On a Saturday evening in Bombay, there was usually a crowd outside Regal Cinema. When the ‘House Full’ sign went up, the touts commenced the sale of ‘black’ tickets. Jaggu picked out prospective customers with an expert eye. A quick show of fingers, a slight nod and the deal was struck. Cash and ticket exchanged hands. Jaggu pocketed the money and zeroed in on the next prospect. Munna worked another section of the crowd. It was almost show time. The doors of the cinema opened and the spectators streamed in. A few hopefully lingered outside, trying to get at the few remaining tickets. Jaggu and Munna bargained with practiced ease. There was a last minute flurry as the lucky ones eagerly paid the inflated price, procured the tickets and hurried into the theatre.
The evening’s pickings were good. Jaggu and Munna grinned at each other, sipping tea at the stall across the road. They had two hours free before the crowd started coming in for the late night show. They sauntered around the open parking lot, casually inspecting the vehicles. Munna worked part-time in Bachoobhai’s garage and was knowledgeable about cars and bikes. Jaggu clambered atop a Land Rover and looked around. “Hey Munna, look. Your favourite bike!”
Munna nodded, his admiring eyes on the Yamaha RD 350 which roared into sight. The biker slowed down and turned into the open-air parking lot. Munna smartly saluted him and said “ Saheb, shall I give your bike a rub down?”
The man replied “Sure, but be careful. I don’t want to see a single scratch on it.”
“Ok, Saheb.” said Munna and got down to work.
He did a thorough job, caressing the gleaming bike with his cloth. An hour later the biker returned. He tipped Munna a few rupees and climbed on to the bike. Munna slipped the money into his pocket without taking his eyes off the Yamaha.
“What a beauty!” he sighed as the bike sped away.
“Others fall in love with girls. You have eyes only for bikes.” Jaggu teased.
“Not any bike.” Munna retorted. “ If only I had this one, I would die happy.”
“Ok, fine. Save your dialogue.” drawled Jaggu. “The crowd is coming in for the next show. Let’s get to work.”
At 9.30 PM, their last ticket sold, the two friends went to a restaurant on the Colaba Causeway for a hearty meal of biryani and kababs washed down with cold beer. Then they ambled leisurely towards the Gateway of India. The waves of the Arabian Sea dashed against the stone walls. The ferry boats rocked gently at their moorings. The lights of ships at anchor glowed in the dark distance. Facing the Gateway on the other side of the promenade and paved square, stood the imposing edifice of the Taj Mahal Hotel.
On weekend evenings the place had a special buzz. People enjoyed being outdoors during these few months when the heat and humidity of the city was at its lowest. Street vendors did brisk business, selling chana, bhel and similar snacks. Jaggu and Munna sat on the parapet munching freshly roasted bhutta spiced with salt, chilli and lime juice. With full stomachs and cash in the pockets, pleasantly vague thoughts flitted through their minds like butterflies. Munna kept up a running commentary on the fancy vehicles that drove past.
They headed to Lohar Chawl. This street was home to Munna as far back as he could remember. He grew up with a loose-knit gang of urchins who ran errands and loafed in the area. Munna did any odd job that came his way, but Bachoobhai’s garage drew him like a magnet. Munna hung around, fascinated with the bikes and cars. He fetched and carried with alacrity, always ready to assist the mechanics. Gradually, he picked up some basic skills and made himself useful. Bachoobhai paid him a small weekly sum and let him sleep in a corner of his loft. Occasionally he let Munna ride the customers’ bikes up and down the street. Because of these treats and the rough kindness of the older man, Munna regarded Bachoobhai as his mentor.
By the time Munna was a in his late teens, Jaggu who had introduced him to the business of ‘black’ tickets was a close companion. Neither had family ties. They spent their free time together. At night they slept in the basement of a cheap lodge which they shared with other homeless laborers.
Every Saturday evening, as he touted cinema tickets outside Regal Cinema, Munna kept a look out for the Yamaha RD 350. The biker, flattered by Munna’s obvious admiration, exchanged an occasional pleasantry at the car park.
One evening, the biker had trouble starting the bike. Instantly, Munna was by his side.
“Saheb, can I help?”
The biker fiddled with the starter button “I hope it is not something major.”
“A super bike like this – impossible!” exclaimed Munna. “May be the battery or the spark plugs need attention.”
A few failed attempts later the biker muttered , “Where will I find a garage open at this time?”