Even though I am in humid Kerala, I am still dusting myself down from Mumbai. After months in the cold, damp streets of Bedford and London, cows conducting the traffic says everything about Mumbai megacity. The smells here; jasmine, cow dung, camphor, sweat blast the senses a bit.
Bombay is disconcerting because it feels like London just with heat, dust, palm trees and monkeys in jeans. Everyone in India seems to want to be here and it is quite an overwhelming location. I have spent over a month here in the last few years and the resources of human ingenuity are breathtaking (and too long to detail here).
These buildings, all British in design and build lend a Victorian grandiosity to the place, if only it could lend a little more to Calcutta. The creakings of memory thrust the city into the filing as 'Dickensian with heatwave'. This section is only maybe a mile square, the rest of the swollen megalopolis is rundown to shanty town with occasional pockets of affluence.
Mumbai strikes you with the little things. Men rolling coriander tumbleweeds to market. Stall holders doing yoga at 6 am. The rich rolling into the malls to watch Ralph Fiennes in Coriolanus.
The Dhobi Ghats (Slumdog Millionnaire)
This municipal laundry is something to behold. Many Mumbalites bring their dirty clothes here for them to be washed by hand, washed, beaten, slapped and rinsed. Places like this were settings for the recent Slumdog film. Thinking about that film brings up the ghetto area.
The ghetto area (5 miles north of centre) is something else again. Five thousand families using one public lavatory?? It's economy however is worth £750M a year. I didn't visit Manchester in 1847 but the conditions here can't be dissimilar. I think I'll leave it there.
Bollywood attracts Indians from all over India. As a consequence Mumbai is far more expensive than anywhere else in India including Delhi. I spoke to a computer engineer and a lawyer. Both wouldn't be anywhere else. The railway engineer I met the next day wasn't so complimentary about the great swoon of a city with its astonishing ghetto, frightening at night, and its endless horizons. Seventeen million people are packed in here. Marine Drive below is a pretty nice place though and is on a massive scale, like most things here.
The city has its highlights. Just check out the lotus tank on the hill (found at the left in the photo above). When I went women immersed themselves in the water, spread rose petals, emptied caskets in there. For good measure a film was being made while I watched and burnt my lips on a bel puri a kind of Indian taco. And its lowlights try the 35km taxi ride from the airport at night, try the tough taxi drivers. The 600 rupee fare could buy a sleeper berth to Goa.
Punjabi Bhangra music is raging in certain upscale parts of Mumbai as it is in London. Please find a sample below.
Punjabi MC and his hit Gabru Tere was just not around in video form though you can find the song here. My personal favourite. Recently I found the staff of my Calcutta hotel crowded around the video for this song.
They, all men, were waxing lyrical about Aishwarya Rai too.
Mumbai sure has its beautiful people and Bollywood actors are its royalty. Many of the films are eminently watchable and I'm looking forward to seeing quite a few more.
Next time: winding down - from Maharastra to Kerala