Where do I start?? I was incredibly excited to finally be coming to India after so many years of looking forward to it. From the time I boarded the plane in Nairobi and found myself surrounded by dozens of Indians, to when I saw the first glimmering lights of Mumbai from the plane, I couldn’t stop smiling! I stayed in Mumbai for a few days with the cousin and sister of a friend from school (thanks Shreya! 🙂 ). They showed me around a city of 12 million people whose craziness really can’t be properly described! For me that craziness was first embodied in an autorickshaw ride: zip zip zip through impossibly tiny openings in the traffic- I felt like I was in a swarm of ants who’d drunk espressos! But my friends were of course acting as though this was completely normal – which here, it is – so once I realized we probably wouldn’t get squashed between the cars, trucks, other autorickshaws, scooters, motorcycles, pedestrians and the occasional cow… the whole thing was lots of fun!
It was hot and steamy during the day so we went out in the late afternoons. There was a lot of Mumbai I didn’t see, including most of the slums the city is infamous for. I think what I saw was the Mumbai of the young middle-class professionals: shining streets, gleaming malls, open plazas…
But the city had lots of “layers”, and on the way to a given destination those layers would overlap a bit. This was apparent in my two favorite sites: Marine Drive and Juhu Beach. The former is a classic spot to visit: a string of lights encircles the road bordering the Indian Ocean harbor. When we arrived around midnight, people of all backgrounds, from those who looked homeless to families with children, were sitting on the wall just enjoying the cool breeze. A similar sense of simplicity and inclusiveness (or at least more inclusive than the malls and movie theaters) also greeted us at Juhu Beach. I’ve never seen so many people on a beach at one time! Despite the huge crowd, only a handful were swimming. The rest had claimed their little piece of beach and were watching the sun set.
There was a unique energy that came with the crowd: the combined stories of thousands of friends, families, children, vendors hawking freshly roasted peanuts or fragrant bhel puri (a snack food of puffed rice, crunchy noodles, onions, coriander & fresh lemon juice stuffed into a cone of newspaper), others selling toys for kids or leading around a monkey who did tricks, women offering to do mehindi (henna) designs on your hands… all together on this strip of sand by the sea. If you weren’t in the mood the scene could feel like sensory overload… but this time it was truly wonderful!
I’m not much of a mall person but it was fun going around with my friends: knowing I was looking for a salwar kameez (a long shirt/dress with either fitted or poofy pants underneath) for my stay in rural India, they took me to a store that must have had thousands of pieces of clothing!
There was a mixture of patterns: some had a more traditional design while others could have been right out of a store in the US. You also had to choose between those swimming in glittery gold sequins and the more plain ones (given that I didn’t want to look like an Indian bride, I went for the latter 🙂 ). Later we went across town and saw a movie, a main scene of which was shot in the mall we’d just come from, so that was neat.
For a while I’d been looking forward to trying this snack called pani puri. You’re given a crunchy tiny bowl that the vendor pours a hot soupy mixture into, and before it spills all over you have to cram the whole thing in your mouth as quickly as you can! My long-term goal is to be able to eat street food but for now we got some in the mall.
So that was the whirlwind 2 days in Mumbai!