India, Mumbai, Back Again

on Tuesday, 27 August 2013. Posted in India Travels

I.N.D.I.A (I'll Never Do It Again) But of course I do

Part One:

I arrived  in Mumbai, India on New Years Eve, I found myself at a fancy Indian hotel, for a party with some locals who I met through the homeopathic clinic I’m visiting. The party consisted of a buffet food table outside on a veranda, the food arriving at about 11.30pm!!, and a very loud DJ inspired dance floor, which was nearly unendurable unless you happened to be dancing away.  Merely standing in the virtual darkness with the decibels blasting didn’t really induce much comfort.  This was my first reminder of India.  Very little is done quietly.  If noise can be made, it will be, from hawking up mucus in the morning, to cell phones going off throughout the night outside my window.  The party was full of “modern”, wealthy Indians, most dressed in western clothes and acting normal, except for the dancing! But for me, invoking memories of India 30 years ago, and even 10 years ago - an inevitable mental exercise in my first few days of transition here - it did make me think of what people said to me about India and how I wouldn’t recognize the changes.

However, when I arrived at Mumbai airport, it all looked remarkably similar to how I remembered India.  Masses of taxis and masses of people hanging around; a peculiar ritual of finding the right taxi driver, 2 different checks before leaving the airport, one requiring a man to diffidently tear my taxi ticket slightly and then off into the madness of the city.  The taxis are slightly different.  Instead of the old Morris Oxford style cabs (an old model of car that was based on the English car and the only car seen in India until about 20 years ago), there was now a version that looked just as old, based more on an Austin A 30 (sorry for these old English car references), which has a gear change on the steering block and the simplest dash since the Citroen 2CV. I think it is actually based on a basic fiat model.

Bombay has one of the largest urban population in the world, about 20 million or so - beaten by Jakarta, Mexico City, Sao Paulo and Tokyo - and driving into the city, you are aware of just how huge it is and how crazy.  Driving is an experience which vacillates from the sublimity of human capacity for survival to a virtual death impulse, shared by every other driver on the road.  One hour later, I found myself where I am staying; with an old lady in an apartment above the homeopathic clinic I’ve come to spend a week in.  She lives alone in a large apartment by Bombay standards, which like New York, competes for every inch of space. Her only son lives in the UK, married to a good English girl!  She is lonely for conversation, but unfortunately I wasn’t very accommodating, most of my days being spent in the clinic of a homeopathic colleague, an experience that mirrored the congestion one finds on the streets. Small rooms, packed with people, and a lot of activity.