We leave Bombay with heavy hearts, yet lighter wallets! The price of beer, which, sadly, is how we usually gauge the cost of living on our travels, is remarkably high. A weekly wage to some of the city’s inhabitants. That is, the lucky ones who have a wage. This hasn’t stopped us from guiltily imbibing, as we’ve sometimes needed a little spirit to lift our own.
Whilst driving through the ‘Park Lane’ of the city, our delightful, yet ultimately dishonest, Uber taxi driver pointed out the house of the richest man in India. He informed us that the huge complex housed only four people. Two floors were for the owner’s car collection, and I presume the other countless extra floors were to house some of the six hundred staff he employs.
On the up side, at least he is providing some much needed jobs. However, the disparity here can be dispiriting! There have been many times already when we’ve had to turn the other way – or we’d have felt compelled to leave the country. That’s the way it is, and who am I to condescend, The Indians take it in their modest stride every day.
And with a smile!
Even at the airport (one of the most modern and clean we have ever encountered), the first class traveller only need glance through the impressive glazing to espy those who could never even dream of flying economy. With flights continuous here, even during the wee small hours, I doubt the amount of noise pollution is small, or that in the air, wee! These poor bastards are literally living on the tarmac. One should visit the third world to get a perspective on Heathrow’s third runway! But that’s easy for me to say – I don’t live in Hounslow! Thank Christ!
Despite the obvious difficulties here, we have both fallen in love with the city of Mumbai, although just like our new local friend, Santosh, we prefer the name Bombay. He told me it sounds ‘much softer’ and the obvious colonial connotations did not bother him. I prefer it because it reminds me of the gin. I kept that quiet so as not to appear too crass. Although I think Santosh had worked us out anyway, as Andrew and I had already had a row in front of him on the train into town.
Andrew kept staring at me in horror as I stood enjoying the fascinating journey, when I unwisely asked him what he was finding so fascinating he replied,
‘You babe’, and then chuckled on, ‘you look so fucking awful!’
‘What do you mean awful?’ I hissed back.
‘Awful. Like you’re gonna die!’
‘Well thankyou – you’re not looking your best yourself’, I retorted, perhaps in more colourful language, much to the amusement of poor Santosh, who along with the rest of the carriage was having to listen to our usual morning contretemps . Thank God there was a blind woman bashing her stick and collection dish whilst her partner sang loudly out of key, this helped to drown out our little drama, or we would have been the only ‘on track’ entertainment!
‘Jesus!’ He continued hysterically, ‘your green’.
Thankfully, before I had a chance to respond, Santosh pointed out that, in fact, I was green. All over my arms, my hands and my face. In fact, I looked as though I’d just finished a matinee of ‘Wicked’.
It took some while to work out that the reason for my deathly pallor was the ink on the label of the water bottle I was carrying. It had bled all over me, and I’d been pressing it against my face to cool down.
We all had a good laugh about this, Andrew more than the two of us, and Santosh said I could wash when we got to the station, and then advised me to put my sunglasses on until that moment came.
To be frank, even after I’d de-greened me eek, I still wasn’t looking my best. The baggage I was carrying under my eyes would have cost a small fortune on Ryan Air! Aviation has always played havoc with my features. I board looking vaguely normal, and disembark resembling a Picasso portrait.
I might add that Andrew, despite his frequent amusement with my looks, is also not at his best. There has been a slight improvement as at least now he no longer resembles the leader of North Korea. But still, in a harsh light, one could mistake him for ‘Hamble’, the less attractive doll from television’s ‘Playschool’!
Thank heavens neither of us opted for a career as a trolley dolly – we’d have had the passengers heading for the emergency exits mid-flight.
Despite my frightening appearance, unlike Mr Kennedy, Santosh did not seem to mind, and was charming enough to take us on a tour of the city.
It was interesting to see some of the prettier parts of town, after having spent several days in the quarter Andrew had booked us into, which reminded me a lot of Aleppo!
The colonial hangover is here in abundance. Not all of it as well maintained as it could be, but the faded glamour of the of the more impressive architecture does nothing to detract from the obvious romance, it may even enhance it somewhat.
‘The Gateway To India’, that colossal monument built just to welcome George 5th and Queen Mary to the crown jewel of their empire was very impressive. Even if, as a couple of Marys ourselves, we were prohibited from walking through it. It interested me to learn that the last group of our countrymen to be given that honour was the British Army, as they paraded through the triumphant arch in proud defeat.
I asked Santosh how he thought about the British and their role here, and he replied with typical Indian diplomacy,
‘They took a lot from us, but gave us a lot too.’
In fact, whilst composing this on a dodgy flight during a particularly bumpy ride to Rajasthan, I have, conversely, learnt something from the Indians. The charming gentleman beside me in seat 29a has given me a comprehensive lesson in how to make Bombay Mix. Eight kinds, to be exact. I was shown numerous photographs, each from several angles, before we went on to the videos, all four of them!
As lovely as he was, I don’t think I’ll ever touch the stuff again.
As I turn to Andrew to rescue me, he remains completely aloof whilst fingering his Ipad, he looks and smiles. Then goes back to his favourite game of the moment, ‘Fairways Patience’. A game he plays endlessly, testing the patience of my fair ways! Not sure about the aforementioned Bombay arch, but if he continues like this he’ll be going through another arch. The arch window. Headfirst!
He was almost clobbered at the airport by an elderly Indian couple who heard him doing his best, or should I say worst, ‘It Ain’t ‘Alf Hot Mum’ impression. I shushed him, they turned and gave me the filthiest look thinking I was the culprit. Why do I travel with him?
What a pair!
Goodness gracious me!