You would never believe this but there is a 103 square kilometer forest right within Bombay. "You mean Asaram Bapu's beard" you will say, with a twinkle in your eye, for you love your little joke of a morning, but you would be wrong (and not just because Asaram Bapu is not in Bombay). The place is called the Borivili National Park. At least that is what it used to be called when I was a kid. Now, like all things big and small in this country which fall within the government's power to christen, it is named after a deceased member of the Gandhi Nehru family and goes by the wordy title of Sanjay Gandhi National Park. Which of course suffers from the minor problem that it quite a handful to type and hence shall be hereinafter referred to, unless repugnant to the context thereof, as the lawyers like to put it, as SGNP.
My friends Chuck and Divya thought it would be a lovely idea to stroll around this place on Sunday morning and I enthusiastically jumped up with a "me! me!" when they asked around if anyone would like to come. Chuck and Divya are capable, among other things, of making jokes of unsurpassed silliness and their puns are so groanworthy that you are ill advised to carry sharp objects while hearing them lest you give in to the impulse of stabbing yourself. For instance, Chuck's recent masterpiece was this story about two Aryan priests one fine October morning in 1000 BC where priest-1 proudly declares to priest-2 that he has written this manuscript full of original hymns and spells which will surely guarantee him immortality when to his consternation he discovers that someone has changed all the words. So priest 2 tells him not to worry and recommends that he call it the Rigged Veda. You will have got the idea.
Like me, a few other fans of Chuck and Divya also decided to tag along and when we assembled at SGNP gate on Sunday morning, there were Tony, Srikeit, Mohan, Harshal and another Divya who is called Dibba to distinguish her from the previous Divya.
The entrance to SGNP was surprisingly crowded. Citizens of Bombay, for all their faults, love to sleep in on Sundays as far as I know, but on that morning many had decided to take in the park scenery. I had prudently lugged my eight seater minivan along because Mohan had mentioned wanting to go to Kanheri caves, a minor matter of eight kilometers into the park, several of them uphill, and I thought we would all fit into it. I had, alas, figured without the maniacal levels of biophilia sloshing about within the members of the group. "No, no! We will walk" said Harshal. "Of course" said Mohan who, being Australian, is given to practicing self flagellation in various ways such as running marathons and climbing Himalayan peaks "I used to come here to practice when I went for my last mountaineering trip". And to my dismay, I found no voices of support for my lets-go-in-the-van-its-such-fun doctrine. Feeling like a Marxist-Leninist at a convention of Tea Party activists, I shuffled along in a subdued manner.
But the company was too ebullient to let me be morose for long. There were several groups of people with naturalist guides who were evidently pointing things out about the forests of the "this plant is an epiphyte, that insect there is a member of the order phasmatodea" variety. For a while, all that erudition cowed us into silence but soon, someone - possibly Chuck - broke out into a faux eco-tourist-guide mode and some wholesome fun was had by all.
Presently, we came across a woman selling cucumbers and guavas and in true Bombay style, everyone took a snack break. A word about this snack break thing. I don't know if this is unique to Bombay -it certainly isn't evident in other places I have lived- but there is an overpowering urge here to be eating something all the time. The citizen of say Mysore, will hungrily consume his set dosai and strong coffee for breakfast and might even add a baadam halwa or two if he's particulary ravenous, but once that is done, he will steadfastly refuse to look at purveyors of foodstuff till it is time for lunch. But the Bombay guy? Scarcely will the chana chor have settled in his stomach when his eyes begin to yearningly seek out the batata wada so famous in that area. And even that will not sate him for long because there is this legendary sandwich walla to check out and so on. ... (to be continued)