Bright lights of Mumbai

Trip Start Aug 22, 2005
1
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Trip End Feb 06, 2006


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Saturday, September 10, 2005

Mumbai Mumbai it's a wonderful place, Mumbai mumbaaaai! Well, it's not quite New York...

We arrived in Mumbai after a very exciting overnight train journey. When I say exciting I actually mean I was excited because they gave us blankets, the carriage was air con and the train left on time!

The trains are something we are definitely getting our heads around now, but trust me it aint easy! We purchased a timetable called 'Trains at a Glance' for 50p, which you need a doctorate to understand. With two post-graduate heads we just about manage to figure out the train number, name and sometimes even understand what class we want... there seem to be about 7 different types ranging from chair (sardine) to 1st class a/c (practically whole carriage to yourself). Depending on the town the trains are either totally empty or completely full which is a little frustrating as each new town to which we arrive inevitably involves a hour trip to the station to queue and book. Thankfully there are 'foreign tourist' and 'ladies only' queues! Often right next to each other, so we usually use the sneaky trick of one in each queue, although I usually end up being molested by the other ladies and Marcus by the senior citizens who share his queue. They redefine the meaning of cheeky! We could just pay a travel agent to do it but I kind of feel it's almost a part of experiencing a country, seeing it's administration and bureaucracy. We usually end up having a few good conversations whilst we wait anyway.

Mumbai was pretty odd really. I knew somewhere there was loads to do but it really didn't feel that way. I just enjoyed walking around the city and soaking up the atmosphere, which was really quite relaxed. It was definitely a city which allows you to take your time and think. A lot of the architecture is reminiscent of Victorian London, a few buildings being based on St Pancras station and the University was just gorgeous. The old clock tower within the grounds used to chime 'God save the Queen' and 'Rule Britannia' but it obviously doesn't anymore! It was so gothic; lots of spiral stone staircases. The Courts were the same. We even managed to stand in the street and see a hearing in session. We could also hear them purely because it must be the only place in India drivers are not allowed to use their horns... at all! Oh I could even hear the birds...

We spent an evening sitting on Chowpatty beach and looking at all the bright lights round the Harbour. I tried to imagine what it might be like working here, but it really is quite a small place. The nightlife is very good though. We saw some Indian guys having the obligatory 'head massage' although it does kind of feel like they're trying to dislocate your brain from it's shell. I was surprised when the guy just leapt up mid-shaking because the police were prowling around the beach, apparently even something as innocent as giving a head massage is illegal. I couldn't believe in a country this overpopulated and so full of unemployment that they would prevent these kind of activities. I don't know, maybe I'm missing something but it just seemed a bit ridiculous, people have to make their living as they can.

We visited the place where Gandhi spent a lot of his time and I was blown away. It had an excellent museum and a whole room of little dioramas put together lovingly by high school students. I guess I just didn't realise quite what an amazing man he was. His ethos and philosophies were so logical and his success in peaceful protest compelling. He understood the differences between people and the importance of absolute equality. He studied law in London in the 1890s (a barrister at Temple Inn) and then practiced as he could in South Africa. It was there he was thrown off a train marked 'White people only'. From then on he dedicated his life to starting and ultimately succeeding in freeing India from Britain. In the course of this he made headway in a great many things, including emphasising better education for women and the necessity of abolishing the caste system and changing attitudes towards 'untouchables' in society. The latter being those people who are at the bottom of the caste system and work the most menial jobs; removing the dead, cleaning toilets that kind of thing. He was a devout Hindu but he once said "there must be as many religions as there are individuals", again recognising that people see the world in their own way and that's not a bad thing. He helped to form the flag of India on Independence. The saffron denoting courage and sacrifice, the white purity and truth and the green stands for faith, fertility and chivalry. The wheel in the middle is very symbolic and one of the things Gandhi believed was fundamentally wrong with British rule. He argued that the British had destroyed Indian culture and handicrafts by demanding certain trades and foodstuffs be produced for the Empire. He said that this had led to dependence upon others to produce food and cloth, which the people themselves should be producing for their own subsistence. He encouraged Indian people to go back to basics and start producing the things they needed to survive, hence the importance of a simple spinning wheel. It's also an important symbol in Hinduism indicating the denunciation of material goods and specific to Gandhi as the dynamism of peaceful change.

Well I could write so much more! but I've got to stop somewhere. One other thing I experienced in Mumbai was the second onslaught of monsoon. It was one of those moments where I just felt like such a spoiled human being, I honestly have no concept of what it is like to live in those conditions. I could perhaps put up with a few days of being soaked, but the homeless in Mumbai deal with it again and again, night after night, day after day for weeks. The most touching thing I read was the Indians putting together a fund for the flood victims in New Orleans, stressing that although their country had enough floods of their own to deal with, they understood the importance of fast aid when it's needed. They sent 2.1 tons in the form of baby cots, blankets and food packages. We left Mumbai just before the trains lines were closed and felt we had a lucky escape, but I was generally just left with the feeling that I may never know quite how lucky I really am.
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