Sunday 23 September 2012

Bombay - a love love relationship

Well it's been over three months since I settled here and so much has happened in that time.  Friends and family (and even new friends) keep asking me if I am enjoying living in India and if I am happy.  It occurred to me that I never really say anything about my situation or what I am feeling about being in Bombay.  So this is a little post to reassure all the folks back home.  I would also like to mention a few reasons for the love love relationship with this [crazy] city.

The people

The best thing about Bombay is Indian people.  The best thing about India is therefore Indian people.  The open arms, the smiling faces, the ambition, the upwardly mobile, the hard working, the Hinglish, the generosity, the openness, the positivity, the can-do attitude, the resourcefulness, the personality, the sheer happiness.  The parents who experience such hardship and hold down several jobs just so their children will have the lives they can't (I speak about our cleaner). The children are a delight - inquisitive,  [generally] well behaved, keen to learn and be educated and instilled with a desire to lead a better life.  Of course not all Indians are like this but you get the general impression.

Never a dull moment

There is never a dull moment in Bombay!  Even a ninety minute drive to work through the shitty traffic keeps me in awe.  From the cattle weaving in and out of the cars, street hawkers and beggars tapping on your window, frail old men dragging two tonne trolleys, sweetcorn vendors, masumbi and chai wallahs on every corner, the mounds of rubbish everywhere, the BMWs, Mercedes and odd Ferraris of Bombay billionaires, the satellite dishes atop slum buildings, the families squatting on pavements with babies and toddlers, the Ganeshas being transported in the open backs of lorries, the dogs sleeping in the middle of roads, eleven year olds running across the street in front of the car, narrowly escaping death, honking rickshaws, buses crammed full of school children shouting out of the windows....I could go on all day.

Mother precariously holding her child on the back of a motorbike whilst speeding in and out of the traffic. 
Note how only the father is wearing a helmet!

Get anything, any time

Want a glass of red wine at 9pm on a Saturday night but the cupboard is bare?  No problem! I call my local alcohol vendor and can have a single bottle delivered to my doorstep within 10 minutes.  At no additional charge. (I won't mention that alcohol is bloody expensive in Maharashtra and that quality wine is hard to come by!).  I love that I can go down to Pali market and order my exported toilet paper, crates of Himalayan mineral water, a lump of butter and a small bag of garlic and then ask them to deliver it to me at a time convenient to me (no Tesco-esque prepaid time slots here).  Of course I could even do this by phone. If I want, I can have any manner of product delivered straight to my door for no extra's "all part of the service ma'am".  Go to a shoe shop and decide that those jewel encrusted slingbacks are a tad too high?  No problem madam, "we make them with whatever heel you like madam!".  Want an art deco dining set but the one in the shop is a bit too big for your space? "No problem madam, we make it made to measure!!! Six seats instead of eight!!".  Everything can be made to your exact requirements...providing you can find the right quality in the first place.

My privileged life

You may think I am talking about our nice lodgings, view of the sea, the extensive travel that our life affords us, our car, driver and cleaner. Yeah, that's all very nice.  But in fact I am thinking about the amazing people I work with, making the life of hundreds of families better in marginalised communities for no or very little pay.  About the devotion and commitment of volunteers, the inspiring workers, the skinny children tugging at my hand, the inquisitive looks of their mothers, the joy at having their photographs taken, making even trudging through dirty monsoon water in the slums a pleasure.  I get to see a side of Bombay that a lot of others will never see (or will choose to ignore).  Sometimes it's hard but I feel privleged that I can even have the tiniest role in helping others to help others.  Sounds cheesy? May be a little.

Staff at the Foundation demonstrating how to cook a nutritious meal to uneducated mothers

 Food glorious food

I love the endless new eating experiences that Bombay provides me with.  From glitzy restaurants trying to replicate London counterparts (usually badly), the most basic (and risky) of street food during Ramadan on Mohammed Ali Road, giant unending thalis, rich Punjabi cuisine, Rajastani inspired yoghurt marinated Malai kebabs (my favourite, yum), simple rice idlis with coconut relish for breakfast, the Parsi delights of Britannia restaurant, biryanis beautifully cooked in clay pots, simple and cheap Mysore Masala Dosas, my daily chai brought by the chai wallah, home cooked Goan prawn curry, work colleagues sharing their tiffins at lunchtime whilst sat cross-legged on the floor....the list goes on and on.  Let us not forget Yorkshire pork joints from Joseph's for our Sunday Roasts with suitcase imported Paxo and Knorr stock cube gravy.  I haven't even really started my food odyssey yet...I will soon be trying Bengali cuisine, South Indian cooking, Keralan fish dishes....the months to come will provide so many more culinary adventures.

The girls at work - sharing their tiffins at lunch time.
Sensory overload

Marigolds, sunsets, Ganesha festivals, textiles shops, rug traders....rubbish dumps.  Be it in a good way or a bad way, everything is colourful.  The colours go hand in hand with take the good with the bad.  The sandalwood incense that you might find at the foot of a shrine to Ganesha could be five feet away from an open sewer.  That's just how it is in Bombay.  The delicious smells of street food waft over drains overflowing with monsoon water.  Indians don't go in for the colour black much.  I always used to wear black in London, it was my uniform.  But now you will find me in the colours that match the warmth of the city...blues, reds, oranges, pinks, multicoloured patterns!  My clothes lack structure, I fling on garments without a thought in the morning and I even leave the house without lipstick.  The colours of India have got to me.  The sounds are constant, the tinny engine noises of the auto-ricks, the cartoon-like honking of giant buses, the squawks of the kites as they fly past our windows looking for prey, the call of the rag-and-bone man.  I now can not imagine not being surrounded by these sounds. As for touch?  Well it's best not to touch anything...

The spices from Crawford Market sum up India - Spicy, Vibrant, Tasty and Hot!
So - you think I am going to list the things I hate about Bombay?  No I am not going to that.  Let's revisit in another three months and see how I feel then.  When the novelty may have worn off.  Be assured for now that I couldn't be happier and I am looking forward to all the Indian adventures I will have with Mr Jules. Stay tuned!



  1. Very interesting post - brought it all to life!
    Liz @ Shortbread & Ginger

  2. I agree.. I love Bombay as well. No wonder u love it.

  3. I have been enjoying your blog for about a month.

    My husband, daughter and I will be coming to India in early December. We will be staying for 6 months - 2 months in Mumbai (at Tata Institute), 2 months traveling, 2 months in Bangalore (India Inst. of Techn). My husband, a physics professor, is spending his sabbatical in India. Our daughter, who is 22, will be working on a farm for some of the time, and she is not sure how long she will stay.

    I have so many questions for you that I don't know where to start, so I'll start with the most obvious. Do you have any suggestions of things we should bring with us, and things we should leave behind?

    Thanks again for your great blog - reading it gets me even more excited about our upcoming trip!

    1. Hello Barbara, I am so excited to hear from a reader! I have sent you an email directly with some information, feel free to ask me further questions!

  4. Your articles and contents are inspirational.
    Relationship with Chicken First

  5. Good blog. Share many of your feelings on Mumbai. Chris



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