Monday, December 31, 2007

Adventures in India 3 - The City That Never Sleeps (and Doesn't Let Me Either!)

Mumbai is definitely an city of contradictions. Suketu Mehta was right to dub it the Maximum City. Everything is maximized - the wealth, the poverty, the newness, the ancient, the noise and pollution.

Beggars sit on the pavement outside the secure gates of the palatial JW Marriott hotel. I have moments of disorientation as I am in a clean, air-conditioned store buying candles and artwork, and then jolted back to reality as I step outside to the filth and noise that makes Mumbai.

Annika is a bit overwhelmed by the city. We went to Gateway of India and first stopped at the Taj Hotel. Then, we left and walked around Colaba and shopped at the street vendors. We snatched up some good deals right there, but beggar children target the tourists. We had to scold our kids to stay close and not to wander off in a crowd. We all had to dodge traffic and crazy drivers.

We returned to Taj to use the restrooms. Annika commented, "We started here. We went to the other world and now we're back here." It is a different world.

Annika and I found some comfort food - Mumbai McDonald's. I had a paneer salsa wrap, which was great and she had Chicken Maharaja, which had chutney and onions. That did not fly with chicken nugget girl. I munched on a french fry and sipped my Diet Coke, as a Billy Joel song played in the background. I needed to recharge.

The other day she lost it after a long car ride in the city and we've decided to limit her excursions. She'll be spending more time with family instead.

I'm not a city girl. I've worked in New York, but always slept in New Jersey. These days, it's quite cool here in the evenings (60-70 degrees?). So, I find the fan unnecessary and we get quite cold.

I open the windows and there are trucks backing up, car alarms going off, people talking and shouting, horns honking. I just don't get it -- where is everyone going all the time?

There are a few hours of silence - my guess is between 3 and 5 am. Then, at 5:30 or so, the birds wake up. My daughter was amazed the first time she heard the koyil and it's unique birdcall so early. In addition, there are crows and pigeons fluttering about the windows - perching for a moment inside the windowsills. Then, there's a distant sing-song call of the roaming vendor announcing his vegetables for the day. These are the sounds that make the city and India so unique.

In the morning, there's also a burning sensation in my eyes from wood fire stoves outside. Another reason to keep the windows closed.

Today is New Year's and there are crowds making a pilgrimage to the SiddhiVinayak Temple. It is said one should walk barefoot from home to the temple.

Annika and I will be leaving for short visit to Gujarat to take a much needed break from the city.


ZenDenizen said...

Happy New Year! This all brings back so many memories! By the way, my 4 year old niece had a nice time in India :)

Anonymous said...

Your explanation of how you did not sleep in a city, but in New Jersey and are not used to the constant noise of Mumbai made me think of how comfortable I was with that noise (cars, car horns, people yelling....)in NYC.
I couldn't sleep my first few nights in NJ and every time I returned from a long trip to my grandmother's house in NYC to New Jersey. It was too quiet.
I hope you enjoy Gujarat.

Anonymous said...

Looking forward to seeing a blog on Ahemdabad! thoughts..observations...differences:)


Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing your wonderful stories of India. I know that I would love it!