Catch new episodes of The inCulture Room on Spotify!

Stepping into the Sunlight – A Bar, A Friend, A Family

Until I set foot in sunlight, the notion that a sketchy neon lit bar could hold any sort of sentimentality within seemed incredulous. You see, in posh South Bombay; with its manicured gardens, sea front apartments and almost incestuous social circles of the crème de la crème, a rundown looking bar with bustling crowds seemed an anomaly to me.  Resting on one of the costliest pieces of real estate in the country, Sunlight hardly matches the proclivities of this part of the city. It seems so out of place that I had to look the address up twice to see if it was really in Town.

For the uninitiated, Town is what the residents of South Bombay  refer to this part of Bombay as. The idea is to distinguish us from the rest of the city because we are so different. Amidst the otherwise resplendent establishments that radiate the sentiments of Town’s residents, Sunlight seems an impostor. The one floor joint is festooned with lurid fairy lights, embellished with some Diwali variety decorative lamps, and enclosed by cheap wood panelled walls. During the day, one is even greeted by the strong fragrance of incense sticks. Apparently “dukaan mein Lakshmi pooja karna mangta hai madam”. Their gods seemed more tolerant of vices than the strict avatars we were warned about while growing up as cautionary tales. 

My introduction to this popular spot came through conversations with friends who attended Xaviers. Like many colleges tend to have, Sunlight was Xavier’s go to hub for degeneracy. Their discussions went so far as to grant personhood to the bar. As they seldom mentioned alcohol in their animated rants, the fact that it was a bar seemed almost secondary to its identity. It seemed to have meaning beyond its function. 

Terms like “vibe” were thrown around in discussions involving Sunlight. I hardly seemed to comprehend what they were trying to convey, but everyone around me appeared unanimous in their praise for Sunlight’s vibe (whatever it was). The millennial vocabulary abounds in words that have no clear meaning but that seem to be easily understood by scores of people. There’s a certain comfort in ambiguity that our generation has espoused. It’s almost as if we don’t believe in rigid definitions. Every party has a vibe and is almost always a scene. Sunlight was thus always “lit”. 

I presumed its USP was cheap liquor, a coveted asset that would make it blindly popular among most college students. But there was something to more to Sunlight; it had an air that granted comfort amidst anonymity.

I had wanted to visit the bar for the longest time, but no occasion seemed worthy enough. After finally completing a seemingly endless month exam cycle, my will to engage in any activity that demanded looking presentable had been completely shot. South Bombay is truly a cesspool of privilege and subtle one-upmanship where you couldn’t go anywhere without running into someone you know, who would then judge the way you looked. Of course, such occurrences in Town are lovingly called a happy accident or a small world. So, plans of going to the mall were promptly dismissed.

The Neon Fairy Lights of Sunlight

I couldn’t be bothered to change out of joggers and a tee. But my friends and I still needed to do something to lift our spirits. Hours of binge-watching Sex and the City and Girls had convinced us that our friendship was meaningless until we engaged in a night of careless drinking and supportive puking.   But New York seemed a bit far-fetched, we needed something closer to home. The idea was to engage in shameless drinking without the fear of judgment or the effort to engage in bar talk with boys who passionately spoke about Air Jordans and their Dubai trips, and thought ‘1984’ was an album. Given that this selectivity rendered familiar clubs and restaurants a no go, the only other pub that we knew was Sunlight.

 After settling on the fabled bar as our destination, we rushed to the location straight after our final exam. It was barely noon, and it took me about ten minutes to lose my driver. Of course, I couldn’t have him watch me enter a bar in the afternoon, much less with two other girls. After getting off near a bakery, we walked past policemen and hawkers to finally land up at the doorsteps of Sunlight. It looked fairly unimpressive from outside with little to no lights (presumably because it was the afternoon). “Yaar it looks damn shady, I mean yes I want to have fun away from the prying eyes of people we know but not at the cost of random uncles staring” declared my best friend. Our trepidations were short lived as we agreed that we would leave in the face of discomfort. 

Upon entering we were asked to go upstairs to the AC section. The ground floor had a few tables, off white lace curtains and a jukebox.  A narrow wooden staircase led us to what seemed to be a packed room. We opened the door to a pub unlike any other. The room’s occupants seemed out of an American high school movie where the characters were played by actors well into their mid-twenties. There were college going students sharing cigarettes among each other and sipping on the age old combination of rum and coke. There were fairly lights taped on the walls which occasionally gave bright red and green sparks.  As we sat at our table, I overheard someone saying he paid hundred rupees to play five of his favourite songs on the jukebox. We were thus treated to his playlist which was a mix of Queen, Eric Clapton, Guns N Roses and Dire Straits.  Vodka and orange juice were ordered along with some chicken starters. There was an electrifying bonhomie that had filled the room. We borrowed lighters from strangers and sang loudly with them. Worthy praises like “your dress is so pretty”, “I love your hair colour” were passed around like candy.

Seating at Sunlight

Very few things have the power to bring the world together in the manner that drunk girl friendships at bars do.  Inebriated women at clubs or any place actually are a beacon of hope, positivity and kindness to their compatriots. They will tell you that your ex did not deserve you, that you’re actually very pretty and most importantly, that you’re the best even if you don’t believe so. We shared laughs and playlists and countless “so true bestie(s)” with the girls at the adjacent table. Although we had a little too many, we managed to walk to a taxi stand and hail a cab. As if on cue, my friend threw up as well. Our rites of passage were now complete. 

As I returned home with the evening sun now setting upon the adjacent Arabian sea, I realised what it was that really endeared Sunlight to me. It felt like home when it was anything but.  Repeated visits had only strengthened what I felt in my first outing here. It offered you a sense of belonging. Mumbai is a big city and Bombay is an airtight box whose boundaries are not very permeable. It is easy to lose sight of who you are here amidst the crowds of people with varying social capital. Sunlight allows you to be among a collection of perpetually pleasant people. You probably have common friends with them, but those connections are yet to be discovered. It lets you play your music without being apprehensive of judgment, although perhaps that’s because the alcohol made everybody that extra bit more appreciative. It can be your personal hideaway where it doesn’t cost much to be happy but seems expensive enough to not squander the opportunity it offers. 

Experience Further:  “Floated By” by Peter Cat Recording Co. is representative of the experience that I have written about in this piece. There is an overwhelming sense of exhilaration and unhindered pleasure. The song itself begins with faint noises of animated discussion, then followed by the ever familiar trumpets. Sunlight is similarly a collective of endless conversations where time passes by, but hardly touches or affects you.

About Us

Anant Shah

Anant Shah- Founder

Anant Shah (just as his Instagram bio says) has always been interested in connecting people though their different cultures. He is drawn to this goal, given his background of a family of artists, as well as his work at several different organisations such as the People Tree with Orijit Sen, The Conflictorium in Ahmedabad and The UN (AIDS) Communications and Global Advocacy Team in Geneva. As a graduate of History and International relations at Ashoka University, he co-founded and set up the Ashoka Literature festival in 2019. Longing to increase this critical discourse on contemporary and traditional Indian Cultures he finally decided to start InCulture.

Kartik Sundar- Founder

Kartik Sundar loves nothing more than opining on cultural content. An avid writer for many publications, the decision to start one of his own came from recognizing a substantive lack of critical discourse around Indian culture today. He graduated Ashoka University with a degree in History & International Relations and wishes to complete further education with a focus on media and cultural studies.

Who We Are

We at inCulture are looking to shed light on what we see as an emerging new Indian culture as well as paying dues to the traditions that have been integral in shaping the current space. We want to try and create a space where critical reflection on cultural events, individuals, works of art, or practices can be fostered. Rather than exist as a cultural news outlet that merely serves as a bulletin board for the latest releases, inCulture will look to curate multi-medium pieces that seek to inform readers about aspects of our culture that make you think beyond an immediate reaction. In particular, we strive to look critically at Indian culture by investigating it under four distinct categories – film & theatre, music, spaces, and society.

Disclamer

All views and opinions expressed in the articles, videos are personal to the Author/Editor(s) and don’t mean to offend any individuals, organisations, institutions or communities.

More Stories
Of Predawn Prayers, Early Winters, and Vivid Nostalgia