My Stomach needed a little more time to settle though and over the next few days I ate vegetarian dishes, cautiously. I shared a taxi from the airport with a French women who was in the process of setting up a zoo/animal rescue farm in Goa. She knew Mumbai like the back of her hand and offered to have me not only join her for dinner, but to accompany her to the heart of the city for an all day shopping expedition the next morning.
I was actually excited to be lead around the city and we exchanged phone numbers and made some plans. Unfortunately, what she termed in the taxi to be her "serious lack of short term memory" put an end to any made plans. The first time I called her to meet up about an hour after our ride together it took a good long minute for her to remember who I was. After a similar experience on the second call I figured I would be better off on my own rather than being left in the depths of Mumbai in a moment of forgetfulness. It was for the best.
Mumbai is an awesome city. It has all the goings on of Delhi but without the complete insanity. 99% of cars on the road are taxis: really cool old ones with funky colored inner decors. No Rickshaws allowed within the city limits and you're hard pressed to find a cow on the main roads. It's much cleaner too, although I'm not sure how... finding a garbage bin anywhere is impossible... well I shouldn't say that because as any Indian will tell you: "No Problem! Anything Possible!"
The people here are hard core sellers, and walking through the Fashion street market: Stalls lined with jeans and shoes and anything else that goes on the body is an interesting experience... especially for a women. It took me a couple of minutes to figure out that the sound to signal everyone that you are within buying limits is made from a tight pursing of the lips and sucking inwards... as if they are wanting to attract the attention of a dog...a rich, doting, western dog, straight from the groomers. (Which I am obviously not)
"Come look my shirts! Come here!"
"You like my Jeans! Just look one! Many types for you!"
are the consistent lines, accompanied by a forward lunge of clothes straight at you and a nice Bomday: "You know you want my clothes" as you keep walking. Actually I wanted to buy some things but the intensity of it all kept me at bay and you are expected to buy without being able to really try things on. The Indian women seem to have no problem with this, as I watch them hold clothes over their bodies with precision and negotiate like professional auctioneers.
I jumped in a cab ($2.50 to go about 10kms) and went to the mall to try my luck. The clothes are very cheap! I pair of jeans will set you back around $2o and guys shirts (I bought some for Sean) go for about $6. All the men in Indian are very skinny so as I'm asking a couple of guys to be my models I realize they are wearing XL shirts but appear to be no bigger than me. It's a little confusing and in the end you just have to "eye it and hope for the best".
It was also Valentines day and couples were lined up at the movie theatre to watch one of 3 films. (2 indian, 1 English)
What a great idea! I'd not seen a movie in 6 weeks and was missing my honey so off to see "Valentines Day" (Garry Marshall) I went. It was the funniest experience! A massive theatre with only popcorn and ice cream on offer, $2 to get in, and a sound system that was seriously over loaded to the point that I had to focus hard to understand what Ashton Kutcher was saying. (Or was it just Ashton Kutcher?).hmmm...
Suddenly, about half way through, in the middle of a crucial Julia Robert's line, the film stopped and the intermission sign came on. I was the only person laughing my ass off. Then 5 minutes later when everyone was back from the bathroom it started exactly where it left off. I don't recommend the movie, but the experience was great fun.
I was staying in a Hotel right near the water where a sea wall ran for miles in each direction. Every night people walked for hours if they wished, with the breeze melting away the heat of the day. It was so beautiful. I would take deep, relaxing breaths of appreciation and contemplate the amazing 5 weeks that had blinked by. I felt so lucky.
For all the "Shantaram" Fans:
For my last night in Mumbai, I headed down to Colaba to walk the street lined markets and get a look at the famous "Leopold's Cafe": The setting for part of the Gregory David Roberts true story that was bombed in recent years and you can still see the bullet holes in the walls. Actually you can do the "Shantaram" Tour through the city, taking you through the slums, and even to the building where Madame Zous notorious high class brothel used to be.
I poked my head in the door of the bustling restaurant/bar manned by 2 policemen with riffles. The book was set in the 80's so the place seemed way cooler than I thought. Before I knew it I was whisked inside to sit at a table with an older Canadian couple from Vancouver. They were fantastic people on a 6 week tour themselves and I couldn't have thought of a better way to spend my last few hours in India. We felt like such rebels, and all agreed that the risk of another bombing at that moment was minimal and totally worth it!
I blew my last RS2000 ($50) on books and art and belts and shirts in the market and went back to the hotel to shower and pack the last of my things for my 3am flight.
The taxi to the airport went through the very poor parts of town, skirting the slums for some of the way. I remembered flying over the slums coming in to Mumbai and being overcome with this strange feeling that even my eyes were an intrusion to that world. There is such a discrepancy between the rich and poor in this country. I don't think you ever get over it, or ever truly know what it's like to live in those conditions.
It's the iron clad thread of love, heart and happiness despite it all that makes me so sad to leave, and excited at the prospect of coming back to experience more. The fact is that if you haven't been, you have zero idea of what it's truly like there. The face of India in Western countries is so far removed from what is, that I encourage all to go see it for yourself. It will crack your heart in two and remake it in ways you cannot imagine.
For this I am forever grateful,
forever changed ,
and forever in love,
Thank you to all who read and followed this blog. It was amazing to feel your support along the way.
Much love and best wishes to everyone.
And to my new friends in India...
... I'll be seeing you again very soon!!!