Bombay, 1949. A sultry June evening. Lights glow golden. I watch, entranced, as Ruby brings the last bars of her song to a wistful close. Cheers erupt from the audience. She stands at the microphone, grins bashfully. Her sari, draped and perfumed, is bottle-green and gold. The glamorous of Bombay, members of the band, old friends, wayward sailors all clap and shout their praise. She bows slightly and floats off the stage.
She glides between tables, past where I am sitting, making her way to the bar. “Come beti, sit with me,” suggests her mother, Yasmin, at the bar, drink in hand, strikingly beautiful in deep blue chiffon. Yasmin loves these evenings in her café-cum-club like nothing else. Each performance a hit, attended by all manner of Bombayites and revellers passing through this slightly wild port city. The obviously wealthy hobnob with the beautiful, the rakish and the occasional ne’er-do-wells. Jazzmen, languid on rattan chairs, unwind to swing and jazz sounds. Cine stars, at home on the page 3 society photos, chatter self-importantly about the latest talkie showing in the new cinema next door. I remember when this was just a large, sleepy Irani café owned by Yasmin’s father. I used to idle here over Bun Maska and Chai and read my newspaper while fans stirred the warm air gently.
For the young Yasmin, life in the café had been dull and stuffy. She had dreamed of a different life. Wilful and rebellious, she drank and smoked and you might say that she found herself where she should not be, at the bar at Green’s Hotel. There, she encountered a certain straight-backed Lt. Calum Hourston-Gordon, Highland Light Infantry. I’ve been told that there was little that could have kept them apart that warm night in Colaba.
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