After the ashram and a few short days in Trivandrum, I hopped on an Air India flight up to Mumbai (the former Bombay).
As much as I have lately been determined to practice the virtue of finding the good in everything, Mumbai sorely put that to the test. At times I felt as if calling it a total shithole would be kind. Too, too, too, too, too too many people. Dirty. Unbearably loud. More too many people. Then add some more.
In the southern districts of Colaba and Fort there is lots of amazing colonial grand architecture from the Brit era. But it is all peeling, fading, layered in dirt. Depressing in my estimation. I couldn’t wait to leave. I could find very little of the “New Mumbai” that offers up beautiful young people living the new middle-class life. The closest thing to this I discovered was at the Starbucks in Fort in the lovely historic Elphinstone Building. But even that was marred by noticing the inevitable obese twenty-something Indian kids hunched over a laptop powered by Mr. Tata’s (a Starbucks partner in India) free Wifi while they sipped their fifth Giant Grand Parthenon Double Mocha Frappe Luscious Cappuccino, a habit they have obviously not been able to break for some time now.
The “Queen’s Necklace” or Marine Drive area is visually impressive as the Arabian Ocean washes into the west side of Mumbai. Thousands of lovers and young couples line the seawall staring out to sea while the guys attempt to sneak in a forbidden kiss or better-yet feel below the neckline. I found the stench of sewage washing in with waves to be overpowering and nauseating; it didn’t seem to register with the lovers. Silly me!
Riding the metro train is a challenge. There is an actual scrum at every stop with riders trying to disembark competing with new riders literally launching themselves like human missiles into the train while it is still moving, angling to score a possible empty seat (absurdly doubtful). There are no doors on the trains, just open spaces for drunks to fall out of or innocent elders to risk losing their balance to the endless selfish stream of embarkers.
Being a pedestrian is a challenge here. And remember that this is coming from someone who has spent the better part of nine months in Viet Nam over the last two years. Drivers, whether they be commercial or private, have no regard whatsoever for you in the street. You have no right-of-way. You are impeding their urgent ability to get somewhere else NOW! At a red light, the tension builds to the point that crowd behaviour boils over about 5 seconds before the light turns green and all horns begin honking long, anguished bleating because they must be somewhere else NOW! Pedestrians scatter like cockroaches to land on the sidewalk prior to the orgasmic surge of traffic hurdling forward from the confines of a red light.
Walking is a challenge here. Try walking to or through Victoria Terminus around rush hour and see if you emerge without badly bruised shoulders or worse, usually from impact with an aging pensioner madly determined to catch a train anywhere else NOW! There is so much collision of bodies going on that it makes an American National Football League game look like sissies playing catch. If you are waiting in line to buy a ticket, do not be surprised when someone (it can even be a grandma) literally puts a hand over the top of your shoulder and pushes you out of the way. Don’t expect any apologies from strangers – that’s not a manner that matters in today’s Mumbai.
There are some pretty nice places to eat, as befits any large metropolitan city. I still found it a bit trying to enjoy my pure veg metal platter of deliciousness while being stared down throughout the meal by locals at tables on all four cardinal points of my compass. Were they waiting for the entertainment of possibly regurgitating my saag palak galu through my nose? Do they possess a secret commission from the Mumbai police to report any foreigners stuffing an extra meethi roti down their shirt for an unsanctioned midnight snack? Or were they simply enthralled to observe a human actually eating with a metal utensil rather than smearing dal and rice in an endless circle on their plate with their bare right hand before achieving the perfect consistency to stuff the mush down their throats, sans fork and spoon? Fascinating to contemplate while I concentrate to develop (fruitlessly) an invisible force shield around me at every meal in order to dine in private and peacefully dream about proper digestion.
Ah, Mumbai! Now that I’m a day away and listing all of the reasons that I love thee, I realize that I judged thee in haste! For now I know that I was at fault. I am not raw enough, Mumbai! I was not worthy of the excrement that you sling at your denizens daily! I believed that I was better, that I had been taught manners. But I was wrong! Please let me back in, Mumbai, so that I can die with your stench on my breath. Probably tomorrow, if you are kind enough to grant me this last wish! Because that it probably all the time it will take.
There you have it, my friends. Visit at your own peril.