I'm sitting at my hosts' dining room table, tucking into takeaway KFC late at night, when my friends return from their midnight walk around Pali Hill and appear in front of me.
“How was the club?” asks N.
I can barely hear him. There's a residual hum, either in my ears on my brain, from the pounding bass at Aurus.
“Good, really good,” I reply with a hoarse voice and an exaggerated nod.
J grins through his beard. “You look a bit... startled,” he says.
“Yeah. I suppose I've had quite an evening...”
Skip back ten hours or so, and I'm speeding through Mumbai's trendy eastern suburbs in a rickshaw with DJ and Model. (I say 'speeding' but given the traffic, you don't really speed in a Mumbai rickshaw for more than about twenty metres at a time; it's a mode of transport more associated with 90-degree turns and long waits at traffic lights.) For the two years prior to this night, I've had only Varkala's cliff bars for nights out - which, while certainly wild in their own way, are a much more backwoods-style experience than somewhere like Aurus.
But before we reach Aurus, we must prepare with Kingfishers and cheap wine in V's serviced apartment in Pali Hill. She opens the door and smiles, embracing Model; they exchange pleasantries in their shared Melbourne twang. Behind them, a small Indian man in half-traditional servant dress shuffles in and out of view; V notices my confusion and tells me not to mind him, he's just part of what you get for the rent. Yet another example of India's (and especially Mumbai's) labour-saturated economy, I think.
We sit in V's bedroom and talk our way through several drinks. I haven't met V before before but she is great company, full of great foreigner-in-India stories and insights sprinkled liberally with curse words. At my request, they all teach me how to properly insult someone in Hindi; of course, I forget all the 'something-chod' words next time I go to the fridge for another beer. DJ and Model, meanwhile, are married; DJ is indeed a DJ and has been one since the early 90s, well before it was cool (in India at least). Model, however, is not a model – well, apart from a few shoots on Kerala backwaters. I'm calling her Model because she's statuesque and fashionable; she is fortunately not a prima donna with it. After all, if she were, we probably wouldn't be hanging out right now.
Five o'clock rolls around, so we head out into the street to flag down a couple of rickshaws and go on another jaunt through thick traffic. When we arrive outside the club, I feel the thick bass from inside shaking the air around me and realise how drunk I am already. The bouncers don't want to let any men inside but after a quick call from DJ to the owner of the club, we're through and sharing a pitcher of strongly alcoholic punch with Model & V.
I'm pretty sure Aurus is the coolest place I've ever been. The decks and speakers are set up at the end of the outdoor area, right in front of the wall down to Juhu Beach a few feet below; there's also a four-poster bed in one corner and a small garden in the centre of the courtyard. Everything looks modern, classy and clean. Sipping our cocktails, we look out at a magnificent, bright yellow sunset across the waves. Model tells me to look down at the beach; there, a long line of local men are staring - not out at the sun's grandeur but up at us, the rich revellers. However strange they look to us, we – with our designer clothes, expensive drinks and tuneless music – surely look even stranger to them.
Not in the Aurus universe, though. The clientele are mostly young, younger than the four of us even, and all kitted out in trendy labels. It might just be me but nobody seems to be trying too hard to look good, which had been what I expected from Mumbai's new elite. Instead, everyone seems quite relaxed and free. AFM's excellent set has brought one such relaxed-and-free soul to the beachfront dance floor already, a young woman with a quick smile and pineapple-shaped hair. Model, V & I put our glasses down by the garden and join her. (I would probably never do this back home. Here, where everybody is sneaking glances at the three pale-skinned Antipodeans whatever we're doing, I figure I might as well join in. Let them stare at my flailing limbs, too.)
After several minutes, I notice that no men have come to try and dance with, or touch, Model or V. I'm amazed. You have to fight them off in Varkala's shacks, local guys with no concept of personal space – especially for foreign women. The guys that do join the dance floor are mostly content to dance on their own or as part of the collective, never forcing themselves into your attention.
The place fills up a little more as the sun crosses the horizon. I return to DJ and chat with his other DJ friends, rayG and Ron, about the clubbing scene in Mumbai. They all talk about how DJing as a profession was so unrespectable for an Indian man 15 or 20 years ago, shameful even, and how it's great that a young guy like AFM can be pursuing his dreams in the DJ-friendly atmosphere we have today.
Living as I do in a town of 40,000 in Kerala, I feel very much like a villager in a big city where strange dreams come true. I have to shout over the thumping music as well as concentrate very hard so I don't slur my words. DJ and his buddies humour me with patience and smiles. I'm having such a great time.
AFM finishes. I go to the bathroom. I'm sure I see a bag of white powder and some money exchange hands inside but in my intoxicated state, I could easily be wrong.
When I come back out, it's suddenly completely dark but for the club's mood lighting. The place seems full. When did that happen? Umek, the main act and a Slovenian legend of techno, starts his set with even deeper basslines than AFM was throwing at us. A girl wearing a sleeveless top swings glow sticks on strings at the side of the dance floor; in the middle, I meet up again with DJ, Model, V, rayG and Ron. Someone gets out a camera and the flash goes off more times than I can count, capturing us in various states of elation and disrepair.
I go to buy more drinks. At the bar, I turn to a guy and ask, “What's your name?”
“Umek,” he replies.
I laugh and repeat myself with emphasis. “No, man! What's YOUR name!” I point at his chest. Villager in the big city.
He smiles a little uneasily. “Oh. Rahul.”
I put out my hand and he shakes it, smiling less guardedly now. My bottles of Tuborg arrive so I say to Rahul, “Have a great night!”
“You too, man,” he says.
Back into the fray. The dance floor is now completely packed yet still remarkably free of jostling or sly touches. Fantastic. Umek is cocky, repeatedly slowing down and speeding up the beat to mess with our dance rhythms. I yell over the din to DJ that I liked AFM more – then Umek drops a huge beat, a strobe kicks in and we all go crazy.
The rest of Umek's set is a blur. Water is fetched a few times to refresh our dry throats. I smile a lot at people, and they all smile back. Nobody is too cool to smile, it seems. I feel blessed. Then the music stops, the house lights come up and a lot of people start to leave. It's 11pm, late enough for Aurus to perhaps start getting trouble from the cops. A staff member takes up the microphone and yells “Everybody go insiiide!” in the same way a DJ might shout “Put your hands up in the aiiir!” It isn't working; we all mill about a while longer until he cries again. “Everybody go insiiiiiiiiiiiiiiide!
We have to get everyone insiiiiide!” Time to go. At the entrance of the club, we say goodbye to DJ and Model, who are taking a rickshaw back across town. V & I share a taxi back to Pali Hill, stopping at KFC on the way. She drops me at the building where I'm staying. And then I'm back at my hosts' dining room table, looking up with bleary eyes at J.
“I'd better get to bed,” I manage to mumble. “I'll tell you about it in the morning.”
J and N smile and look at each other. “Righto,” they say.
And then I'm lying flat, the hum louder than ever in my ears, replaying parts of the night in my head as I drift off to sleep. For a young Mumbaiker, this is probably at least a weekly experience. For this young saip visiting the biggest city in India for the first time, it feels like I've touched the sky.
Photo credit: blogtalkfusion.com
In Da Club, Yaar
February 06, 2012
A drunken night out with Mumbai's young elite.