Mumbai, day 3
We arrived in Mumbai early on the morning of Sunday, March 30, 2003. It was dark and slightly muggy when we got off at some unmarked train station to the north of town.
Everyone moved as one sleepy mass through the terminal (itself filled with sleeping masses) and outside. We had to be at Victoria Station (also called CTS) at 10:00 p.m. to catch our train to Goa.
We had 17 hours to kill in Mumbai and we had no idea how to get from where we were to air conditioning. What did we do? We followed the crowd.
We thought we were travelers but we were just tourists. As we exited the train station a wall of taxi drivers of all religions and many nationalities smacked into us, welcoming us to Mumbai,
Taxi! Hey, you need taxi? HEY! TAX-ZEEEE!?
Chhaindayna! Laurel yelled, snapping.
The taxi drivers were confused but undeterred, as Laurel could have just as well been speaking Russian instead of Nepali.
We were in India. We pressed through the mob of taxi drivers and kept up with the crowd. We walked for about ten minutes through a neighborhood that looked dire even in the darkness of early morning.
The crowd took us to a Mumbai metro station where a line had already formed that would easily have take an hour to muscle through. For me at least, it’s become a knee-jerk reaction to ignore taxi drivers. Sometimes when I leave a hotel in need of a taxi, one will be right there and I won’t even look at the guy.
By the time I’m to the road I realize what I’ve done. Anyhow, after talking to a couple locals it was agreed that the best thing to do was to take a couple taxis into town. Everyone looked to Liz for answers since she’d been to Mumbai before and would know how to get to our train station.
Well, wrong. After pleading with a few taxi drivers, we left in groups. I rode in a taxi with Dave and Tony. All the girls rode together in another taxi and Andrew and Moser were left for dead.
The taxis in Mumbai are pretty sharp. The town is covered in black and yellow Fiats that are straight out of 1950s Italy.
Our driver drove his Fiat like it was a rocket ship. When the taxi skidded over bumps the car smoothly lifted off the ground just for a moment before softly touching down again. It wasn’t quite 5 AM yet and we had the whole road—a wide, six-lane affair—to ourselves.
The driver took corners so fast that the tail skidded in the opposite direction just for a moment, screeching. It was early. I nodded off.
After 30 minutes of a white-knuckled tour through Mumbai, we arrived at Victoria Station with nearly 16 hours to kill before our train showed up. Tony set up camp to guard the bags as well as Dave, who was still blind from his glass being stolen, just outside the main entrance to wait for the others.
I went inside to confirm our reservations to Goa. Though it was still early, the train station vibrated with life. Or just the type of life that wants to sell you tea, but it was life nonetheless. Mumbai was alive.
Well, I confirmed the tickets, Dave stared at something he couldn’t quite discern, and Tony told him,
That’s a car, Dave, but the others didn’t show up.
After nearly an hour of waiting a taxi pulled up with Andrew and Laurel who informed us we were at the wrong train station.
Uh, actually, I said,
Actually, this is where our train leaves from.
I was the one with the tickets. Why would I be lost?
Laurel and Andrew looked at one another. Back they went and after an half hour the rest of the folks finally showed up. We decided that we need a place to throw our bags and take a shower.
We decided that a hotel room would work well for this. We pretty much walked into the first hotel we came to outside of Victoria Station. I don’t remember its name or how many stars it had, but I do remember:
- The guy running the desk was Nepali (from Kaski).
- The room had AC.
- I could see a McDonald’s from the front door.
I’d like to say that I didn’t care. I’d like to say that I went out and had puri subji for breakfast.
I’d like to say that after watching CNN‘s insta-live footage of bombs falling on markets in downtown Baghdad and wondering if the United States really was doing its best to represent itself abroad, that I didn’t walk over to McDonald’s and order a number 2 in loud American-English.
But that’s what I did. And it was yummy.
Maybe you’ll feel better knowing that an hour later I was leaning against a tree in one of Mumbai’s beautiful parks, retching up my number two. I was still getting over some sketchy train food that made me sick the night before.
And, after throwing up the McDonald’s, I felt considerably better. As I walked out of the park, I thought,
It cost me a lot less to do that on the train.
City by the Sea
Mumbai was big buildings, wide streets, fast cars, and not enough time. We saw theaters playing US films we wanted to see. Andrew and I posed as New Zealanders and went to a cricket pitch to see how well we could bullshit through a conversation with some Indians regarding cricket.
We saw monuments of the British presence, beautiful but incredibly out of place. We met Gorkha soldiers on the street. There was a woman with a monkey that scammed Kara out of a couple hundred rupees.
We went to ‘fashion street,’ and I bought white pants. We drank fantastic coffee made in an enormous chrome machine from Italy. People tried to push porn on us. We ate pizza and drank a few beers at three o’clock in the afternoon.
We went to the Oxford bookstore slightly intoxicated. We asked people where we could meet Karina Kapur. It was decided that Mumbai was awesome.
Between the Fiats and oxcarts, people on horses and on top of double-decker buses, and Americans, Indians, and Nepalis stuck in the middle, Mumbai had been a riot.
That night we sat in the train station talking about how much we loved India. Well, all of us except Dave. He hadn’t really seen anything all day. He had bought a pair of cheap binoculars that he said helped him see a little bit.
For the beach, he told me in the train station,
for the chicks.
This was Dave’s third day without glasses and he was in good spirits. Everyone was. When beggars approached us we smiled and gave them bananas.
Except this one kid who picked out Dave and followed him relentlessly. After one particular brutal series of pleads, Dave asked the kid,
You want some money? Fine.
Dave grabbed each of the kids wrists and easily lifted him off the ground. Slowly he began doing a maneouvar I will describe as the ‘helicopter, essentially swinging a kid around by his arms or legs.
Dave was doing the helicopter on some emaciated beggar-child working in the Mumbai train station. This seemed very strange to me.
After a good swinging, Dave released the kid who wobbled just a few steps away before falling on his bottom. Dave went over to the kid and said,
All right. That was good. Here’s your 20 rupees.
The kid smiled, looked at Dave, clearly unsure if he was joking and/or if he was about to be murdered and/or molested by a very strange man.
There was a single night in a train between us and beaches of Goa. We were waiting on the very last platform in Victoria Station, platform 15.
The platform was packed with people hauling luggage on their heads, other folks waiting for their trains, and the occasionally policeman. Several crates of fish were behind us, perhaps waiting for a train, too.
And, if just only a little, Mumbai smelled like fish.