|Gokul instagrammed. I hadn't even heard of cell phones |
when I first went there years back
I was at Ling’s Pavilion in Colaba a few days back shooting for The Finely Chopped channel on YouTube.
Shoot done, I headed towards Baghdadi where my Uber was parked. I passed by Gokul, the dive bar opposite the Bade Miya cart and just before Baghdadi.
I stopped for a moment in front of Gokul and a flurry of sepia tinted memories rushed in.
Memories of my early days in Mumbai in the late 1990s and of the bunch of folks I used to hang out with. Primarily folks from work who, like me, had moved in to Mumbai seeking independence and new careers.
My Gokul memories were those of evenings spent looking for cheap daru (alcohol) to celebrate one’s coming of age and moving out of home. Gokul was considered to be the only place in South Mumbai where the booze was cheap and yet was suitable for a mixed crowd (read 'women' too).
Gokul was always packed in the evenings. There were two sections from what I remember. The larger section was non air-conditioned and the crowd there was more blue collared there.
There was a smaller air-conditioned section. Unlike the section outside which was largely male dominated, the air-conditioned section had both men and women inside.
This section was where agency folks would hang out. Most ad agencies in the 1990s were in South Bombay then as were a smattering of market research agencies. I worked in Dadar but we would come to South Mumbai after work .
This is the section we would go to.
It was pretty smoky and noisy inside.
Those were innocent days where smoking inside restaurants was not banned. Nor was beef banned and we didn't know that was served as 'beef' was water buffalo possibly.
The prawn fries at Gokul were pretty good and were served with the Schezwan sauce that Mumbai can’t seem to get enough. We noticed people around us eat boiled eggs with their drinks which seemed pretty strange. Sometimes we would smuggle in packs of peanuts as they were cheaper in the corner shops outside than at Gokul. We would bring these out after the packs we had ordered in Gokul got over.
It was pretty much the Wild West out there. A happy place.
Drinks at Gokul would be followed by dinners at the Bade Miya stall before hurrying back to catch the last train home.
The nights at Bade Miya were memorable as we would sit by sit on chairs placed by plastic tables put out on the lane and chomp on our food under the starry skies. It’s another thing that the kebabs were chewy, the baida rotis too greasy, and we rarely felt that we got our money's worth as Bade Miya was definitely not the cheapest option around. However, it was your best bet late into the night.
Staying out so late at night was a big change for me from my sheltered life in Kolkata. We would rarely stay out late in Kolkata in those days and public transport was hard to get as the night progressed. If there were girls in the group in Kolkata, they had to be dropped home.
Bombay was different from the Calcutta I had left behind. Here we would get a train back as late as 1 am (the last metro in Calcutta was at 9.30 pm then). When we reached our destination in Mumbai we would take our individual auto rickshaws home. In the late 90s, Mumbai was safe enough for girls to travel by themselves even when late in the night. That’s something which college goers and early jobbers, who have moved in from outside, admire about Mumbai today too.
We cherished the freedom Mumbai offered us from the cities and lives we had left behind.
Seems ironic at a time when the city is now infamous for its meat bans and hotel raids.
Unlike Martin’s, Churchill or even Crystal and Leo’s, Gokul is one haunt from the past which I’ve not gone back to in years. Since I got married I think.
Its memories have stayed with me though.
My recent Gokul nostalgia got me thinking of my early days in Mumbai.
I had taken a transfer to the Mumbai as most of my friends had moved out of Kolkata. Plus I was bored with the monotony of the work I was doing in Kolkata. I had come to Mumbai for a short training stint after college and was sold on the city from the moment I moved in. I felt the yearning to go back to Mumbai and the freedom and new experiences it offered after I returned to Kolkata from the training. Which is when I decided to move into Mumbai for good and have been here since.
Gokul was a big part of the life I led when I moved in to Mumbai. It represented the spirit of Mumbai that I so loved. A city that let you be. A city which offered one the independence that one craved for. A city that was warm and nurturing. A city where you met lovely people, made great new friends. A city which allowed you to dream and realize your dreams.
From whatever I have heard Gokul is still going strong. It still looks crowded when I pass it by at night after a genteel dinner with Jamshed Uncle at the RBYC. New generation of young immigrants to Mumbai such as Riya Patel, a young food blogger from Sophia College, says she and her friends go there still.
The Gokul story has many new chapters to be written.
And Mumbai continues to be the city of dreams.
PS: It's ironic that I took the picture of Gokul with my mobile. We didn't even have a telephone at home in Kolkata when I moved in to Mumbai in the late 90s and I didn't have a mobile. I would go to the local STD (standard trunk dial in the India of the 90s) and make a call to my neighbour's place in Kolkata after 11 pm. The discounted rates would start then. They would call my mom over. I would also write a weekly inland letter to my mom and a monthly one in Bengali to my grandmother and would go to the Bandra Post Office to post them. No SMSs or whatsapps then. The joy of receiving a letter from home was beyond compare.