Inarticulate in India
…don’t have any idea where to even begin.
I’ve been in Mumbai this week, and as I sit here, trying to encapsulate the experience, I can’t. This city is so incredible, wild, incongruous, contradictory — there are too many words. There are not enough words. Mumbai has taken my breath away, and infused her own essence into me, and I’ll never be the same.
So, today, here is a mere sliver of this city, in all her beauty and complexity and chaos.
I spent most of the week walking, walking everywhere. This was, for me, the best way to see the city, in all her furious contrasts. The buildings that house the richest families in India are a short walk from the slums of Dharavi [which you may remember as the shooting location for a little movie called ‘Slumdog Millionaire’].
The ladies pictured here are waiting for their train in the former Victoria Terminal, now Chhatrapati Shivaji terminus. [Quite a few of the more prominent buildings have had their colonial names replaced by Shivaji, who is a hero to the Indian people, for his skills as a warrior-king, and essentially founding the Maratha Empire, which spelled an end to Mughul rule in the 17th C. The stone image of Victoria herself, which used to grace the front of the station, has been removed from from her seat, and though she was given a new home in a local museum, rumour has it that no one can find her now.
These gents are dabbawalas, delivering lunches from Churchgate, which is the local train station. They collect up lunches from thousands of homes and restaurants, and with a hand-devised numeric system that puts Uber Eats to shame, deliver them to their correct recipeints daily, with a tiny margin of error. [There’s a great Bollywood film called ‘The Lunchbox’ based on one of the few times the dabbawalas got it wrong.]
Playing with fire — or in this case, water — my visit to India coincided with the scheduled arrival of the monsoon. Monsoon season is always welcomed, as Indians crave a break from the tremendous heat of summer here. [As evidenced by this shot of the street, that was actually melting under my feet.]
Melting tar on Mumbai streets
Unfortunately, as I flew in, so did Cyclone Vayu, a huge tropical storm that stalled off the coast of Gujarat. While Vayu never actually landed near Mumbai, it sucked up all the rain in the area, delaying the monsoons for at least a week. The wilting heat I can attest to, and the few brief rainstorms that swept through WERE welcome, and — as a Vancouver girl who knows her rain — they rated right up there with the worst rainfalls I’ve ever seen at home. Except, you know — warm.
One of the characters in this new story is a foodie, so when I tell you I ate my way through all the vegetarian cuisine I could find in the city, you can believe me. I think I’ll do a food post soon, but here’s a quick glimpse of what might be one of my favourite meals — a thali. So many delicious flavours in one place — curries and dhals and chapatis and pickle and papadum and every bite was incredible.
I can’t finish without thanking Khursheed Kanga for hanging with me so much this week, and Mahtab Narsimhan for introducing us. I wouldn’t have had a tenth — a hundredth — of the adventures I had here without her. Thank you also to Karen Vaz for collecting a fellow travelling karen and taking her to lunch. Namaste, my friends!
There’s so much more — So. Much. More. — but, I have a plane to catch, and more of this ever-growing story to write. I leave you a shot of the sun setting over the Arabian Sea, with Mumbai silhouetted in all her brilliant, undefinable beauty.
I’m flying away from Asia with determination to return someday. But I’m not heading home just yet.