Sunday, 10 March 2013


As I write this, I am currently on a flight from Mumbai to Kerala which is in the very South of India (obviously I won't be uploading it until we have reached our destination). It's an air India flight and the uniforms of the stewardesses are AMAZNG by the way. Gorgeous saris which by far beat the suits and cravats worn by British Airways staff! We have spent the past 2 days in Mumbai so I thought I would use the next hour or so of downtime to update you about our time there.....

Mumbai is so incredibly different to everywhere else we have been in India. It is infinitely more wealthy than anywhere else we have been but at the same time we have seen more crippling poverty there than in any other city. It is the economic and commercial capital of India with a population of over 20million people. It is largely high rise due to the limited amount of land on offer for its vast number of inhabitants and parts of it look incredibly western. In fact, Marina Drive, the area near the beach, looks remarkably similar in terms of scenery to Ocean Drive in Miami. However, in amongst these buildings are hundreds and hundreds of corrugated iron shacks which make up the slums of Mumbai and walking the promenade at Marina Drive are numerous children begging and selling various trinkets. The contrast is stark- much more so than we have experienced in India so far, and incredibly apparent. We needed only to look out of the window of our hotel to see the difference in people's lifestyles in the city.

Our arrival in Mumbai got off to a bad start. After having been awake since 5am we landed at the airport and there wasn't anyone to greet us. A kindly Indian man used his phone to call the representative who had been meant to meet us and informed us he was on his way as there had been a mix up. We were then greeted by the driver Vinu and we drove to another place to pick up the guide. Indian people are incredibly eager to ensure that nothing goes wrong for tourists (tourism is the second largest industry in India after all) so we were offered multiple apologies for what had really only been a minor and largely insignificant inconvenience!! Upon arrival at the hotel everything was fine and we went out to tour.

Our first stop was a huge open-air 'laundromat' which was crazy! It stretched as far as the eye could see with hundreds of workers washing, drying, beating, steaming and pressing clothes into shape. Apparently it has been going in the same manner for over 200 years with generation after generation taking over the family business. Next stop was the Mumbai residence of Mahatma Gandhi where he stayed whenever he visited the city. This has now been converted into a museum on the life and work of Gandhi. Apart from the bare bones of his role in Indian independence, I am shamefully ignorant about the life of the 'Father of India' but like in Delhi, the significance of his legacy is clearly still revered by the people of India. Images of Gandhi at every stage of his life were displayed along with images of some letters and words which he is noted to have sent/spoke. Two of the most interesting exhibits were a correspondence between Gandhi and Hitler with Gandhi imploring Hitler to avoid war, and a series of dioramas telling the story of Gandhi's life.

As the day progressed, we continued to drive and walk around Mumbai. The British influence from the times when India was under rule of the Empire is incredibly apparent in the architecture and design of the city. There are more Anglican churches than anywhere else and most of the offices wouldn't look out of place in London. There are also numerous places such as the Gate of India and the Prince of Wales museum which are clearly a part of colonial history. As a Brit, you cant help but wonder what the peoples attitude to the UK is (not that they would ever tell tourists I dont think). Obviously India suffered under British rule and that is very recent history. While at school we were obviously taught about the glory of the British Empire, something tells me that in Indian education this depiction is somewhat different.

Something else that we noticed walking around is that Mumbai is far more Western and liberal than any other city which we have visited. The dress is more likely to be jeans and a t-shirt than a sari and we saw numerous young (unmarried) couples holding hands or cuddling in public.....obviously this wouldn't be of any note in Britain but it hasn't been something we've seen in other cities. We definitely got stared at less which is probably because there is more of a melting pot of cultures than in other cities. Saying this however, when we went to the Hanging Gardens (which were stunning) we did encounter several school groups having a picnic. We obviously were still something of a spectacle to the children of Mumbai as they followed us around the whole area with huge numbers of them wanting to say hello and shake our hands!! They also wanted us to take their pictures, something which was clearly a novelty!!

At the end of our first day in Mumbai we got chatting to our driver, Vinu, and he has such an amazing life story. His father died when he was 12 and as he had been a farm-worker with no land it left his family in an incredibly difficult position as his mother was unable to earn enough money to support him, his brother and his sister. At the age of 12 he moved by himself to Delhi and started begging as he couldn't get a job due to his age. At 14 he managed to find work as a busboy in a restaurant in Mumbai and he sent all his wages home to help his mother. At 16 he taught himself to drive and got his current job as a driver for a tour company. He now has a wife and two children in his home village who he sees only twice a year as he continues to work in Mumbai to support them, his brother and his (ill) mother. He spoke with a huge amount of pride about his two sons who he is paying to educate so that they never have the struggles which he had and he clearly has a massive amount of ambition that they get an education and subsequently a good career. His English was excellent and he explained that he has learnt it through talking and listening to tourists. He expressed his greatest wish to be his sons being able to work in the UK. Obviously, this story isn't going to be unique in India but it was so interesting to hear his views on opportunities in India and poverty. He was another person who advocated not giving money to beggars as he explained that by giving beggar children money, it is incentivising it for their parents not to send them to the free school which are now available for them!! India is perspective-altering especially when speaking to local people about their views (I probably sound like a complete arsehole writing that but it is true) and it really makes me appreciate the wealth of resources which are available for us and how lucky I am.

Moving on, our second day was again with Vinu and he took us to some less touristy areas including the harbour where the fishermen bring in the mornings catch and around the active temples. We were lucky because today was the festival of Shiva so all the temples were beautifully decorated with flowers as an offering to the God. We also went to this crazy shop where the shop keeper kept calling me a beautiful Victorian Angel(??) and squeezing my face (less fun)!!

Mumbai was definitely an eye-opener but it was also an amazing city. I'm dead excited to get to Kerala as everyone we have spoken to has said it is beautiful and I think that it is again going to be a completely different experience, stay tuned to find out......

P.s. apologies for the huge length of this blog!!

No comments:

Post a Comment