Friday, 1 May 1998


If you went wandering through Lohar Chawl looking for fairy lights ( like I did), turned up at the Jumma Masjid and walked through Mirza Street to buy velvet and turned back towards A-Z on Sheikh Memon Street, you would suddenly come across a row of gleaming torsos modeled on 1950s Hollywood movie goddesses hanging from the railing of the Deluxe Hanger Mart ( on the corner of Kitchen Garden Lane).

Unable to control your curiosity and excitement, you would want to buy one, (like I did). The proprietor assures you he has hundreds of them – in three colours – in his godown and he can get one in five minutes. They come from Bangalore, he says. 

Then triumphant, carrying one wrapped in a large plastic bag, its contours still titillatingly obvious to the crowd of passersby, your mind starts wandering…

You think of those early trips to Bombay from a provincial town, riding in taxies past the glittering reflections of neon signs at Haji Ali. Going to movie theatres like Eros and Regal showing only Hollywood films: Warner Bros., MGM, Paramount. And then you think of the cheap street mannequin with the gleaming body and the windblown bob. Marylin Monroe (who once said she wore only Channel 5 to bed) is even now going to imbue the bras and panties sold in small Crawford Market shops with her aura of seductive glamour.

Bombay, Hollywood and Hindi films. There would always be an uncle or a cousin who would take you to the window of his flat and pointing to the far distance, announce, “Shashi Kapoor lives there”, smiling condescendingly at your awestruck face. Or there would be an Udupi hotel in the suburbs where Raj Kapoor loved to eat masala dosas. Or a neighbour in your hometown would have told you with a worldly sneer: “ Oh people find Meena Kumari and Dharmendra lying drunk together on Juhu beach with whisky bottles in their hands.” The city was mapped by the directions of stars’ houses, studios and ‘talkies’, dead or alive.

My grandmother used to stand in front of her little mirror on the wall in her nine-yards sari and just before she put the perfectly round kumkum on her forehead through the silver kumkum stencil, she would apply Afghan Snow all over her face. Snow-powder completed the perfect ladies toilet. Afghan Snow and Cuticura powder.

Afghan Snow! The tin with its rows of snow-capped mountains was like an aphrodisiac, an elixir for instant beauty!

On a dusky evening three years ago in Baroda, Bhupen Khakhar reads out his new story “Foreign Soap”. The perfumed pink bar sent by a nephew in Abu Dhabi “opens the gates of heaven” for Jeevanlal. When Jeevanlal finds that his neighbours Manilal and Sharada have used up his soap, he takes out his gun and is ready to kill…

Pushpamala N

May 1998