Typing this in a boxy little internet cafe in Colaba, a funny little tiled room that’s about the size of our wardrobe at Gipps Street and is home to eight computers and a manfully struggling air conditioner.
Thus far, Mumbai has been everything we’ve been told it’d be – loud, chaotic, smelly, and enthralling. We’re staying at the very well-appointed Ascot Hotel, for now at least – for the princely sum of $50 a night each (doubtless a small fortune in India), we get airconditioning, Sky TV, a bath, the works. We arrived late last night after a hilariously chaotic 45 minute drive from the airport – Mumbai traffic is berserk, a constant battle for space and strategic position amongst at least twice as many “lanes” as there should be on any given stretch of road.
Despite this, the general lack of aggravation is impressive. There was no road rage, very little shouting – just lots of inoffensive tooting, which seems to be more to draw people’s attention to the fact that you’re about to swerve in front of them than it is to annoy them. I’m starting to understand Shantaram’s observation that only the Indians could live in India – one billion Americans or Australians crammed into this small a space would have killed each other long ago.
The other striking feature about Mumbai thus far is the smell. Everything here smells – the entire airport smelt of damp, every shop has incense or oil burning in it, the streets are full of a strange and head stench of tanneries, food, petrol, and God only knows what else. At times it’s not a problem, at times it’s overpowering, but it’s always there.
And there are *so* many people. Of course you *read* about the fact that this is one of the most overcrowded cities in the world, but you don’t *know* it until you actually experience it. There are people everywhere. Apparently there are 32 million people in Bombay, and half of them are homeless. This means that there’s not a flagstone or piece of land anywhere that’s not occupied. If there’s not something built on it, there’s someone sleeping on it, or driving on it, or trying to sell something from it. People sleep between the railway tracks. It’s astonishing.
So anyway: so far, so good. I must admit that on the way in from the airport I was wondering quite what we’d got ourselves into, especially as I kept falling asleep and having strange semi-wakeful dreams in which first impressions of Mumbai kept meshing themselves with scenes from Memento, which I watched on the plane, which was trippy in the *extreme*. But now, with a day’s wandering and a lunch at Leopold’s (something of a tourist trap, unfortunately) under the belt, it feels good to be here. Good, and exciting. And that’s all you can ask, surely?