Sunday, October 21, 2012

India 21: Heartbreaker in Mumbai

 Give it a day and Mumbai will break your heart.

My day in Mumbai began at 1 a.m. after the plane I was on shuddered to a stop at the end of the Bangalore runway, turned around and checked in for repairs.  Arriving  late in Mumbai was no big deal however compared to the assault of the taxi guys.  Bangalore’s hustlers are guppies compared to these pirhana’s. 

My cab took me along some ugly miles and past people sleeping in the street under the glaring lights of an underpass, exactly as expected, but we sped on.  After being taken to the wrong Ramada, I was welcomed by a peerless staff of the right one and safely in bed by three.  (I postpone until the morning finding out whether Notre Dame beat BYU, fearing the worst as usual.)

Sunday afternoon I’m to have lunch at the home of Mrs. Jyoti Tanna, a close friend of a Boise neighbor and friend of mine, Catherine Scott.  (She’ll be the subject of a future blog)  I’ve got a little time before Jyosi’s driver picks me up—a driver yet!—and decide to take a little walk.  I discover my hotel is on a thin strip of land with a beach facing the Arabian Sea to the West and another across the street to the East.  Take your pick.

I’m soon in what I’ll call a food court: a couple dozen brightly lit stalls, most with giant griddles and giant woks and young men furiously chopping onions, greens and tomatoes and other stalls with massive menus of sweet things.  I’m tempted but head toward the water instead.

Without thinking, I give urchins who come up to me a few coins, then a few pieces of paper worth 20 cents American.   However I was flush with large bills because I’d just come from an ATM.  So when more children arrived making the familiar hand-to-mouth gesture for hunger; when they were joined an old woman selling stamps to adorn my body with dye; and when child-mothers arrived with children on their hip, all saying they are hungry, I retreated to the food court.  Would you like some lunch, I try to say?

Actually, no.  What the kids want is in the stall next door that serves the Mango Kulfi Falooda,  a glass of juice, red syrup, some fruit and a big scoop of mango ice cream on top.  I believe I bought 13 of them.  But grandma got the juicy looking stuff on the griddle along with four big rolls and so did four or five little children to whom I did not offer the drink option.  In beating a retreat back to my hotel I had to break away from a new trail of kids who had heard the news.


Around ten that night I went back to the stalls and took this picture of the one with the griddle and had a good time with spectators and sellers at the morning’s event.  Just as in Kerala the beach was full of families, kids on tiny rides and a crowd admiring a sand sculpture of a goddess. 

Again, I am tempted by the food.  How dangerous could it be?   But again I turn away and have a simple but excellent  vegetarian meal across from my hotel.  Coming out, I thought about going to the CocoBerrry yogurt shopt next door but lying on the sidewalk outside were a woman and a child.  I had seen them before going in, the mother sleepy, the child playing.  Now the child has her tiny arm across her mother’s head and both were asleep.  A tiny movement of that arm threw me into tears and I can not stop crying until well after I got back to my room and they are with me still. 


I took this picture of me above, them below, and it feel exploitive or a crime scene but getting closer might be worse and this is what I saw.  I’m carrying health bars bought in bulk at the Boise Costco and leave some at their feet. I tuck some paper money under the child’s arm where I hope it will be found and not stolen.

The route from my hotel to Jyoti’s house earlier that day went by Dharyi, a slum that I know by name from what I’ve read, the largest slum in Asia by someone’s reckoning.  I’ve been in the slums of Caracas long years ago, seen Brazil’s flavelas and a lot of poor places in Africa.  But just driving by Dharvi was so transfixing that I sat at attention and Oh My God came out under my breath.  Maybe I’ll be there tomorrow, I don’t know.

But that was driving by, a slum voyeur safe in Jyoti’s car.  Here was a mother and child and all I could ever do for them would be to leave something, the way you might leave milk for a cat.  Mumbai is filled with families and mothers and children just like this. I’m thinking about an earlier post, the one about tattoo on the heart.




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