Monday, 20 January 2014

I went to Mumbai and this is what happened...

Taj Mahal Palace hotel, Mumbai
Day 1

When I woke up this morning I didn’t expect to be treated to a display from the Indian Army’s bomb disposal team. Then again, I didn’t actually sleep – I spent most of the evening sitting in extremely close proximity to a spellbound elderly Indian gentlemen; the object of his tactile awe being the mid-90s Casio watch around his wrist, or more specifically its relentlessly piercing beep. At this point I should mention that the pair of us were sitting down with a few hundred other people on a plane flying to Mumbai from London. He didn’t say a word to me during the eight hours, not even when I borrowed his pen to complete my landing slip. Now there’s a snippet of detail that will live in your memory forever.

Anyway, I was trying to write about the bomb disposal guys. Well, it appears I’ve arrived in India on National Army Day, which is celebrated in Mumbai through the medium of static World War One-style guns the size of houses, hastily-erected green tents, soldiers sitting on plastic chairs and teenagers taking crap photos of my Turkish face on camera phones. It’s an absolute hoot, especially as the army cordons off the entire area around the Gateway of India, meaning you can’t really get anywhere near it. I found this especially annoying as I promised my mum I’d go and do a selfie in front of it to demonstrate that a) I was having fun, or at least pretending to, and b) that I was still alive. I have Instagram now you see, which saves on tefelome bills.

Still, I had to make the most of it, so I tootled on over to the bomb disposal tent in the hope of seeing a live display. Or display prevention, to put it more accurately. There was something slightly uncomfortable about having such a facility yards from the Taj Mahal Palace, a hotel that only a little over five years ago bore the brunt of a horrific terrorist attack. So I suppose I was relieved to discover that all the bomb disposal guides wanted to do was sit down and stare at nothing in particular, which makes the first line of this blog so disgracefully misleading that I’m thinking of stopping right now. And right on cue, my brother’s old housemate Rachel has just walked into the hotel reception where I happen to be writing this. Honestly, you travel 5,000 miles to get away from familiar faces…

Day 2

Did you know that if you turn your watch upside down in India, you’ll see what time it is in Britain? It helps if your watch has hands, but it’s bloody well true. Today, dear reader, I went on a heritage walking tour of Mumbai’s Fort region – it was truly fascinating and very entertaining, but unfortunately this is the only thing I remember. Other than the fact that Mark Twain (whom my dad so intelligently quoted in his farewell text) stayed in India’s first five-star hotel, which today still stands but has been somewhat neglected, at least on the outside.

Run-down Mumbai building
I walked with Saurabh, our guide; Margaux, an American girl who was taking a break from rehearsing a meticulously-choreographed routine she would be dancing at her friend’s wedding in a couple of days, and a lovely French couple who were taken by Mumbai’s ‘underwear pavement’, which does indeed resemble millions of pairs of y-fronts happily slotted together in crotchtastic unison. When the conversation moved on from pants to sport, I was devastated to discover that the pair (that nearly works, doesn’t it?) had never heard of French cricket, thus dispelling my forever-held belief that this rudimentary form of the game is exactly how it’s played across the Channel.

Later I befriended a chap, as one so easily does in India, called Asad, who recently completed a Master’s degree in Bath. To my delight he also knew of Cheltenham Town FC and the restaurants of Whitechapel, so naturally we ventured on over to Colaba Causeway for a spot of lunch, Iranian style. I told him I was planning on having dinner with Rachel again in the evening, which meant travelling on one of the commuter trains in rush hour, for it was my turn to make the effort to see her in Bandra, one of Mumbai’s northern suburbs. 10 people are killed on Mumbai’s local trains every day, so I was a little apprehensive, but Asad agreed to meet me at 18:30 to hold my hand, which fortunately doesn’t warrant a double take in India.

Mumbai’s commuter trains have first and second class, with the addition of a separate carriage for women. Asad assured me second class would be fine (something about an authentic Indian experience) as long as I subscribed to the culture of “adjustment”, which essentially means abandoning all pre-conceived ideas regarding personal space and public transport etiquette. After purchasing a ticket we strolled to the end of the platform, walked on to a surprisingly-quiet carriage and sat down on one of the carriages. It was all very civilised. By Grant Road station, a few stops up the line, we were penned in like battery chickens but still sitting down, every word of our conversation soliciting blank stares from tired commuters. Asad prompted me to stand up by the time we got to Mahim Junction and brace myself for “the push”. I managed to find a vacant handle two seconds before another chap did, so naturally he went to hold it anyway and ended up gripping my hand for the final five minutes of the journey. As the train started to slow into Khar Road, I was forcibly pushed from the carriage onto the platform, somehow managing to avoid the gap. Thankfully, the return journey a few hours later was a tad quieter…

Empty train at Churchgate Station, Mumbai
Days 3-4

All I had left to do in Mumbai was see the Gateway of India at dawn, which you can too thanks to the below image, complete a top secret mission that will soon become public knowledge, and have a few Kingfishers with Asad and his entourage (one of whom had not only heard of Reggae Rajahs, whom I love, but had been to see them; and another who’s dad used to play international football for India) to celebrate my last night. Rest assured that all three activities, spread over two days, were very fun indeed, but I’ll spare you the details because after all, you’re not my stalker.

Gateway of India at dawn, Mumbai

1 comment:

  1. Hi Charlie. First really nice post. Now if you want to see the real side on my India the skip cities like Delhi, Mumbai ir major metros. Indian has 53 cities which have more than 1 million population. So.... if you want to explore the real side of India than you should figure out cities from the rest 4041-53 :)