mellowing in mumbai

Arriving in Munbai the other night was one of the highlights of the trip. Within twelve hours of arrival I realised that I was wrong about judging Mumbai so harshly from my past experiences. It’s definitely still just a great big dirty Indain city, but nowhere near as bad as what I remembered it to be. It’s left me asking myself a couple of questions. The first one is whether or not I am simply mellowing in terms of seeing poverty and general carnage that is everywhere you look in this part of the world and the second is whether Mumbai, and in particular the south of the city, has started to clean its act up a tad. After a couple of days reflecting I’m pretty such that it is a bit of both.

This was my third visit to Mumbai, although I count the second time loosely as all we did was stay in a rather ropey airport hotel, well away from the main area of the city in the south. It was a memorable overnighter for the three of us, arriving in the middle of the night at a hotel that Dave rather cringeworthly (is that a word?) apologised to the hotel receptionist on our arrival for the recent bomb damage to the hotel. ‘We were not affected by that, sir’ said the confused man behind the counter. Dave looked around, inspecting the cracked walls and general filth in the hotel entrance before retorting with a simple ‘Bloody hell, what happened then?!’….We were finally escorted up to our room in a lift suitable for no more than two western men. Somehow we crammed in the three of us, two porters and our luggage. After inspecting our bathroom which included a ‘recently disinfected for our comfort’ sealed toilet, we retired to bed to find the sheets covered in balls of black hair. We decided it belonged to the Russain prostitute that had the misfortune of staying in the room prior to us. Only in India.

Anyway, excuse that little walk down memory lane but it’s one of my favourite tour stories. My now confirmed slightly harsh opinions on the south of Mumbai goes back to 2006. I wrote a bit about that in this last update, but didn’t include that it was my first time outside of Europe, other than the Caribbean. To be thrown in at the deep end like that was bound to strike such high emotions and feelings for such a place. As a young traveller who had only seen the odd shot on TV of what India looked like, it was a massive culture shock. I couldn’t believe people actually ‘lived’ in such squalor and abject poverty.

I remember back in 2006 on occasions I couldn’t bring myself to look outside the tuk tuk or taxi window at some poor kid sleeping on a pile of rubbish or the woman who would gesture for food for her baby when you stopped in the latest traffic jam. Now, poverty sucks, and it sucks massively – but the more you see of it, the less it effects you. That’s not to say I still don’t feel for the situation that a huge percentage of people in this part of the world find themselves in, I do. But you just detach yourself from the position of feeling sorry for every single person, because if you do then the place will just tear you apart – like it did to me, Ben and Rob in ’06. I now look at everything in front of my eyes and take it all in. When I wrote previously that India could be rewarding, this was the kind of situation I was implying. You tend to appreciate what you have and how lucky you are just to be visiting these types of places.

There is no doubt that the more you travel around ‘developing’ countries, the more you mellow in terms of a dislike for a place for being just dirty and full of in your face poverty. I remember chatting to a couple I know from the UK whilst in Antigua who were commenting on the poverty they faced when they came into St Johns, the capital city. I hadn’t even considered that the people that lived in the little quaint huts were poor, hence my use of the word quaint. They lived within a couple of miles of some of the best beaches imaginable and had a massive tourist industry to take advantage of. Poverty? I suppose it was to a couple that hadn’t been to the real developing world. I would hate to put them through that first taxi ride I went through back in 2006.

Back to Mumbai. I genuinely think the place is tidying itself up. Sure, the ride in from the airport past the countless slum dwellings are still very much in place. People still sleep, eat, drink and live on the streets. But there is just something about the city, again especially in the south, which struck me as at least trying to be cleaner. Hand sanitizer was readily available at the airport and bars. The airport itself had been totally revamped, even housing a pre-paid taxi rank which ensured the driver would actually take you where you wanted to go, as opposed to either taking you to his friends hotel or stopping off on the way at several of his mates shops. The south seemed clear of the beggars that harassed you every time you walked out of your hotel in 2006. I hope these people have not been moved on by the authorities, instead gaining some much needed self respect that a job can give them. Begging is a terrible thing and in my opinion anyone that hands over money is a wrong doer. Where do you draw the line? I wrote back in Cambodia that I was now finding myself handing over left over food or a mouthful of water. That for me is much more productive than just a handout of cash. The pavements are now much clearer than they used to be, with the general filth and rubbish swept away out of sight.

Sure, I’ve grown up and become wiser to the world since that first visit five years ago. But I left Mumbai convinced that the city and its people were starting to show more self respect for its own city. I don’t like such dramatic terms as ‘rites of passages’ but going back to a place I had nightmares of was a little daunting. I’m thrilled that I have changed my opinion of Mumbai and equally delighted I chose to challenge myself again through travel. I said I had my travel mo-jo back and the last few days have confirmed that is the case.

Dave rejoined me on this trip just twelve hours after I said farewell to Steph back in KL. After failing in our attempts to get into the revamped Wankhede Stadium, we found ourselves a sports bar in Colaba to watch the opening game of the World Cup. After turning down an extras role in a Bollywood film, we settled into our seats at the bar and did what we do best. Drink Kingfisher beer whilst watching some cricket. The atmosphere in the bar was cool, we even had our first TV interview of the tour from a local news crew. Some things may change, such as my mellowing towards a big, dirty Indian city – but I’ll be a whore for the media whilst on tour!

Talking of which, hold the back page. I may just have some exciting news to announce…….


1 Response to “mellowing in mumbai”

  1. 1 donna
    February 21, 2011 at 1:24 pm

    Richard, I really enjoyed this blog..interesting journey to read as you pass back and forth between memories, time past, present and future (i.e. leading the reader to your next bit of news!) as well as geographical and cultural spaces…fascinating…just don’t leave any balls of black anywhere you media ‘whore’ you..

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