The head waiter has a moustache with the tips waxed and curled up in twin hooks, giving him the look of a villain in a 1920s silent movie…
The Leopold Café is the go-to place for the white folks here in Colaba.¹ It is expensive, of course, but after a long day of walking the streets of Mumbai I felt that a cold beer would be a good reward for my efforts.
There is a bullet hole scored in the pillar beside my table: a relic of a terrorist attack that took place here in 2008. Melissa, the flight attendant on the Singapore Airlines flight from Singapore told me about it. But she also recommended the Leopold as a good place to hang out so here I am. My ice cold bottle of Kingfisher beer came with a bowl of peanuts. The head waiter has a moustache with the tips waxed and curled up in twin hooks, giving him the look of a villain in a 1920s silent movie.
This place is also a hangout for hip young locals. Young couples hold hands and whisper to each other; table groups of young men quaff cocktails from dispensers shaped like antique petrol pumps. The ceiling fans stir the torpid air. Outside the traffic is stalled on the Shahid Bhagat Singh Street. The food looks good but it is expensive. Besides, I have my eye on a local joint serving Mowgli foods across the road. I think I’ll have another beer and enjoy the ambience.
The Leopold has, according to the t-shirts for sale, been here since 1871. Some Chinese tourists come in, some older Europeans wearing shorts (they look shell-shocked) and a couple of burly pseudo-hippies. I can imagine Bollywood stars here, and professional cricketers. The people next to me are Russians. I heard one of them say “spasiba” as he left. At another table a young Indian couple share a plate of ice cream covered with a tracery of chocolate syrup. The boy lovingly feeds spoonfuls of it to his girlfriend.
The menu under the table’s glass top advertises “Indian, Continental, Chinese and Desserts.” There is CHILLY CHICKEN, MANGOLIAN CHICKEN, SINGAPORE NOOLDES and, my favourite, CHOCOLATE EXTACY.
I like it here. It’s crowded and noisy but this is the first time on my trip that I’ve simply sat and people-watched and written down some notes. So much is thrown at you in a city like this: noise, crowds, the holy stench, the religious clamour, the commercial buzz. I like sitting here and not having to move. The people at the table beside me are eating toasted sandwiches, French fries and pizza. They sprinkled the pizza with bright red chilli flakes.
It is growing dark outside. My legs ache. Outside on the street, a man in a skull cap is shouting into his cell phone. The door staff – a doorman and a doorwoman – check the bags of every customer as they enter. The doorwoman has perfect skin and gold jewellery. Her hair is done up in a bun.
I should go out and find something for dinner. But I like it here. Dinner can wait. I finish my beer and order another.
¹ The Colaba District, adjacent to the Gateway of India, is one of the main tourist areas of Mumbai.