Making unlikely friends in unlikely places

This isn’t me. I’m not really the rollicking type. I’ve never been the guy in the middle of the party

This isn’t me. I’m not really the rollicking type. I’ve never been the guy in the middle of the party singing with the lampshade on his head. But right now it’s as though I’m in an Austin Powers movie and I love it… Yeah baby!

I’m in my favourite Indian cafe – Mondegar’s on Mumbai’s Colaba tourist strip. A retro-lover’s dream, it has check tablecloths, mesh-backed chairs and a jukebox with a huge range of pre-1990 records.

My companions are Clifford and Eddy, two Indian engineers who work for Vodaphone. They’re Dire Straits fanatics, who play in an amateur covers band.

“You get a shiver in the dark, It’s a raining in the park but meantime…”

The three of us singing along is punctuated by fits of enthusiasm from Clifford. High five! More beer! Burgers! Standing air guitar.

Most experiences in India guarantee a surprise. A visit to Mondy’s, as it’s known to its regulars, is no exception. The walls are covered by the wonderful cartoons of Mario Miranda, a famous local cartoonist and caricaturist. His work has a naive quality, invoking a gentler, more whimsical time.

Miranda’s imaginings provide a perfect counterpoint to the din of the cafe – the exuberant political debate, Indian movie gossip and intense cricket discussions.

The food is eclectic. Masala papad through to spaghetti bolognese and Szechuan chicken. The drinks menu tells a similar story – from diet Pepsi to pinot noir and everything in between.

Considering the popularity of Mondy’s, the service is amazing. In the 10 or so times I’ve been here, I’ve never had to wait more than five minutes for an order. The waiters, sporting polo shirts with MONDY’S CREW emblazoned on the back, buzz around in the clamour like fireflies.

Mondy’s, like Mumbai itself, is a bubbling stew of wonderful contradictions: frenetic but good natured, teeming but somehow intimate, cosmopolitan but quintessentially Indian. Foreign tourists are regarded as potentially interesting, particularly if they are Australian and able to talk about cricket.

Clifford and Eddy’s adoption of me as a drinking companion, an unremarkable average sixty something Joe, who likes a chat, is testament to this. Before we got onto Dire Straits, we had a quick run around religion, life in Australia and the inevitable comparisons between Tendulkar and Bradman.

Any Australian visitor to India who is not a cricket fan but is interested in talking to locals of any age is well advised to study the current state of sporting rivalry between the two countries.

By my count Clifford and Eddy have now consumed about ten beers each and three whole meals. I’ve had about six beers and one and a half meals. We’ve run out of Dire Straits on the jukebox. We’ve even sung Men At Work’s ‘I Come From a Land Down Under’… Twice. I stumbled over the verse about Bombay the first time. Clifford insisted that we do it again.

I’m starting to get slurry. Clifford suggests we move on to a bar down the road to get into the “hard stuff” – whisky and bourbon. I decline. We’ve had a great time but more alcohol and more of each other will be too much of a good thing. I decide to walk it off during the stroll home. I leave, promising to text before I depart Mumbai. We all know I won’t.

I step out into the night. The pavement stallholders are packing up. Walking through the thinning crowds on Bhagat Singh Road, I feel at once exhilarated and content.

Yeah baby!

Where have you made friends on your travels?





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