service quarters at the back of the building. We were only allowed to use the service lift. I moved out again when the landlord started to increase the rent.
SG: But working in banking did you not make enough money to live in a swanky Bandra pad? What did your friends think? Did you care?
Banker: Well I worked very hard; and I’m from a family of academics. I didn’t see the point of spending my money on rent. That being said, I went out to bars and got take out (pepperoni pizza) from the Taj. I somehow loved being in the centre of town and paying for what seemed right. I never told my parents where I lived and I didn’t really bring anyone home. It suited me perfectly. In a way, I got so attached to the simplicity of it all. The next place I moved into was a room in Chimbai village, in a slum near the sea. There was no interview for this room. I spent the remainder of my time here in Bombay. My rent was 12,000 rupees and I was in the heart of the city. I lived above a mother and son, had an LPG gas stove, a fridge, TV and AC and was a short walk away from my favourite pizza take out. What more did one need?
I guess what struck me the most about Mr Banker was how he grew to attach himself to the simple joys of simple living in Bombay. And why he continued to live where he did regardless of his job, his friends, his family and how much he earned. The countless times he was brought food by his neighbours, or called over for dinner by those who were struggling each day to make ends meet. What he got back was abundantly more than money could ever buy.