Monday, December 01, 2008

Moments in Manhattan

Life goes on.

However upset I claim to be about the happenings in Mumbai, I had my preplanned enjoyment schedule for the Thanksgiving weekend and I could not let that go awry just because (as the Maharashtra Deputy CM put it) some small things had happened in big places. So on Saturday morning, I was on my way to downtown Manhattan to meet Anyesha-di and Shubhamoy-da, the blogger couple from Maryland. I had been looking forward to meeting them ever since I started blogging and reading blogs, and particularly since I came to this country. So when Anyesha-di had told me last week that they were visiting New York over the weekend with her sister Abhigya, I had instantly decided to meet up. In fact they are the first people whom I came to know through their blogs and then met in real life.

No matter how many times I visit the World Trade Center site, the look of that vacant block of sky saddens me every time. On Saturday, when I came out from the subway at WTC, I felt the same familiar feeling, and instantly, my mind also wandered to south Mumbai. South Mumbai has a vague similarity to lower Manhattan geographically, and also in importance. A narrow piece of land surrounded by water on three sides with lots of offices and tourist attractions. And as I crossed the road and looked up at the large building in front of me, I found myself looking at the Millennium Hilton Hotel. I have walked by this hotel dozens of times, yet when I looked at it today I thought of the Taj Mahal Palace hotel in Mumbai. I quickly brushed off the thought, however, and went and met my new friends. Together, we walked down the Broadway to Wall Street, took the bull by its horns and other parts of its anatomy, and then walked to Battery Park to catch the Staten Island Ferry. The day was moderately cold, but we still went and stood on the rear deck to enjoy the view of Lady Liberty and the Manhattan skyline. The seagulls left Manhattan with us and flew behind us, fishing in the troubled waters in our wake. The pigeons were lazier and they decided to make the trip from Manhattan to Staten Island sitting on the deck.

We got a fairly close look at the Statue of Liberty, and I saw the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge for the first time. As we moved into deeper waters, we saw ships anchored in the sea. I was enjoying myself immensely taking photos of seagulls and other things when suddenly I remembered that a Pakistani ship that was anchored offshore from Mumbai like this served as the mother ship for the terrorists. It will be an exaggeration if I say I stopped enjoying myself after that, but that thought kept coming back to my mind again and again.

As soon as we landed at Staten Island, we ran out into the waiting area and ran back onto the returning ferry to make the trip back to Manhattan. Good sense prevailed this time though, and I stayed indoors, peering through the glass windows and discussing James Bond with Abhigya. Once in Manhattan, we walked along the South Street Seaport right up to the Brooklyn Bridge and City Hall Park. There, after trying to play with the squirrels for some time, we boarded the subway and went straight to the Grand Central Station.

I had passed in front of Grand Central on 42nd Street and Park Avenue several times, but I had never gone inside. As we came up into the main station from the subway level, I was struck speechless with the jaw-dropping architectural beauty of the station. There were ornate sculptures on the walls and the ceilings, there were antique wall clocks in every direction and even simple objects like letter boxes were fit to be displayed in a museum. There was a huge food court where Shubhamoy-da hosted a fine Chinese lunch. The four of us wrestled for space on a tiny wobbly table probably meant for one and then ate some of the food, wasted some more, and dropped the rest on our clothes before letting go.

We resumed our tour of the station after lunch. The central hall of the Grand Central is simply amazing. It has this sky-high ceiling with the signs of the zodiac painted on it with real lights in place of the stars. Then there are huge windows on all sides and large staircases, and a beautiful clock atop the information booth in the middle. This is the same clock that had got stuck on Melman the giraffe’s head in the movie Madagascar. Anyway, none of us were in danger of such a predicament as we were more down-to-earth. We also visited the shopping area with the lovely hanging lights and saw a large Christmas tree which was covered with flat screen TVs displaying kaleidoscopic patterns from top to bottom. Apart from the slightly disturbing parallel that my mind kept drawing between the Grand Central Station and the Mumbai CST station, my first trip inside this station was very enjoyable.

It was getting dark outside by this time, and we came out and walked down the 42nd Street to Bryant Park. I was surprised to see Bryant Park full of temporary shops selling all kinds of fancy stuff. One shop had “SABON” written in bold letters. Whatever language that was, we knew it meant soap. Abhigya discovered that a man was distributing free samples of “sabon” outside this shop and came to inform us. As a result, I and Anyesha-di got free soap samples. The man ran out of soap just as Abhigya went to claim her share. Then we watched people trying to skate on the ice-skating rink nearby. Then we watched the maintenance guys shoo the skaters out of the rink. Then we watched them come out on a special vehicle and smoothen the ice. Then we realized that we were watching too much of useless things and proceeded to walk towards Times Square.

Times Square was our final destination for travelling together. At Times Square, I said goodbye to Shubhamoy-da, Anyesha-di and Abhigya and headed for the Penn Station while they went the other way. I had to return home in Edison. They had more sight-seeing to do.

The day, although it seemed to pass very quickly, was a truly memorable one for me. Firstly, I had spent most of the previous day listening to the news from Mumbai and getting more and more frustrated. Saturday was a welcome break from that depressing schedule. Secondly, I had a chance to travel to and photograph several places in New York that I had not seen yet. And finally, for some reason, I usually find myself short of like-minded people. On this Saturday I made three friends whose tastes and opinions I found to be very similar to mine. This was the biggest gift for me.

And so, although the day seemed like one fleeting moment, it was actually a really joyful experience for me.

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