Mumbai meri jaan (le lega)

by theglobaldesi

My first few hours in India and Mumbai proved just why I would not ever want to live in the madness that is the economic and cultural hub of the country. See, most people when they think about India or, if they know it, when they talk about India, they speak of the India of the memories. The yummy chaat, the lovely smiling people, the giving nature of all, the saundhi si khooshboo and all that jazz. So when the average foreigner in love with India pictures India, his imagination with regards to the grand reality of the world is something like this:

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With the asterisk representing the average niceness in the world. ie the general reality of India is a tad better than the average niceness in the world.  

In truth, India expands its reality more like this:

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You’re as likely to find an abhorrent lack of manners and courtesy as you are to find the unexpected generosity of the common man.

Coming into the euphemistically named MumbaiInternationalAirport is… an interesting experience to say the least. It had been a while since I flew into Mumbai. For the last few years I had flown into Ahmedabad or Delhi. When it comes to Airport planning, staff and convenience, Mumbai loses hands down. The lack of convenience, the attitude of the customs staff is all appalling. I’m quite sure there is some hidden reason why they need to check my passport and customs form 5 different times at 5 different places with 5 different people. I’m sure there is a reason – I’m yet to figure it out.

Then they spy my little baggie of costume jewelry in the scanner. They ask me about it – I show that it is all imitation/costume stuff which is painfully obvious as such. Not being able to nail me on my ‘gold and silver’ they make me take out my laptop – my much scuffed, loved and crumbed upon laptop. They ask me if I have a receipt for it proving that it is old and used. The logic escapes me. Finally he relents when I tell him he is free to look through the hard drive and find all the files and programs that prove I’ve been using it for a while.  

Then the guy spies my cheapo walmart dslr and wants to know if I have a receipt showing that it is old and used and mine. Frustrated, I say no. There is really no way for me to prove that this is my camera – it is the only camera I’m carrying and I’m pretty sure I’m allowed to carry one camera. And I don’t know any person that visits India without a camera in hand. Argh. He senses my readiness at that point, to erupt and cause a scene and wisely lets me go.

I have to put together my randomly thrown around stuff on the floor (nicely tiled with marble I think) because there are no chairs/tables/anything to put your luggage on.

After a few more people pawing at my passport for no reason, I reach the prepaid taxi counter. I realize that I didn’t see a single public phone so I ask around – I had to call my agent and my home to confirm my train tickets and also inform them of what time I’d be reaching small town India. By then I’m ready to start crying because apparently after their very wise decision to make it impossible for NRIs to carry pre-paid phones abroad (any line unused for more than 20 days or so gets disconnected) the powers that be in India decide that no one that lands in India needs to call anyone. And if they do, they better know someone whose cell phone can be borrowed. Sigh. An ‘International’ airport without a single payphone or PCO. Thank you Deepak – nice employee of unknown airline – for not only letting me use your cell phone but also making my morning so much better by being nice.

Finally I finagle a prepaid taxi to the train station for my train. A bumpy ride stopped many times for ‘checking’ and ‘stamping’ and I reach the dusty Terminus. There is no earthly way to get your luggage into the station. The sole PCO there refuses to open. Ever. I ask a person near the station if I can call home using his phone number. He lets me. I call and let home know. I find a way to store my bags and not have to lug them around all the time. I then walk around with my poor carry on being dragged over ridiculous ‘roads’ looking for a much promised PCO that is ‘just there – just outside’. A nice rickwalla pities me and lets me use his cell phone. I could’ve easily blown off all the remaining balance on his cell phone but he didn’t care. He let me use it.

So in conclusion?

  1. I don’t think I’d every happily survive in Mumbai. Especially when it comes to India I am a small town person.
  2. Try to avoid flying into Mumbai. I have never had a single unremarkable experience with the customs people there.
  3. Depending on whether it’s a glass half full day or otherwise, you find caring, nice, generous people all over India that make it worthwhile to deal with the bureaucracy and lack of planning in the cities and airports. Or you can think that the hassles of dealing with these guys and the lack of city planning and basic conveniences is enough to drown out the small voices of reason and human spirit. After more than 24 hours in planes and airports, it is very very hard to not see the half empty part of the glass but the kindness of the people shines through.

Now seated in the ‘luxurious’ ac waiting room at the new Bandra Terminus, I am already tiring of the fight that is day to day living in Des. Its 8 am. 

It is rightly said (and I quote my professors) that India is progressing despite its government not thanks to it.