BomBAY JOURNAL (some say it’s in our blood, never BEING able to settle anywhere)

Day 243 One of my favourite haunts in town is Moshe’s in Cuffe Parade. Set behind a screen of scraggy peepal trees, and separated from the adjacent road by a railed front patio, it is a great place to have a bite to eat and temporarily forget about the chaos and confusion on Mumbai’s crowded streets. While I was there today, however, something strange happened. After I finished calling Natalie on my mobile, a waiter who had been hovering near my table stopped by my side and asked me where I was from. He was a youngish fellow with curly, dyed-brown hair, a stylishly clipped moustache clinging to his sweat-speckled upper lip. Oh no, was my first reaction. Another guy trying to sweeten me into leaving some extra baksheesh! Slipping off my sunglasses, I took a deep breath and held the air in my lungs for a few seconds. Then I exhaled slowly through my nose. Think you are going to squeeze another hundred rupees out of me by pretending to have visited France or Italy or wherever you think that I am from, do you? Let’s see how you react, Sonny Jim, when I tell you that I come from one of Britain’s last remaining overseas territories!

But – here’s the thing! – the guy didn’t look fazed when I revealed I was from Gibraltar. On the contrary, he smiled and looked terribly pleased with himself – like a kid who had just solved the Rubik’s Cube or some other elaborate combination puzzle. And then, half a second later:

‘I thought so, sir. That accent is so recognisable, isn’t it, sir?’

‘You’ve been to Gibraltar?’ I asked disbelievingly.

‘I haven’t just been there, sir,’ he replied proudly, standing before me with a starched white serving cloth draped over his arm. ‘I was based there for a while.’

He then told me that he had lived in Gibraltar for three years. Worked at an electronics shop in Main Street, he said. Had some relatives there. Used to really like the place and his job, but the pay wasn’t that great and in the end he decided to pack his bags and return home.

‘Sometimes I wonder if I did the right thing coming back here,’ he continued, glancing over his shoulder to check that his manager wasn’t watching him. ‘It’s so peaceful there, so relaxed. Every afternoon after work, I used to go to this bar in the big square and order one of those milky, Spanish-style coffees. I can’t remember what the place was called now. So nice to sit there and just watch people flow past.’

I can’t emphasise how weird it was to hear all this. In the eight months that I have been here, I’ve only come across two or three Mumbaikars who’ve heard of Gibraltar – and never anybody who’s actually been to the place. Yet now there’s this waiter telling me that every afternoon he used to go for his ‘cafelito con leche’ at Casemates Square!

‘Do you think that you will ever return to the Rock?’ I asked after a moment, shielding my eyes with my hands against the sun.

‘I doubt it, sir – but you never know. I’m a Sindhi, after all – we are always on the move, some say it’s in our blood, never able to settle anywhere, forever pining for our lost homeland, as our poets and writers say. Anyway, I better stop talking and get on with my job before my boss comes out and starts scolding me. I hope you enjoy your meal, sir.’

And with that, he turned around and scuttled off to another table, ready to take a new customer’s order.

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