24 February 2008

Tourist Saturday Indian Style

An ambitious Saturday schedule gets me out of bed early. First pit stop is at Inorbit where I pickup my custom made shirt. Outside the shopping mall I catch a glimpse of a Bollywood film shoot. The driver informs me that this is the very famous 'Shahid Kapoor'! Really…. As all of this driving consumes a lot of time I go through the newspaper and spot the following advertisement.

Marriage is a very serious business in India. Earlier this week a couple was found dead because the woman could no longer bear being cut off from the family (the family did not approve the marriage!) and asked her husband to kill her, which he did after which he hung himself. Sad story.

Reaching Linking road in Bandra after a 40 minute drive I ask the driver to park the car. He queries as to what I want to purchase. I really don't need anything but would like to walk around so I inform him of such. He looks like he doesn't understand so I toss in 'Shoes'. Frantically he starts looking for a shoe store. We stop at the side of the road. Parking here is not a mundane task. The driver gets out and turns into a very directive and angry man who instructs a cab driver to move his car so that he can squeeze onto the pavement. Quite a contrast with the servile friendly man that I know as my driver. Is it the caste system at work?

We move on and find a mall with an underground parking. While he waits I take a stroll over Linking road.

Bandra Pano (click to enlarge)

After going through the shops I ask him how long it will take us to get to Crawford market. He asks: "Why you want to go to Crawford market? Is vegetable market!". It's hard for him to realize that this five star hotel resident wants to see what the market looks like, too mingle with the 'plebs'. But it will take up to one and a half hours of driving to get there. This car is not helping me anymore; I need to get rid of it. The train will take me downtown in thirty minutes. Now that's interesting. I ask him to drive me to the train station. Again a quizzical look: "But I fast driver, sir! Only one hour." I convince him that he is the fast driver he says he is but that the others are slowing him (and me) down. It's beginning to thaw on him that this means that he now has the rest of the day off. We part our ways and I find myself amidst Mumbaikers. My last string to the posh world (not my world to begin with) has been severed. I am on my own and very happy.

I remember from my Indian colleagues that I can get a first class tourist train ticket. I queue up and after a short while I'm provided with a ticket. India is no different from Amsterdam so I had to block out a guy who tried to creep ahead of me. I find the train to Churchgate and notice that there is vacant spot at the door. This is it! Travelling Indian style. Partially hanging out of the door, the wind going through my hair, somewhat strange looks from passengers, lovely train ride!

From the train station I start walking to the Gateway of India. This is where I come across the most India/British scene: cricket against a background of historical buildings.

Gateway Pano(click to enlarge)

At a sidewalk near the Gateway of India a young woman ties some flowers around my wrist. Typical behaviour "begging camouflage". After talking for a few minutes she understands and respects that I will not accept the flowers and that I will not give her money. I offer her one of my bottles of water which she accepts. I say goodbye to her and walk towards the Gateway. While taking pictures another girl addresses me. "Won't you buy food for me? I don't need money." Suddenly afraid that I had created an avalanche of beggars I look around but nonetheless the former girl joins us. They seem to know each other well. A little scheme to trick the tourists? As I had already made up my mind as to helping someone I suggest that we go to the supermarket. They gladly lead the way. Upon arrival the guard at the door stops them. I step in and say that for this visit they are with me. He gives me a strange look. The ladies however seem to be floating. They need flour, oil and rice. I turn around looking for stuff they already have their hands full of stuff. But this is no more than the 'give the hand, take the arm' reaction. My altruism has a limited budget so they will have to comply with that. "Why don't you get more money, then come back" I laugh and say: "this is the deal, take it or leave it". It's obvious that my kindness has its limits. They settle for goods that will provide them with a meal for one month. As I calculate this through, I have worked less than one hour for this… Unsettling observation. The ladies seem pretty happy. Outside I take their picture and we part our ways. For some friends I purchase numerous tin cans of toothpowder. The cashier looks at me and I say to him that I have an extremely bad breath. He laughs. I pay and leave. Again I stumble into the ladies and one of them holds two packs of tomato condensate and smiles from ear to ear. We never bought that. Little thieves. They are now joined by an adult. I peace sign them farewell. At the supermarket I rearrange my bag and see the adult woman walking by with the rice I just both for them. I'll never know how this 'gang' works and who will profit from the food. I sincerely hope that it will end up in children's stomachs.

With a taxiriksja I travel to Crawford market. This big market has all the fruits and vegetables one could ask for. It seems as if all of them are coming straight from paradise, unbelievably appealing! I walk through the different alleys, smells ranging from spices to nuts over hefty slaughtered chicken (baskets full). It's getting late. Outside on the side of the 'pavement' I rearrange my bag again with the purchased goods. Suddenly a rat shoots in my direction and passes between me and the wall.

Since no taxiriksjas are allowed in Colaba (the most Southern part of Mumbai) I stop a taxi (type Ambassador 'the sturdy') in midst traffic. Honking!! At the station I locate my train through asking and end up at the wrong platform, the sign doesn't list my station. Seems they didn't know either. A friendly man helps me out and points at the right platform. That would mean walking all the way back since I have to cross multiple tracks. He advises me to wait and cross through the train. A few minutes later the train arrives and I speed towards my train. When I'm in the second train my train starts moving. This is not happening. I'm not missing this one. So I do the one possible thing: do it the Indian way. I sprint and jump on the train, firmly grasping the middle bar. He he, made it! All happy I turn and realize I have boarded the 'Ladies only' compartment. I apologize: 'Maaf kerna' and switch compartments at the first station. The one table listing all the stations is in Hindi and the English one has been painted over. Great. I remember more or less which stations we passed from my previous train ride with my Indian colleagues so I sit down and read the newspaper. People are getting on the train at every station. It is getting ever more crowded. In Vikhroli I get off, take a taxiriksja to the hotel and call it a day.

Glorious day this was! Memorable.


Param said...

Boy Dieter...you are having one amazing time in Mumbai :-) Spotting filmstars, helping poor people, going around the town!

Mumbai ishytle ;-) I am proud that you went on a train ALONE, took a running train (ableit a ladies compartment)..real adventure !

You know why every Mumbaikar wants to hate Mumbai but cant help falling in love with it..Yeh Hain Bombay Meri Jaan - that famous song that you could listen to or download it from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UZaUyszOFtA

Neurotron said...

Hi Param, having good teachers always help breed good students! Therefore catching the train was not all to hard (except for the sprinting part ;))