So I’ve talked to people who’ve done India, I’m armed with my travel book and I’m mid way through the so far amazing Shantaram, but nothing prepares you for this pounding of the senses that Mumbai gives you. I knew it would shock me but I didn’t …I didn’t imagine it would be like this. Linbaba was right, the smell and the humid monsoon heat hit you hard, maybe not as hard as the rest of it, but hard enough.
I learn early that Indians do not queue in the same polite way as the English do. In typical Indian fashion, the hostel pick up service is no where to be seen. It’s 5am. Scammers are lurking by the arrivals exit. My lift finally arrives, after checking his ID he drives through the city streets, taking me down a back alley to a block of flats, the warnings of scams resonating through the mind. The Anjali Inn is situated in a block of flats, the entrance on the fist floor. Bizarre. But this is India, anythings possible. I sign in and attempt to sleep for a few hours before I hit the town. I’m excited and the humidity is extreme.
I awake to meet Raj, a man who plays a more improtant role in this story later on. His English is good, I eat a masala dosa. I venture into a tuk tuk with a French guy. I jump out at Andheri station. I’m alone. There’s thousands of Indians. Beeping tuk tuks and bikes litter the soundscape. Filth and businesses pollute my vision. Where the fuck am
I? Where am I going? The train costs peanuts, I head to Churchgate, the nearest stop to Colaba, the tourist mecca of Mumbai. The train is full of people, it has no doors and is as long as 2 football pitches. Everyone stares at me with fascination, something I will get used to. I learn that placing my hands together, smiling and saying namaste is a great way to great people and start conversations with Indians in broken English. I’m in shock. My senses indeed are buzzing. Cautious, almost nervous, I proceed into the unknown. I love it instantly.
I walk past the Oval, the monsoon rains have paused and the sun attempting an appearance through the misty cloud. Its a humid hit that leaves me drenched in sweat. I’m shocked at the lack of tourists, I feel very white! However, I meet an English couple in Leopold’s. I like them. Ben and I are both reading Shantaram and has also dabbled in the art of drum and bass DJ-ing, an art I mastered back in the days of SeOne and Ministry of Sound. We warm to each other and walk the streets of Colaba tasting various street foods. I drink lassi, a youghurt based drink.
The Gateway of India produces intense staring and smiling from the Indian tourists. Like super stars, we pose for pictures with families and children. We are being papped. Seriously. People sneaklily taking pictures of the gora (white foreigner in Hindi). We weave in and out of the street and fish markets, dodging touts and cows that litter the streets. It’s chaotic, London on crack. Eyes wide open I witness the litter problem, the water is disgusting, people urinate and shit on the streets, child beggars and disfigured homeless wonder and the smell, the smell of Mumbai, wether you like it or not, is everywhere.
On my return to Andheri, I am ripped off by a tuk tuk driver, I eat some amazing vegetable masala with a butter chapati, break my flip flop and walk through an area of pavement which is only used by locals as a toilet.
What a day, what lovely people, the poverty has shocked me deeply. I retire to the hostel and share my experiences with the other travelers. I rest, senses still buzzing, humidity over powering, happy in my conquest of day one in Mumbai. I’m loving it.