Writing from: Rishikesh, after my first ever flute lesson. Link eat your heart out (geeky Nintendo reference).
The first time Mumbai and I met there didn’t leave me longing to stay, love at first chaotic sight of this whirlwind of a city Mumbai certainly was not, but it seems that second time Mumbai has the charm. It grows on you like a breed of relentless ivy with flowers of a thousand different scents (some of them not so Glade-plug-in I must admit, but a fair share that are fragrant).
It’s very odd what a week and a bit, a touch of a tan on our pastey English skin, and a few hundred Indian miles under our travel-belts (which I am still wearing to shield my passport and money from evil, despite the fact that it makes me feel like a miserly kangaroo) can do for a soul.
Can’t say I arrived more comfortably than the last time (see previous post).
Where was I? Ah yes. Mumbai. Once Bombay (they just call Bombay Mix ‘Mix’ here), and now Mumbai, but still Bombay to half the people here leaving us all a bit confused really.
All bus journey filth and shame was cleansed from us as we stumbled into Hotel Moti, a pieced together gem of a place set in a Colonial building that possibly used to be grand, but has now been chopped into rooms for scummy backpackers like myself. So that ornately carved monkeys and rabbits poke their faces from the badly painted corners of sadly lowered (and probably once magnificently high) ceilings.
Raj, the smiley hotel owner, was the nicest person I have met in India so far. He was calm, wise, helpful, and dressed in eye-blindingly white linen. His wide-eyed daughter peered warily from behind him in fear of Duke, who, thanks to the hair of a now possibly bald Goa lady and eight hours of frankly painful ‘rasta-making’, is now sporting a head of dreadlocks that draws the open-mouth stares of every Indian we meet (and in Mumbai that is a whoooooooole lotta Indians). She beamed a devil of a smile back at me when I aimed a smile in agreement at her, which helped kick my second helping of Mumbai into a much nicer gear.
As usual I can’t fit it all in so here are some little windows into why second time was the charm:
My first Indian bat – A wide-winged fruit bat soaring past ancient architecture peeping just loud enough to be heard about the honk honk of the traffic.
Ambassador taxis – car-shaped shells on wheels, some patched up with what looks like papier mache, and all with little shrines on dashboards, no seatbelts, and 80s-wallpaper interiors. My favourite played a birthday-card tinny My Heart Will Go On to warn people it was reversing.
Dragonflies – a sky full of them accompanied our boat from Elephanta Island (where I fell in all kinds of love with its carved cave temples), and filled the dockside dusk of the gateway of India with flickering wings.
The star-flavoured thrill I felt when Kiran from Cute Look Productions cast us as Bollywood extras within an hour of arriving.
The dramatic B-movie heartbreak when shooting was cancelled due to a Bollywood day of disaster leaving Bollywood’s biggest cheese hospitalised.
The mural on the wall of Churchill’s ‘London’ restaurant, which placed Big Ben squarely next to London Bridge.
Smiling our way past a severe-looking turbaned doorman at a swanky hotel, thanks to Rohan (an Aussie film-maker in waiting, whose Bollywood dreams were smashed along with ours the night before), only to find the club in full swing but entirely empty.
Smiling our way past the less-severe doorman to the mysterious upper floor of Leopold’s, only to find it was just like downstairs but darker and louder.
The maze of Crawford markets where you can buy fifty kinds of anything in the world for ‘good price’. Most impressed with a stall selling more types of cellotape than I knew existed, one selling sweets that looked like they had been dipped in liquid silver, and another selling solely egg whisks and drills.
The fix-anything district we accidentally stumbled upon – It looked like a hardware store and a garage had decided enough was enough and fought to the death, peppering the dusty ground with oily engine innards, spanners, nuts, screws, and mechanical bits that seemed to have dropped off steam engines.
A man in the fix-anything district waving his hand enticingly over a tray of wheels from office chairs.
A shop selling endless amounts of ladders.
The treasure trove of curiosity shops and bric-a-brac caves in Chaw Bazaar that I could happily have stayed in all day. I wanted to buy everything from the tiny pocket compasses made in a London lost long ago, to the faded photos of stiffly posing English gents and big-hatted ladies pretending not to be melting in the heat, to the gramophones crackling out voices of long-dead songstresses, and my utter favourite, a complete human pelvis and part of the spine encased in yellowed glass.
A monkey from Elephant Island marching up to me and insistently reaching for my can of Coke (I know, I know, but it’s too hot not to have fizzy teeth-melting sugar once in a while), while a dignified turbaned man warned me to “throw away the can!”, and the greedy beast tugged angrily at my trouser pocket until I managed to make my escape when he was distracted by a easily-tearable carrier bag of an unsuspecting passer-by.
A cheeky wink from one of three Muslim youths outside our taxi window balancing on the back of a scooter in a heatwave of city-traffic you could fry an egg on.
My first Indian beagle being walked by two ladies in canary-yellow saris in a park full of cricket-players and tiffin-eaters.
The cool and no-words-for impressive stone-pillared halls at the top of Elephanta Island. Well worth the 100 stairs, run of hawkers, 250 Rps tourist price (Indians pay 10 Rps), to stand in front of the three serene faces of Shiva released from the rock wall by worshippers too long ago to remember and feel unexpectedly blessed, religious or not.
Giant balloons. Oh how I lament that it is utterly impractical for me to purchase a balloon that is bigger than I am, from a man whose simple “Balloooooooon? Ballooooon?” just doesn’t say enough about how much balloon there really is.
A brand new camera after some hard bargaining (we lost ours. Don’t ask).
Fresh lime and soda, and a masala dosa that burns. For breakfast.
The guilt and reasoning wheel you get spun on when removing a tiny hand from the hem of your t-shirt and shaking your head at the tiny pleas for money. And the ‘homes’ strung along the train station fence, washing bowls, clothes, and quiet naked babies sat on cardboard squares to keep them off the ground. I don’t know how to write it and not look like a fat Western pig dog really.
Bombay belly at 4 am. The horror.
A paneer tikka roll, just after midnight at a mafia-frequented sides-street stall, which was so hot I think it may have scarred my soul waves to Annisa, Joelle, my mum, and Sophie
The first pages of the Jungle Book sending me to sleep with dreams of wolf on the night train to Aurangabad and our next stop.
Just so you know I do miss socks, sofas, steak, and stitching with my girls, but I’m not done boring you with my tales just yet. Hopefully you’re not done reading them either…
Now I am way way behind. So to catch you up I am currently in Rishikesh, where the Beatles grew their beards and wrote The White Album. I am considering writing the Marmite Album. I will keep you posted.