Mumbai Madness

I had only booked the hotel in Bhandra for one night so on my first full day I had to spend over an hour in a cab to get to the Fort and Colaba area. It was scorching hot, 36 degrees centigrade, by eleven in the morning. I travelled with the window open, taking in everything from the decadent office blocks to the squalid slums. My hotel was above a busy street cafe, crowded with taxi drivers who watched me and my huge backpack negotiate the tiny stairwell. It was utterly filthy until I reached a clear glass door on the first floor. When I closed it behind me, the noise and chaos of outside disappeared and I was surrounded by pale marble and cool air, infused with rose incense. This area was not far on the map from the main tourist hub so I settled into my room and put on my best trekking sandals and started walking. I passed the huge Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, the gothic exterior giving away it’s roots and former name, Victoria Terminus.

When I stopped to look at a stall, I was asked. “Where are you from?” and my response of “England” was met with two words I would hear repeated throughout my entire trip, “Lovely Jubbly!”. It seems even Del Boy has a place in Indian culture.

I kept walking down busy streets where people crowded into the road. I was flagged down by a couple from Leeds and we greeted each other like old friends. They were lost and hadn’t encountered any other westerners at all, Stanley and Dr Livingstone sprang to mind. We were fresh arrivals and I considered how strange and utterly polite we English are in these circumstances, exchanging pleasantries based only on the fact that we look alike. Pale, pasty and decidedly ginger.

I walked for maybe two hours until I reached Leopold’s Café in Colaba. It played a central part in the book ‘Shantaram’ by Gregory David Roberts and it was a hive of western activity, bar snacks and glorious cold beer. From there, fully refreshed, I made my way to the magnificent Gateway for some tourist shots and before I knew it, I was being asked to pose in photos with families, like some kind of Bollywood star.

I returned to Leopold’s for a cheap plate of egg and chips before heading back to the hotel. But when I left the café, I realised that my feet were covered in blisters and the extended rest had made them swell and chafe. It was getting dark, so I hobbled towards a larger road where I could easily hail a taxi. A young, handsome man (think Jason Momoa crossed with Dev Patel) caught my eye as I tried to cross the street. He started to walk alongside me and I did my best to ignore him, politely of course, and keep walking. He persisted and noticed my limp, and I told him I needed a taxi to take me to my hotel. I was wise enough not to give the name of my actual hotel, but another one I’d spotted nearby. He said he would get a cab for me and ran out into the road, each time he would chat to the driver and then turn and say, “No good, it’s not far enough”. This made me feel a little uncomfortable as I knew that it was a two hour walk and no fare is too small in India. Another young man (this one a bespectacled, serious looking fellow, an Indian version of Sheldon from ‘Big Bang Theory’) came over to talk to me and offer assistance. He then started to empty his briefcase in the hope I might buy a pack of postcards for ‘an orphanage’. Then the young hunk came running over and I think, ‘claimed me’ for himself. An argument started. Within seconds the exchange got very heated and Sheldon threw a punch. At this moment, a crowd gathered to watch, and I ran, forgetting my blistered feet, jumped into a cab and told him to drive. I don’t know what had happened or what had been said but I did realise that I was possibly in danger and the best option in a situation like that is get the hell out of there.

The next day was far less eventful and I decided to put these weird incidents of over enthusiastic men to the back of my mind. I took a cab down Marine Drive, past Chowpatty Beach and visited Gandhi’s house. It was an amazing insight into the man. His simple life and modest existence is so at odds with how politicians and powerful people live life in the twenty-first century. I found some beautiful words inscribed on a card, “Be truthful, gentle and fearless”, advice for me to carry forward on this journey.

I found a brightly coloured café, sipped tea and watched cricket until the heat outside subsided slightly. On my way back to the hotel I passed many families lying in the shade of the trees and saw a young woman bathe a tiny baby girl in a puddle. We exchanged smiles and I offered a handful of money, not much but enough to help. These scenes of extreme poverty made me realise that a huge amount of people in India are desperately struggling to survive in a country with a population of almost a billion people. But, thanks to Mahatma Gandhi, at least they have their freedom.

4 Comments

  1. Peter Matcham

    Hi Emma. When I first visited “Bobbay” in the 80’s I think it was, we had a dive cum survay boat working in Bombay High oil and gas fields. I spent quite a bit of time transitting between boat and flight back to Saudi. I loved the place Food and so many beautiful women. We used to go to a place called fishermans wharf where there was 3 huge bars playing a mixture of western and indian to cater for all cultures. Leopolds was the hub for all westerners to meet and if my memory serves me right ?? there was a “knocking shop” upstairs and a huge guy outside with a Swagger stick to keep out or deter undesirables . A great place to walk at night along “the prom” and I always felt really safe. We alwyas stayed at a Hotel called the Faryous ?? which got a touch of BRIT hopped to “Fury arse” it was about a 10 minute walk from THE GATES OF INDIA. A place of contrasts i.e. rich and poor, The cast system etc. The CAGES were always a place to visit for westerners. Chilly King crab was the meal to tackle “PHEW” delightful. a place I endure and indulged as I was single then .. I enjoyed your tales and no doubt it has changed somewhat since my last visit.. Px

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Emma

      Thanks Peter… the upstairs at Leopold’s is definitely still there, tinted glass panels and sliding doors you can see from the bar. Not sure if it’s a ‘knocking shop’ now though!!

      Like

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