|India is Heaven, India is Hell. Let us move on (India, 2005)|
|A vision of Paradise, complete with chunky clunky old Tata cabs (India, 2005)|
Bombay Airport looked old and dirty but charming in a faded, retro fashion. There were plenty of angry police in green fatigues, and Indians pushing and shoving to get to the head of whatever queue was happening at the time. While I was waiting for my bags to come off my Nagoya friend Ibrahim disappeared on me, and I couldn't find him again! Perhaps he got sick of waiting for me... it seems that patience is not a strong Indian virtue. So, the upshot was, I was on my own after all! Stuck in a strange airport surrounded by palm trees in the middle of the night, in a country renowned for its hassle, and its hustle. And the vultures were closing in. Oh God, were they closing in!
It went like this: after I was abandoned by Ibrahim, I approached the accommodation counter outside, just as my florid Lonely Planet guidebook had recommended. I told them there that I wanted to stay at a cheap hotel in town, so they booked something that sounded fairly decent (the Imperial Hotel or something like that), and then I got a ride with a driver to the hotel. I was fairly sure that it was a hotel downtown, but not really knowing where downtown was, I was in no way to judge. We pulled out on to the road, in some old Tata (or something). In Japan, they would have called it a ponkotsu. Outside the airport the traffic was thick, and almost medieval, dusty and heaving and medieval. I noticed the portrait of a Hindu god rearing over the hubbub, like an image from a dream. How exotic... this was the India I had dreamed to see! I kicked back in the back of the Tata, settling in for what I assumed would be a long and fascinating drive. And then, all of a sudden, the driver pulled up on the side of the road, turned off his engine, and announced that this was my hotel. I couldn't believe it... we were scarcely outside the grounds of the airport! Perhaps just two blocks distant, surrounded by slums. I didn't know much about the geography of Mumbai at the time, but I knew that this couldn't possibly be down town. My hotel it was, unfortunately. For some US$45 per night the dirty room was mine, complete with a TV that didn't work, cold shower and an air-conditioner that shuddered and shook all night long. I passed a very uncomfortable night trying to sleep under a dirty flimsy and dirty blanket, shivering because the air conditioner was too cold. I kept thinking to myself: What am I doing here? I could have been back in my crib in Tokyo, snuggled up with C. I waited for sleep to descend upon me, and transport me back to the Land of the Rising Sun. Perhaps it did descend, too, for a brief stretch or two. But I never got transported.
|Driving through the slums of Mumbai, on the way downtown (India, 2005)|