Do I feel guilty about taking 10 months to write part two of my epic story to find Rahul the chocolate boy?
Enter Mumbai, February 22nd, 2013 – more than a month after posting Finding Chocolate Boy, and still not having found him.
It was time to pull up my proverbial bootstraps and step outside my air-conditioned apartment and into a breezy Bombay taxi heading for Colaba. By breezy, I really mean a low-pressure cyclone contained in a tin can taxicab known as an Ambassador – the classic mode of transportation in the city. To ride with the windows down meant combing the dreadlocks out of my hair for the duration of the ride but to ride with the windows up meant suffocating both the taxi Walla and myself.
I opted for the windows down and tied my hair for the 45-minute, traffic nightmare, 10-kilometer ride South from my nice new apartment in Worli to my old neighborhood in Colaba. Taking this trip in the middle of the day traffic was a big mental hurdle to jump over, but I squeezed myself into the floral upholstered backseat and headed out for the second hunt for Chocolate Boy.
Since my last hunt, I had kept a plastic bag with chocolates, a Canadian flag, and that silly joke breath spray in my cupboard. Now it was with me and I thought of the chocolates melting in the mid-afternoon sun as I walked down a side-street in Colaba. I was on a mission and was ready to document the whole experience for a follow-up blog post as well.
As I was wandering around with my eyes peeled for my Chocolate Boy Rahul, I turned a corner and a short man in a blue and purple striped shirt started following me.
“Shit, don’t make eye contact. He’ll try and sell me something!” I stopped looking around and focused on my energy on ignoring him.
“Ma’am, yes. Come this way!” he pressed on, unrelenting.
I determinedly looked straight ahead and picked up my pace.
“Do you want hotel? Taxi? Map?”
Not-Res-pon-ding! He kept tailing me and started smiling.
“Can I help you find something?”
I stop. Perhaps he can…
“Actually, yes. I’m looking for someone,” I said.
He stopped, presumably surprised that I didn’t turn out to be deaf and dumb. I fought back a laugh at his confused expression.
“Someone?” he asked.
“Yes, a little boy. I have his picture here,” I pull out my iphone and show him Rahul’s photo.
After explaining my story and confirming that I wasn’t a pedophile, he took a proper look at the photo. He studied it closely.
“Do you know him?” I asked hopefully.
No, he said he didn’t know him but he knew someone who could help.
Eager to find out who this mysterious Someone was, I followed my guide through a series of streets. While fantasizing about discovering some underground Don of Colaba street-kids, I suddenly thought of what my poor mother would think if she could see me following a strange Indian man I met on the street to an unknown location. I’ll admit I got a bit nervous.
However, my nerve monkeys calmed down when my guide entered into a traditional Indian cloth shop with Kurtas and Salwar Kameez hanging in the windows. Inside were five men lounging around on a mattress that was strangely placed in the middle of the store. Nerve monkeys came back. They hustled to bring out a chair for me on which I awkwardly sat and clenched my butt cheeks tight until someone made a move.
My guide spoke in Hindi to a very large man with two mobile phones. The man nodded and asked me if I wanted chai to which I politely said no.
The guide gestured for me to give him my phone, so I pulled up the picture of Rahul and gave it over. My precious iphone was then passed around the room in silence and I watched the men’s faces to see if there was any recognition. After some minutes of quiet discussion, the large man passed my phone back to me.
“He doesn’t know him,” my guide said.
Looking around, I searched for some cue for what to do next. Perhaps now I was supposed to pay some sum of money which would suddenly jog their memories. Perhaps the meeting was over. However, the men just sat and watched me. The large man answered one of his phones while I secretly snapped a photo and made ready to excuse myself.
I smiled painfully and enunciated carefully, “Well, thank you very much for checking. I should really go and keep looking now.”
“Would you like to buy a saree? Kurta? Do you like Indian clothes? Very nice. Silk, cotton, linen,” my guide almost pleaded.
Of course the end game was to sell me something.
“No, no thank you,” I laughed.
“You don’t like Indian clothes?”
“No, they don’t look good on me,” I lied, eager to extricate myself from the situation.
I left the shop and the men inside it, and started trying to find my way back to a recognizable street. My guide suddenly came out running.
“Wait, wait ma’am. You’re looking for this boy? What do you want from him?” he asked.
“Nothing, I just want to give him this gift!” I repeated again as I open my plastic bag and pull out the Canadian flag and breath-spray.
“Let me see the photo,” he insisted.
I exasperatedly pulled up the photo again and he looked at it very hard, furrowing his eyebrows.
“I know one person who might know,” he said finally.
“Are they going to try to sell me something?” I ask.
“No, no ma’am. This is my other boss. He has a travel agency nearby.”
“Alright,” I said.
Still not ready to give up the hunt for the day, I was ready to follow my guide to one more store just in case I find someone who might have seen Rahul walking around the streets.
I followed him back to the road where we had met, and then into an alley where I had earlier I had run into some boys playing cricket who claimed that Rahul was ‘gone’. The boys were gone now too, but I was more hopeful that we were in an area where I had once met my chocolate boy.
We entered a tiny travel agency with enough room for a desk and a bench. Inside were four men, younger and thinner than the last bunch. I squeezed in with my guide and the young men got up from the bench and let me sit down. They stood outside with the door open to watch the transaction.
The boss behind the desk smiled and spoke in clear English. “Hello, do you want to book a trip? Elephanta island tour? Alibaug beach vacation?” he asked.
I felt my butt un-clench a little now that I could communicate directly without my guide giving a dubious interpretation of my story.
“Actually, I’m looking for this boy. I met him here about six months ago and he was around all the time. I can’t find him anywhere. But then it’s only my second time looking for him,” I explained.
After checking the photo and confirming that I didn’t have any untoward intentions with Rahul, he showed it to the other men standing outside.
They checked the photo and started discussing animatedly. I smiled as a look of recognition appeared on their faces.
One man carrying rolled up maps under his arm spoke to me in accented English, “From one of the schools in the area. But it’s Saturday so he probably at home today.”
“Where does he live? Can you take me to him?” I ask in excitement.
“No, he doesn’t know him but I can tell that he doesn’t live on the street. A lot of kids from the suburbs come to school here and hang around the streets after class and beg from tourists for fun,” explained the boss behind the counter.
“Where is the school? I just want to find it so I can come back on a weekday and ask there,” I press.
The man in the pink shirt and maps volunteers to show me the way, and I say goodbye to my trusty guide with 50 rupees in exchange for his business card which had three business names on it.
It was with this that we took off up the street and away from the places where I had seen Rahul hanging around before. The man in the pink shirt’s name was Siddarth, and he asked me for more details on the story of Chocolate Boy and about Canada. We finally arrived at Woodside Inn where I used to go drinking on the weekends. Instead of going in, we took a left and went through a small alley that, to my surprise, opened on to a large dirt field with children playing soccer and cricket. I would never have expected to see such a wide-open space in the thick of old-town Bombay, where real-estate was more expensive than downtown Vancouver!
We went around and started asking schoolboys with backpacks, kids in soccer uniforms, and a group of girls waiting for their turn to practice if they knew Rahul. They all studied his photo and eventually the girls confirmed that Rahul practiced soccer here in the afternoons after school. I asked when he would be there next and they told me probably the next day.
Super excited, I passed them all some chocolate as a thank you. I walked out with Siddarth and he gave me his phone number in case I needed his help next time I came down to find Rahul. I thanked him and tried to give him 50 rupees, but he refused to take it. I asked why, and he proudly proclaimed that he would rather earn his money from work.
“But you were a big help to me,” I insisted.
“I sell maps. Why don’t you buy a map?” he asked.
I smiled and bought a map of Mumbai which now hangs at home.
The next day I returned at 4 o’clock with the hopes of finding Rahul joyously playing soccer on the dirt field with his friends. To my dismay, I couldn’t see him anywhere.
I found the girls again waiting for their practice to start and they happily waved me over and told me that Rahul hadn’t come that day. In fact, they hadn’t seen him for a couple of weeks.
I sighed and the girls could see that I was disappointed. One of the girls offered to give me a call when they meet him next. So, with a little hope left I gave her my number.
She then took me to the soccer coach and I showed him Rahul’s photo. He again confirmed that he practiced with them but hadn’t been around for the last few weeks. I told the coach to please let Rahul know if he sees him that I am his Canadian friend looking for him from 6 months ago.
Sure that I wasn’t going to find Rahul anytime soon, I proceeded to give out the rest of the chocolates to the school children on the field and walked myself over to Woodside Inn where I had scheduled a meeting with a friend soon after my anticipated grand-reunion. During the meeting, I couldn’t help but think that all this month I had been sitting in Worli, Rahul had been practicing soccer right around the corner. If only I hadn’t waited so long to come back and hunt for him then maybe I would have caught him at his soccer practice.
But if there’s one thing that makes me feel better, it’s philosophizing my life.
“I can’t live our lives with if-only’s and what-if’s. There was something to be learned from all of this I’m sure,” I told myself.
It took me so long to go out and find Rahul because I had been caught up with my own life and was distracted by my work and other, ahem, interests… What was hanging so dearly in the balance that I felt inclined to brave the 45 minute taxi sauna two days in a row on a hearsay that Rahul might practice soccer in the field nearby?
Perhaps I wanted to find an anchor in Mumbai. Maybe I was just looking for a little adventure. In fact, I could have just wanted to write another blog based on the success of Finding Chocolate Boy part 1. There is something terribly addictive about seeing those WordPress site statistics jump up suddenly with every new post.
Regardless, 10 months later I finally got my act together to write the darned thing and now I’m feeling an urge to go to Colaba and look for Rahul just one more time… The only problem is that I forgot the breath-spray and Canadian flag at Woodside Inn that last day after a few too many Jameson’s.