It was just over ten years ago that I first the door of a garish green building on the outskirts of San Antonio’s Medical Center. I hate this part of town, but I was after that day to be drawn back to it countless times as the spot became a central point in the geography of my physical and emotional world. I entered into a dimly-lit dining room, an enveloping fold of hot, garlic-infused air, through which were conveyed the sounds of Indian pop music. There was the buffet, which promised unlimited sensual delight in exchange for ten dollars and a willingness to wallow in one’s own crapulence for hours afterward. This was Bombay Hall.
My girlfriend at that time one decade ago was craving Indian food, and whether by chance or by fate, we chose this place. We were promptly seated at one of the tables whose glass tops served as frames for the glamorous posters of Indian pop and film stars. Early in the meal, I began coughing violently. One of the two owners, who was to become a familiar face over the subsequent period of my life, mistook this as an amateur’s response to spicy food (to which I am no stranger), and offered me a sugar packet to cut the heat. It seemed that it would be churlish in the face of such generosity to save face by noting that I was simply choking and not overwhelmed by the curry, so I obligingly consumed the sugar packet which had been so kindly proffered. We enjoyed our meal thoroughly, and though I did not stay in touch with my partner in that first excursion, the memory of that meal left an indelible mark upon my heart which our relationship never did.
After receiving the news that Bombay Hall had been closed, I began to engage in that most salutary of human activities: nostalgic retrospective. In the course of this, I could see through the roseate lenses of my retrospectacles that almost everyone who matters most to me in life had been there at Bombay Hall with me.
This small and unassuming Indian restaurant has an emotional resonance for me which no other place can even approximate. Bombay Hall was the site of the last meal that I shared with my father. It was here that Joel used to bring his students for a celebratory lunch following final exams; in the early days of our collaboration, he used to invite me to these lunches, where I saw what it meant for a teacher to be a member of a real community and not simply an extension of bureaucratic power. My brother and I made something of a ritual out of much-too-frequent visits to what we affectionately called ‘B-Hall.’ One month, I was aghast to see that after a month in which I made twenty visits there, I had spent over $400 in addition to the physical and psychic toll of my postprandial discomfort. One year, my sole contribution to Thanksgiving dinner was a large order of samosas, which introduced the rest of my family to B-Hall’s gustatory siren song.
Joel once observed that, though it was not the best food one could get, it was always consistently excellent and delivered with a certain comforting familiarity. Yet, as much as I remember and still crave the food itself, it is the personal element which makes it my all-time favorite restaurant. My lunches with Joel and dinners with my brother are tokens of the love I feel for the people who have meant most to me in life, and somehow these disparate experiences are linked together in the physical space of one dining room. Just over four years ago, I was accepted to a graduate program, and knew that I would be leaving this city behind. No one laments the loss of the buildings, the roads, or the city government. I wept when I thought of the people whom I would leave behind, consigned for the foreseeable future to the department of memory and correspondence – and then I took my brother to B-Hall.
I could have left the city, but a job offer here combined with my own anxiety about the oft-discussed disappointments of post-graduate life brought me to do something which I now (from the comfortable perch of relative economic security) cannot believe: I turned down my dream of graduate study, and stayed here.
I received a text from my brother last night indicating that Bombay Hall was permanently closed. This came as the greatest shock to me, in part because it had always seemed to be a perennial institution, and perhaps even more so because I had dreamt about just such a calamity the night before. Had I left the city, the possibility of returning and reforging the old link would have still remained. Had I been gone, I don’t think that B-Hall’s closing would have affected me so from a distance. Yet, now that it is closed, that physical link has slipped away forever in the devouring sands of time. To be sure, other rituals and other spaces may give continuity and connection to my emotional life, but they can never do what B-Hall did: Joel is now gone, my brother and I have far less free time than before, and the heady air of romance and excitement of my early 20’s could never be duplicated and imprinted upon a physical spot. Leaving B-Hall, I always felt that my stomach would explode, but the discomfort would invariably subside – now, my heart is bursting with these happy memories of times and experiences which are just as lost to me as is each bite of the food I ate there.
“As we speak, hateful time will have escaped us.”
Dum loquimur, fugerit invida aetas
We teach Horace to kids, but perhaps it’s true that one can only truly appreciate him in middle age and beyond. I knew my Horace then, and could readily explain in an abstract way the importance of seizing the day, but it is only the sense of loss – the day which is gone whether seized or not – which gives one a real appreciation of just how sad our happiness can make us.