Monday, September 28, 2009

That bottle of Coke

Here I am in the restaurant... one hand on the lid, as I share the drink with a friend. As the liquid travels up the straw and into my mouth..it tastes as sweet as ever.


My kitchen at home has this glass cupboard..amongst all the chinaware there is this little miniature glass bottle of coca-cola. As kids we always have this fascination for all these sodas. A special treat if we behave well, a fitting dessert in the restaurant with parents, an amazingly sweet and tingly drink which you always enjoyed when you went to the movies or at the fair, with the burp that came at the end being particularly something to look forward to. That oh so bad glass of milk in the morning was so horrible and plain by comparison wasnt it? Back then it was drinking out of a straw...whenever we went on train rides to the neighboring city of Pune, hearing that familiar voice of the vendor selling soda in glass bottles was the best part of the journey. I dont know what it was...I truly dont. I just loved it. To this day my cousins still tell an old story about how once I persuaded my mother to buy 5 bottles of pepsi in 30 mins on the train...the good old days never can be forgotten...

When coke re-launched itself in India in the mid-nineties, it must have been the best thing in the world for me, because I reaaaaaly wanted a bottle and even then god knows why, Coke wasnt available freely. Cue one whole night when my dad drove and drove to find me that one bottle of Coke which he finally did in a dusty old shop. Me and my coke...at the time we were one and happy.

Those were indeed the happy days. Running down during lunch break (or the long recess as the school called it) after some really boring classes where the focus was more on reading my book or playing silent games with my bench partner; my stomach usually was growling. 1o rupees in hand and a big appetite were the catalysts due to which 5 mins later I had pushed my way through a gang of giggly schoolgirls at the canteen and had in my hands a delicious wrapped vada pav ( called by some the great Indian burger- although its more like a stuffed potato-pea pattie with bread and spicy garlic sauce) and a glass of coke. Satisfied with my herculean efforts I scanned the expanse of the dirt field to find some friends running around and walked slowly over to them taking care to see that my coke didnt spill, and although the rising dust from the thousands of feet trampling over it probably added a layer of extra spice on the drink, I was still the happiest boy in the world as I joined up with my pals. Most of them had the same combo in their hands...we were birds of a feather after all. Einstein's theory of relativity proved it self time and again however as these moments of ecstacy lasted for too short a time and as soon as I had first sipped my drink and eaten my ' burger' the food was gone and the recess was over. Time for class again. hmm...usually the sports class...which meant doing yoga in the gym.....the professor could never figure out why he heard so many small burps in that span of 30 mins when we performed our exercises. When it wasnt sports class, at least it was geography, which meant another sleep inducing professor, but at least at the time the caffeine kept us awake..and so did the lingering taste of the garlic sauce. Oh yes..we had some good times there. ( I think later on the professors did realize the reason behind the burps and so had aerated beverages banned in the school canteen..grrr... life was never the same..but at least by that time I was old enough to hang out outside school, so I could get my coke after school at least) - I mean Coca-cola.

Graduating from school after my 10th grade, I discovered that all of my friends were in the same junior college as mine. Suddenly I was exposed to the 'hip' college culture. No longer in school, seemingly unlimited opportunities seemed to present themselves before me. But the bottle of coke remained with me. I dont want to give off the impression that I was a poor academic student, I simply did all my work outside class. Sathaye college was another experience altogether. Suddenly boys started noticing a lot of other things in life...girls in normal clothes sans the school uniform, the concept of bunking classes, the football team, hanging out in the canteen singing songs, yes that was the life.


The average day started with everyone coming to college as normal. Mostly everyone in normal attire, but upon close notice someone would have noticed that 5-6 of us wore soccer cleats, or else carried them around in a bag. Not officially in college to play soccer, the cleats were brought in secret. But then who looked down at shoes anyway? One or 2 classes later, everyone met downstairs for a chat. It was only a matter of time though, and in about 5 mins someone expressed a desire for football, and then it was contagious. We were off, to the adjacent pitch or what we called a pitch. It actually used to be a site for an apartment complex, which had been razed down, but the floor never completely levelled. The foundations of the building still showed with bricks popping out of the ground at points. Some kids realized this was an opportune place to practice some ..ahem! productive activities and laid down cement and gravel on it till it was fairly smooth and then added the cherry on the cake, 2 small goalposts. We were more than happy. 2 of my best friends - Prasad and Aniket stayed beside it and thus their homes were useful to store our footballs. And so the games went on - from as early as 3 pm till it got dark and sometimes even after that. Finally when the ball couldn't absolutely be seen anymore, when the jeans had been all muddied and the ankles had been bruised up, the gang finally drifted out of the ground and onto the little convenience store right next to it, all sweaty and tired, but still unsatisfied. The only thing left now, was that bottle of drink, not alcohol mind you! but amazing, bubbly Coca-cola! To feel that cold glass bottle against the brow, the wet water condense from the bottle onto your gravelly hands and then on to your face as you wipe away the sweat...then finally take a deep sip of that soda - This was life . The rust on the bottle edge sometimes made it probably poisonous to the human body, but who the hell cared? This was the time when we needed the soda, 2-3 bottles worth! There we were..sitting on the little ledge of the courtyard of the store, watching the last rays of the sun extinguish behind the apartment buildings of the suburb of Vile Parle, then the slow yet sure rise in the volume of the televisions in all the apartments as the women sat down to watch their daily hindi/marathi/gujarthi soaps.....chat about the game...without one care in the world! Tomorrow would be another day in college, and probably another game with it as well ! hehe.......Coke was amazingly sweet then.


Joining Vidyalankar School of Information Technology after 2 years of tramping about meant finally being seperated from my buddies. We had been together right form school through junior college and it felt horrible to be away from them...gone would be the days of bunking classes to play soccer just 2 blocks away, now I had to travel by the local trains to go to another part of the city for my education....The coke source shifted from the little store to the vendors on Andheri suburb station, from the cafe at Sathaye college to the canteen at Vidyalankar and more importantly...Classic restaurant. The first bottle of Coke was had on the first day of orientation when a couple of us...all freshmen..decided to explore and get to know each other in the canteen. It was the start of something new, and something to look forward to. Somehow, Vidyalankar felt right...the small classroom felt right...the whole atmosphere felt right. Days went by...table tennis on the teacher's desk, interspersed with classes, and lots of fun. We came to know each other pretty fast, and had frequent trips out together as a group...Classic restaurant and 5 Gardens was our favorite hangout zone. A beautiful expansive place from the British era, with footpaths as wide as the roads, and huge trees shading every inch of them, the name of the place derived from 5 huge gardens lying around each other where the Parsi community lived. Old mansions added to this charm, while the famous campuses of VJTI college, UDCT campus and Khalsa college finished what was an amazingly old styled place to be. Lunch however, was always at Classic restaurant. Simple, spicy and cheap Mumbai food. Masala Pav, Pav Bhaji, Dosas and Idlis and of course, the evergreen Coca-colas. The trip back home on the train was again punctuated with small burps along the way.........

Classic soon gave way to Gulshan..and some new people as well. The 2nd year in Vidyalankar was well on its way,and plenty of life changing experiences along with it as well. A relationship, a break up and in turn new ever lasting bonds of friendship formed as well. Gaurang 'Gabo', Priyanka 'Prish', Farhad 'Froggy', Rahul 'Mambo', Chintan 'CJ', Alina 'Loowis' Arnab ( I never liked the nickname 'Arry'!) Ashwathy and Mayetreyee. The Cokes were gulped down along with plates upon plates of Kheema (spiced mince meat dripping with oil..yummmmmmmmmmmm) and Bread. In fact we had cokes everywhere in the city- the beach, our houses, and all the corners of Mumbai. The summer of 2008 was so much fun. I wrote about them in another blog of mine before so I wont go too much into THAT, hehe although I would certainly like to. Again, one of the best times of my life with best friends. We all shared a coke pitcher with 8 straws.


Here I am in the restaurant... one hand on the lid, as I share the drink with a friend. As the liquid travels up the straw and into my mouth..it tastes as sweet as ever. I look down at the bottle, and notice a strange thing that I never noticed before. These days. the label says : Coke Classic.
It so truly is. filled with classic and sweet memories.

1 comment:

Hunter B. Schenck said...

Shantanu,
I love your posts, you should consider writing for a journal or newspaper. I bet you'd be a big hit and you might even get a little extra money on the side or even just the opportunity to share your experiences.