"One Indian Summer" - Tamara Bhatnagar's Mumbai experience
EVERY so often our family will receive a wedding invitation from friends in Mumbai and every so often we will attend.
Mumbai - far from chilled - is characterised by a chaotic discordance of traffic, heavy smog, slums and cityscapes heaved together with an over-population of Mumbaikars.
Mad Mumbai has a beat that subscribes to visiting "the club" mid-afternoon to pick up the pulse in socialising with friends and family, with dinner usually mid-evenings.
For my husband Manish, this is his opportunity to meet family and catch up with old friends and associates.
For my children, this is an opportunity to be 'masti bavva' (brats) in bending the rules (for example, taking advantage of the relaxed seat-belt laws), and staying up late and eating as many chapattis as the home cook will make for them.
Most days during our stays in Mumbai are spent at the elite Otters Sports Club.
This address is a welcome escape from 'HORN PLEASE', which is a constant blare of horns from traffic in India, and a general guideline for drivers to bizarrely navigate their way through traffic.
Our driver leaves us located near the popular Joggers Park and Carter Road, at the gated entrance of Otters Club in Bandra West.
We navigate our way to the foyer weaving past scrawny labourers, carrying heavy and large tile slabs on their heads via the foyer to the pool-decking area for renovations.
The receptionist greets my husband with a question indicating the exclusivity of the membership granted at the club and my presence, with "Guest?"
My husband responds "Member", indicating his lifetime family membership.
Later, we overhear a club member explain to their guests that "Sachin and Anji Tendulkar have become recent members of this club, therefore it is the most prestigious club in Mumbai…anybody cannot get membership here".
According to local news, Otters Club - a Bollywood favourite - counts many Indian celebrities as it members, including Sameera Reddy, Raveena Tandon and Ritesh Sidhwani.
Its first president was veteran Indian actor Dilip Kumar.
In an overpopulated country such as India, the power is still distributed to caste, upbringing and wealth.
The Otters Club offers life memberships to the privileged few that can afford to shell out 1.5 crore, the Aussie dollar equivalent of a whopping $300,000, with additional yearly fees.
In fact, it is almost impossible to gain membership due to limited space.
Our family membership was passed on through a father-son rule and was considerably cheap, as my husband's father bought his membership when rates were much more affordable.
The facilities at the Otters Club include a 50m lap pool with diving boards, and air-conditioned gymnasium, children's library with a kids' club, library, squash court, volleyball court, bridge and billiards room, and two restaurants.
The alfresco bar on the terrace sparkles at night, as seating is arranged for both views of the Arabian Sea and the coastal city-line.
On our last day in Mumbai, we decided to venture with family friends and their children to their club at the MCA recreation centre in Kandavali, Bandra East.
While on the waiting list to join the Otters Club, our friends were offered a life membership to Mumbai's Cricket Association recreation club (MCA) for a membership fee of about 9 Lakhs, which is $18,000 Australian, and they accepted.
The MCA club in Mumbai is known as a Hindu-dominated club, although other religions are welcome.
Hindus worship a multitude of gods and revere the cow and, as a general rule, they refuse meals that offer beef.
The exclusive MCA club is spread over 14 acres of land.
It has wide avenues and valet parking, which characterise the luxuries of contemporary living, matched with an old-world charm (of British India).
Once at the club, we journey our way through the grand old building to the outdoor patio that overlooks a large and well-maintained cricket field, which was apparently sponsored by Sachin Tendulkar.
Our group then follows a winding garden path (also a running track) for a few kilometres to the tennis courts for a hit.
Afterwards, the children welcome a twilight swim using the club's swimming pool facilities, while the parents in our group order fresh sweet and salty lime sodas, dahl patties, and samosas before tea.
Later, they sip on masala chai tea in the lobby while the children move on to the chessboards.
At about 8pm we leave the club to reach home for a 9pm dinner, as we return to the bottleneck traffic.
The relaxed feeling of being at the club is swept away and the reality of mad Mumbai returns once again.