Mumbai Diaries : Coffee, art and conversation

The lockdown has been eased a little. We are allowed to step outside our communities and drive or take a walk. Its a relief to be set free after 70 odd days of complete lockdown.

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The changes brought about as a result of the pandemic are visible. We step out with a mask on. With the Mumbai humidity, after a while it feels like we’ve been in a sauna. Its hot, stuffy and simply uncomfortable behind the mask. But the mask denotes equality. Unlike the purdah system followed by Muslim women or the ghungat system followed by Hindu women, here everybody has to wear a mask – man, women and children.

In the building there is a sanitizer kept in front of the lift in the lobby and there’s one at the gate. There’s also water kept aside for people to wash their hands. It reminds me of the traditional homes in the South of India – every house had a tap outside close to the entrance door or a bucket of water kept on the steps leading to the house for people to wash their hands and feet before they entered. Customs which died a natural death are making their way back as a necessity. The security guards are all wearing masks. The podium is empty. There are no senior citizens sitting on the benches basking in the sun and there are no children playing outdoors.

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A pool of rain water lies in the landing of the slide, in the garden.The pigeons congregate on the street ignoring us completely. They do not budge as we walk in their direction. As for the crows, they seem habituated to not having us around for they swoop in and fly straight at us or past us making us duck.

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Within the community the rest feels the same- the grounds have been cleared of fallen leaves by the housekeeping staff who have not gone home since the lockdown began. The garden’s been mowed. The flowers are in full bloom.

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Once we step out, the changes in the last two and a half months are more obvious. Lines, circles, squares have been painted on the pavement in front of stores and restaurants – a reminder that we are ‘boxed’. There is a unfamiliar quiet. Shutters over shops selling non-essentials remain pulled down even after 90 days of lockdown. The ones that are open, have a sanitizer kept in the front and the guard stands with a temperature reading gun in his hand – he points it at our forehead when we decide to enter.

A few cafes have opened their doors but they’ve placed a table across the door so nobody enters. Orders are taken at the door. Starbucks is open. We push open the door with our elbows. Its been two and a half months since we had a cup of coffee from there.

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It no longer has the cheery buzz and aroma of brewing coffee is faint. Its different from when we last visited. There’s a guard sitting at the entrance with the ‘gun’ to take our temperature. He updates our phone number and name in a register. He asks us to sanitize our hands. There are two or three people behind the counter and they’re not really visible in the dim lighting. Only a few lights are turned on. There are squares painted in yellow right from the entrance to the counter at a distance of two feet from each other.

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Tables have been kept away in the inner area and that area has been cordoned off. The chairs in the foyer are overturned. Sitting is no longer allowed. While my husband stands in one of the boxes to place the order, I linger around. This was the place where we had our first coffee when we landed in Mumbai, two years ago. It made me miss what I had left behind a lot lesser. Its where I met my new friends in Mumbai for the first time and where I met my old friends – the ones who came visiting on a holiday to Mumbai. Its where my husband and I went every weekend to make up for the inability to go any further with both the girls’ busy with their board exams.

It is where we went for a little ‘us’ time before he went on a trip on account of work ( which was often before the pandemic). It’s where we made acquaintances – people we did not really know or speak to but nodded at – like the group of retired Engineering professors. They were there whenever we went – men in their seventies. Some frail, others stronger but all impeccably dressed in knee length short or cotton trousers with T-shorts or half-sleeved checked shirts. If you did not look at them and just heard them talking you could never guess their age. In the beginning, I’d look up several times to check if the voices were indeed theirs. Every conversation had ‘IIT’ in it. You did not have to eavesdrop to hear what they said. There were about eight to ten of them. Thanks to age, they spoke aloud. I assumed it was because some of them may be hard of hearing. But each time I saw them I remembered thinking wanting to grow old like them – have a group of friends to meet, live in a neighborhood with a great coffee shop and have money of-course to treat myself to a coffee. At times like these of-course, none of that matters. All you need is a home and a family and health. I thought of them now. The pandemic has affected all of us in different ways, in different degrees. But we’ve all been affected- the rich, the poor and everybody in between.

Taking our coffee out we left the cafe and sat on a bench across the street to have it. . While the cappuccino was the same, and I relished that first sip after two and a half months, it wasn’t the same as sitting at the cafe’. I guess we’ll have to wait a while longer before that happens.

In the meantime to avoid being overwhelmed by the negativity of the current times, I’ve been entertaining myself with learning to paint. And as part of my learning journey, this is what I did using watercolors. Thanks to the amazing online videos, the journey is so much more easier.

Note: I did this on a new watercolor pad I got on Amazon. The paint wouldn’t merge because the paper was hot-pressed and overly smooth. For watercolors, its best to use rough, cold-pressed 300 gsm paper. New learning for me. Thought I’d share it with you’ll. 🙂

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Gateway of India
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On watercolor paper using salt grains for the different effect you see

Stay home. Stay Safe.

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12 comments

    1. Thank you Ateet for stopping by and for your appreciation of the paintings and the writing. Its nice to know you enjoyed reading the post. Its very encouraging. Take care.

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  1. It’s interesting to read how life has changed in your part of the world. I just went to the gym today for the first time since early March, and I was struck by how sad it all was, the markings on the floor and virus reminders on walls, the acrylic barriers between staff and patrons, the scant attendance, the weight machines spread out at 10 feet distance, people wearing masks to work out. It’s a world I don’t recognize any more, and I don’t want to accept it, but I have to. I wonder if this is our new reality or if it will all end someday. I love your paintings; you’re very creative and talented. Good for you!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Cathy for writing back. Gyms are still closed here and so are restaurants except for takeaway. I cant imagine exercising with the mask on…its so hard to breathe in it. True, the world has changed and I too so wish things could go back to how it was ( with us being changed for the better). Looks like it’ll take time though. Until then I intend to lose myself reading your posts – 1 a day🙂.
      Thank you for your appreciating the artwork. I’m a beginner so its very, very encouraging. XXX

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      1. I don’t enjoy exercising with a mask, Smitha, but depending on the space between me and others, I either wear it or not. Sometimes my Pilates instructor gets a little too close for comfort and I pull it up.

        I do so enjoy your art. I’ve tried to dabble a bit in watercolor too, but I’d say I’m pre-beginner. You’re much more advanced than I am! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Thanks Cathy so much for your kind words:) I guess the only way to move from ‘pre-beginner’ to ‘beginner’ is to continue dabbling at it which thanks to the lockdown I’ve been doing. There’s so much to learn in it. I find it amazing how a single shadow or line makes such a difference in a painting. Happy art to you:)
          I just wish we were allowed to move around in our country. Any holiday would be welcome.Its stiffling.

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          1. Yes, I want to keep dabbling for sure! So you’re not allowed to move around in India? We can go some places; others we have to self-quarantine for two weeks. It’s not easy, and yes, very stifling!

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  2. As usual your keen observation has been translated into words. In the process you have able to take the reader along with you in breaking out of the chains that we have been bound these last few months. Good writing. Regarding the paper for water Colour, I used to wet the paper completely and mount it on the board. I tried painting on the wet paper as well as on the paper had dried, could get some interesting effects. The paper has to be stretched and mounted and fixed with tape. Experimentation is part of the journey. Cheers

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for the appreciation. I just needed to start writing again and thought the best way to start was to write about what was happening around. Am glad you enjoyed reading the post.

      I’ve never tried making the paper wet. Doesn’t it tear more easily if made wet? I guess I’ll have to experiment it out and see. Only I feel really bad if the painting gets spoiled :).
      Which paper do you use for watercolors?

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  3. I wonder if posts like yours will be a part of world history in 100 years, in a chapter dedicated to this pandemic. It is interesting to learn about how it is going in your part of the world. So many changes here in the USA as well. The part of our lives that stay the same are the peacefulness of our woodland walks, and I am so grateful for that.

    When you wrote ” Customs which died a natural death are making their way back as a necessity.” it made me think that the bright side of our current world could be this nudge back to recapture what we have lost in the modern age. A simpler life? More meals at home? A less crammed calendar of meetings and get togethers? A tighter family circle?

    Even if you were struggling against the hot press paper, your painting turned out remarkably well. I prefer ARches Coldpress, but I have learned how Canson cold press paper can be used well.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you for reading and writing back. Your comment gives me a new goal…to write accurately and more…who knows after 100 years right🙂. Your area sounds so peaceful…the woodlands.
      What you’ve said is so true about a tighter family circle. Its assumed greater importance in these times. Its a time when you kind of filter out what and who is really important to you.
      I just checked out your paintings. They’re so good. I’m going to look for the paper you’ve recommended and see if its available in India. Thank you so much for the tip.🙂

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