I'll Always Love This City

Cool wind played about my hair-bereft head, and warm smells of food came up from the buffet double-lining the lower split-level. Where I leaned against the side-railing of the ship, the Indian counters were closer, and the aroma of spices was strong—though a notch less piquant than back home. The band was Filipino, and their repertoire was Eagles and Bryan Adams and Bee Gees and Chinese, and a lone Bollywood whose lyrics on their tongue sounded cute and Chinese. That last drew cheery applause from the Indians seated and strolling across the top-deck. Chinese and Indians were half and half on the deck, which meant that most passengers on the ship were Chinese because in this moment, as in every moment from morning till night, all seats in the casino two decks below were taken by ethnic Chinese passengers.

So I stood there leaning on the rails in the cool cool breeze, giving my ear a ten-thousandth time to Hotel California, watching yet another frontman croon quite like Henley, yet another repeat of Feldon’s and Walsh’s guitar-work. They were four fine boys, and they engaged their audience with such earnest energy, it was easy to be charitable when they went off a half. There wasn’t a single passenger from America on this cruise, or from Europe—no, there was not one Caucasian in this tall vessel going up and down the Strait of Malacca over two nights and three days, whereas the captain and his first mate and one or two other uniformed men were all Swedes.

I stuck to a neat narrow restaurant that ran beside the length of the pool. They had a limited menu, but I liked the stuff there better, and the place was never crowded, and it was open 24 hours. I chose to order Chinese, of which they had vegetarian versions in honor of a regular Indian clientele.

What did I do in all that time? I read Rushdie.

Back on land in Singapore I fell upon Indian restaurants with a vengeance: Tandoor in the basement of the Holiday Inn, where I mainly sought their saag; Curry Culture in Cuppage where they favored me with half portions of dal and alu-gobi; and Yantra in Tanglin where I picked from the lunch-buffet dal and Gujarati kadi and bhaingan bharta. Growing older, I've begun to miss home early during travel, and a mild flavor of home-food is a modest consolation. So I ate some three meals also at Komala Vilas in Serangoon, telling myself each time I'd never ever go back there.

And there were other menus, and in regard to them I made eclectic choices:

A hundred and fifty exhibits of M.C. Escher were on show at the ArtScience Museum. The content and the place were a fine fit for Escher’s work. The museum is located at the feet of a building that holds aloft a ship high in the air, offering a grand view of the ocean and good strong wind in the hair. In this city where gardens grow on walls and in this complex where a curvy ship is raised toward the clouds, Escher's fantastical works appeared to depict quite the normal.

At the exit of the Escher gallery, I chanced to notice on the monitors that Werner Herzog's Lo and Behold was being screened just one level up. That documentary is not yet accessible in India in spite of Netflix and all, so I bounded right up. We were a half dozen viewers that afternoon. By the end of the show a storm was upon the city, and most people in the building had left, and I stood behind the glass and watched serial thunder, and unending lightning strikes that were so frequent and so bright it was hard to see their limbs. After a time a white lady and I were the only ones left in the foyer, and the young chap manning the reception brought three umbrellas and offered help. We walked together to the main Marina Sands. Our gratitude he acknowledged with a happy gracious smile, and I tried to read his roots on his brown face. There was Malay in it, and Indian, and also Chinese. He walked back to the museum, two umbrellas in one hand, the third held up to the downpour, water splashing on his sharp dark trousers and the umbrellas on his other arm wetting his bright white shirt.

I will always love this city, I told myself.