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Cross Town Traffic in Mumbai

Finally, we were managing to catch up on sleep, and feeling some of that old time AsiaWheeling energy surging back into our systems.  We awoke and took a whiff of the air of this new city sprawling before us.  Wheeling it would be a new challenge, and a welcome one.

Staying at Win’s place was the height of luxury. It too was a serviced apartment, but very different from those we had the misfortune of lodging at in Bangalore’s Diamond District. These were staffed by a crack squad of savvy and motivated personnel. It seemed we could not go more than four steps in that apartment without bumping into a service person offering us some kind of pampering.

Win’s staff made us delightful breakfasts of toast, omelets, exotic fresh cut fruit, and an endless supply of meticulously prepared little milky cups of coffee. The staff was also constantly offering, and at times we even took them up on, the service of lunches and dinners, which proved to be lavishly decadent and expertly spiced, with many courses, ranging from cooling fresh salads, to spicy curries, to home-made chapatti.

These dishes were served to us at so extreme a level that we were not even able to spoon our own seconds from the main platter. The apartment’s staff consisted of three fellows, one who seemed to focus on cooking and work in the kitchen, one who did mostly cleaning, and another who focused on serving us things and making sure we were comfortable. In an apartment with only two bedrooms, a modestly sized living room and a small kitchen, that was quite the crowd. Most of our time at Win’s we were quite outnumbered by the servants. To be honest, for both Scott and me, being so lavishly served was a somewhat disconcerting experience.

From an intellectual perspective, I can appreciate that these fellows were simply doing their jobs, and doing them quite well, so for this they have all my respect. I can also appreciate that in the Indian economy, this was a pretty good opportunity for these fellows. They were making decent money, and got to spend all day in the luxury and comfort of Win’s apartment, making sure that Scott and I had enough coffee. But at the same time, being served is not an easy thing to get used to. I was never quite able to relax, and found myself feeling guilty from time to time when I took them up on an offer of service. And I was never quite sure to what degree I should acknowledge and interact with the fellows as I went about my everyday life. It seemed strange to greet them every five minutes. I certainly don’t do that with Scott. But they were greeting and acknowledging me every time we passed or drew near. And was my acknowledgment and greeting taken as a request for some service to be performed? I am sure you are beginning to get the idea, dear reader.

So while the service was great, we were also quite glad to strike out on our own onto the boiling streets of Mumbai. Arthor Danchest, of Tiffin Talk fame, had given us directions to a beach side drive, which he assured us would make a delightful wheel, and rather than get there via the crowded and deafening highway we had traversed the night before, we thought we might cut across town through the vast sea of crumbling one-story structures that lay between Win’s place and the railway line, which cut off his half of the neighborhood called “Bandra” from the part of that same neighborhood popular with Bollywood stars.

We were only a short bit into this wheel when our phone rang. It was Nikhil, our India Bureau Chief. It seemed that our berths on the upcoming train to Goa still languished quite low on the Indian Railway’s wait-list. And it seemed to Nikhil that we would likely not get a seat. Shucks; we would need to take a bus or a plane. “The buses will be very uncomfortable,” Nikhil explained. This seemed rather a strange assertion, as he had offered them up as a viable option earlier, but we took his advice, and called an unscheduled return to home base to purchase airplane tickets. The staff at Win’s seemed thrilled to see us again, and glad to hear that we were not, in fact, arriving in search of lunch (which, under the impression that we would be out all day, they had not been preparing). In order to merely spend more than we planned to, and not fully break the bank, we needed to leave a day later than planned, cutting our time in Goa short, but giving us another day to enjoy the bizarre luxuries of Win’s apartment.

Back on the road, we made short time of traversing the sprawling low-income neighborhood, dodging a couple of bits of rubbish that were thrown at us by the local children, and stopping once or twice to gain our bearings, only to attract a phenomenal crowd of locals, interested primarily in estimates of the price of the Speed TRs.

We finally broke out into the vicinity of the railroad, where we portaged the bikes over a pedestrian walkway, finding ourselves once again in familiar territory from our un-fortuitous wanderings the night before. It was every bit as loud as we had remembered it, but the speed of traffic was slow, which allowed us to wheel more safely as legitimate parts of the traffic. As we wheeled west toward the water, I found myself wondering: how do the people of this city learn to deal with the incandescently searing noise. I was constantly finding my nerves blitzed and eardrums nearly blown asunder by a passing moped, while the locals seemed not even to notice. Was it possible that devastating hearing damage had actually lessened the intensity of the street noise to a manageable level? Or had they developed some yogic, water-off-a-duck’s-back, inner-strength-exterior-malaise system?

I was torn from this interesting vein of thought when, in a way that was always unsuspected but never surprising, the hunger hit. We were able, luckily, to find in short order, a delightful and succulent Punjabi restaurant, which was happy to serve us some of the most delectable raita of my life. The Palak Paneer, Dal Makhni, and Tandoori Roti were not bad either. While we ate, they played a most fascinating Punjabi Hip Hop.

Back on the cycles, we made our way to the water and rode north, but not before posing for a quick one with the staff of Punjabi Sweet House.

The sea view was startlingly apocalyptic, with brown waves lapping against a dead and blackened shore. Many of the locals, however, seemed to be quite enjoying the place, out for picnics on the barren moon-like expanse or strolling along the stone walkway.

We rode north until the presence of a railroad blocked our progress. There we were faced with a decision. We needed to be in the south of the city to meet with our dear friend Mr. Kaustubh Shah, and we could take a local train there. Or we could attempt to make our way the entire north-south length of Mumbai on bicycle. We had no idea how to do this, but if we relied on our compasses and kept making our way south, the geography of Mumbai should funnel us to exactly where we wanted to be.

Scott and I looked at each other and at my calculator watch… Dealing with the plane tickets had taken some time, but this is AsiaWheeling after all, and how many times does one get the change to wheel the length of Mumbai? There was really only one choice. We called a rauche and headed south.

The wheel took us through a variety of interesting neighborhoods, past wandering cows, piles of burning garbage, women in fantastically bright saris, strange construction sites, shops selling all kinds of goods, dead ends, very sick people wandering the streets like pale, sweaty, zombies, gentlemen welding with just a pair of sunglasses as protection, and a number of overflowing sewers clogged with garbage. We thanked our stars that it was not the rainy season, for we can only imagine what happens when the monsoon rains take all these things and whip them up into a seething choleric soup. This wheel was harrowing enough, in the bright sunshine.

Eventually we found ourselves on the main North/South road, which took us right toward Kaustubh’s part of town. You see, Mumbai is located on a few great islands, and we were working our way down the length of the largest of these. So when we once again broke free from the interior of the city and could see the ocean, we were much encouraged. We had to be close. We celebrated our imminent success by stopping at a strange cluster of tea stalls outside the headquarters of YesBank, a local retail bank.

We re-hydrated and re-caffeinated while chatting with some fellows from the YesBank Corporate Intelligence unit before climbing back on the Speed TRs. The North/South road ended there, and we began a process of zigging and zagging our way toward the southernmost financial district.

As we rode, we found ourselves at times feeling like we were in New York, at times Palm Beach, and at other times San Francisco.

When we finally reached the correct neighborhood, we felt like we were in Europe. Large churches and baroque government buildings were flanking great parade grounds. In the background a few skyscrapers loomed.

It was once again time to stop for a couple of delicious vada and South Indian coffees at a local poorly lit joint, before returning back to the seaside to watch the sunset.

No sooner had we pulled our bikes onto the seaside walk, than we were quite surprised to feel a tap on the shoulder and turn around to find none other than Mr. Kaustubh  Shah himself, smiling at us.

That evening, we dined at Moshe’s, a local eatery famed for its blueberry pie, and discussed a number of potential business opportunities that had come to our minds since being in the country. As the evening drew to a close, we loaded the cycles onto the local train and headed back to Bandra.


Comments

  1. Jack | March 24th, 2010 | 12:47 pm

    Are those large billboards in the backgroud of the “near bandra” picture?

  2. Scott | March 24th, 2010 | 11:52 pm

    @Jack,

    Yes, those are billboards which face the highway. Quite the structure to support them.

    Scott

  3. MCS | March 25th, 2010 | 9:07 pm

    It’s about time for some Stewart Motta on this blog.

  4. Woody | March 26th, 2010 | 3:08 am

    @ MCS
    Incoming. I promise.

  5. Mark/Dad | March 28th, 2010 | 12:21 pm

    Very cool to watch the chapatti puff up!

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