My Day Chasing Pokemon in Mumbai

Pop Culture

My Day Chasing Pokemon in Mumbai

Illustration: Saachi Mehta/ Arré

Three boys were huddled together outside a garden wall, waving their cellphones in the air. The one wearing glasses stretched his arm over the moss-ridden barricade to gain better reach. I didn’t need to hear their mumbling to know what they were looking for. My screen too indicated that there were numerous wild Pokémon scattered in the park. Since the spiked iron gates were shut, the likes of us had to resort to walking around the boundary wall, hoping to bump into a Jigglypuff or two.

I spied on them from behind an empty autorickshaw, as the trio gave up, got into a car, and made their way towards a PokéStop five minutes away. As they drove past, I hopped out from behind my spot and pulled myself up onto the relatively low wall. They weren’t willing to take such steps but I desperately wanted to catch the Horsea which seemed to be lurking inside.

A shrill whistle pierced through the air, preventing my progress. The guard from another residential complex had spotted me. I grinned sheepishly and jumped back down to the footpath, a little shame-faced.

A therapist had once told me that I didn’t have a disposition to addiction. She’d obviously never seen me hooked to Pokémon – and the changes it was bringing about in my naturally shy personality.

When the show first started airing in 2003, I was seven and it threw our play-time schedule out of whack. Not a soul stepped out to the park between 5 and 5.30 pm. I’ve had physical fights with friends when it came to the Mew vs Mewtwo debate. When I was nine, I even went to a theme party dressed as Ash Ketchum, the show’s protagonist. And the only reason I ever wanted a Nintendo Game Boy was so that I could play Pokémon Ruby or Sapphire. But my parents would never let me have it.

I have always been a reticent child, loath to go out and make friends. So they pushed me harder. “Enough with videogames,” they would yell. “Go out, make friends, have adventures, and come back home with colour in your cheeks!” They were afraid I’d take the easiest route and end up being hooked to a device.

Now that I’m old enough to choose how hooked-up to devices I want to be (very!) and decide for myself whether I like talking to new people (I don’t), I dived headfirst into Pokémon GO. My first Pokémon (Squirtle) was caught on a colleague’s plate of shawarma, and the rest is history. When I came home and animatedly described the new game, my mother’s disapproval was evident. But she couldn’t possibly confiscate my phone now that I was an adult. The next morning, she restrained an eye-roll when I told her I planned on playing it all day.

I began my day with a “visit” to a Hanuman temple, a masjid, and a Kaal Bhairav temple,  thus beating my grandmother’s record. I was reminded of all the times I was unwillingly dragged to these places on my vacations, and how much I’d come to detest them. Now, ironically, a video game was propelling me back on the path of religion.

Nearing the end of a long, satisfying day I sat back to admire my collection of 35 Pokémon that I’d returned with – but it wasn’t the most valuable of my loot.

My chase took me deeper into Kandivali, beyond the immediate surroundings of my residence. As a former townie in denial about my shift to the suburbs, I had been doggedly ignoring my mother’s pleas to explore our new neighbourhood.

Turns out, Kandivali isn’t so bad after all. I chased a Nidoran up to a cute tea café, which is exactly where I plan on relaxing at the end of a stressful week. In my hunt to catch an elusive Scyther, I stumbled upon a restaurant that serves some pretty rad dosa, and a bid to capture Goldeen led me to discover quiet ruins of an old stone structure near Thakur College, where I befriended a couple of puppies.

On my way home, I wound up in front of the park again. This time around the gate was unlatched and a few boys roamed the otherwise desolate premises, staring into their cellphones. I did something that I never do – I actually went and talked to them.

“Have you guys managed to find anything besides the normal Pokémon?” I asked casually, masking my unease at having to make conversation. “I haven’t found much around here besides Doduos.” The boys sized me up warily and enquired which team I was from. When they learnt that I hadn’t chosen a faction yet, they relaxed. “We just caught a Pinsir there,” one of them said, pointing to some bushes. “Yeah, I already got that one.” We exchanged a few notes on where to find more interesting Pokémon, then the one with a mohawk said, “How about you join Team Mystic when you level up?”

I agreed, and had every intention of doing so, until I realised ten minutes later, that they had locked me inside. If I find those brats again, I’m going to tell them I’ve joined Team Valour.

Nearing the end of a long, satisfying day I sat back to admire my collection of 35 Pokémon that I’d returned with – but it wasn’t the most valuable of my loot. I’d come back with the experience of having explored new places, spoken to new people. I’d come back from an adventure, excitement in my eyes, and some colour in my cheeks.

And yes, Mom, it was all because of a videogame.