062 / Taxi Mumbai
062 / Taxi Mumbai
With an unbeatable army of 50 000 cruising the streets daily, the best way to visit Mumbai is the Black&Yellow, or the regular street taxi. You can rent them for the day for the price of 12 macarons at La Durée in Paris, and they take you wherever you want to go. So it happened that I teamed up with an aged, Hindi man who was silent for long periods of time, but when he talked, he couldn’t stop. Little did he care that I didn’t understand a single word of the entire monologues! At our first stop, I started my daytime visit as glamorous a possible. I got into an argument with a security guy of the Sidhi Vinagate Elephant temple for bringing accidentally a camera into the temple. When I tried a second time to enter the temple without the camera he gave me the evil eye and a speech about obeying the rules. When I answered that the camera was gone and that he was a bit too rigid with the rules, I stepped right into a … dogpoop. I had almost forgotton how fast priorities change when you step into dogpoop. Discussion closed, the guy smiled, I smelled…
Later, I was driven to the Haji Ali shrine, a mosque deep in the water with a long pier connecting the city and this sacred place. The walkway is ‘notorious’ for the number of beggers that hope pelgrims will be generous. Everybody who has been in India warns everybody who goes to India to prepare for some unusual shocking sights… Here is where I got my face to face with extreme human tragedy. Some things only live in real confrontation, not in explanations : the smell of bread, the touch of skin, poverty…
In vast contrast (probably the word that fits Mumbai the best), is the most expensive private residence ever built to date… A 35 story building for… 4 people. I stopped by the Mahalaxmi Temple, who is dedicated to the Goddess of Wealth where I had an explanation of an official about the rituals but I was too intrigued by the thickness of his glasses to pay any attention… After my awakening passage of Haji Ali, I didn’t dare to ask more money or property anyway!
Next up was lunch close to the Victoria Terminal, a train terminal where daily close to 3 million people pass, and where ‘the train is full’ is redefined permanently by keeping pushing people into the compartments (up to 4 times their legal capacity). The vegetarian restaurant was a revealing experience as well. Some people know I care as much about food as about the color of the underpants of Bono. I was ordering blind, and ended up with a dish which comes the closest to French fries that have been drowned in chilly sauce and onions for about an hour. In general the food is bearable, and my stomach is outperforming his provisions.
The day ended in a monsoon rain shower, but not before a quick visit to Dhobi Ghat, the biggest human washing machine on earth. Since 140 years several hundreds of people handwash the clothes worn in Mumbai. They hit the shirts and sheets with a violence that makes me feel sorry for the little guy in the suit who, in detergent TV commercials, lives in the clothes fibres and pops out surprisingly to say why white is not white enough … I start to understand why he’s always repeating the same, useless message … Brain damage.