New in India

Arrived in Mumbai at 1 o’clock this morning. I was supposed to be here Thursday evening, but the flight from Edinburgh was late and I missed the connection after running through CDG like a madwoman. Air France put me up for the night, which I groaned about at the time, but it was a clean, warm room with vouchers for meals at the hotel restaurant. The last few days in Scotland had been harried, so I cleansed my palate.

I love Paris and thought to stroll in town, but had no warm clothes with me and there was snow on the ground, so I stayed in the room all afternoon except for my forays in search of food. J sought to set me up with his French cousins, but being so tired, I couldn’t imagine taking the train across Paris and attempting to be charming with strangers.

My French did come back a bit — which helped immensely with the flirty waiters, who plied me with wine. At a certain point I was drunkenly congratulating myself on my worldliness when I realized that I was sniffing my water glass. Vintage Evian, non?

I’m married now, by the way. For the waiters in Paris I was engaged and my fiancé was impatiently waiting for me in Mumbai. Tomorrow I’m buying myself a wedding ring; it does seem to make things easier.

Coming out of the terminal in Mumbai was like walking down the red carpet. There are hundreds of people waiting behind the fence at all hours of the night for their somebody to show up and even though it’s not you, you somehow still feel special.

I met Vincent in line to pay for the taxi when he asked where I was going and if he could share with me. He had come in from Nairobi and didn’t have a hotel reservation and thought he would try my hotel. We waited for the taxi that had our number on it for about an hour, then finally fought our way back into the terminal to get another. On our way into the city the streets were oddly dark and quiet except for a few stray dogs, who apparently took particular exception to tourists driving around in the middle of the night.

At 2:30 we finally reached the hotel. It was dark, and there was a sleeping boy stretched out on several plastic chairs blocking the entrance. He got up without protest, but when we entered reception (also waking its inhabitants) they told me they had not held my reservation after I hadn’t shown up the night before, and they were completely full. Back on the dark street I was glad to have company. We found a room in a hotel a block away, but it was more than twice what we had anticipated paying. We decided to room together to ease our finances.

At 9:30 I somehow awoke, even though we had talked until 5 and there was no daylight in the room. I signaled the attendant that we wanted breakfast and he brought in peppered omelets and coffee and toast, all of which I found very tasty; Vincent, on the other hand, had never tasted Indian food before leaving France, and can’t stomach spicy food. He plans to stay in India for one or two months, then go on to Thailand — I suspect he is going to lose some weight while he’s here.

I went to tip the attendant two rupees, and he said to me what I thought was “that’s too much, you need to get something smaller.” I could not for the life of me understand why he would turn down more money, and there is basically nothing smaller than two rupees, but Vincent had heard him say that it was far too little. When I consulted the Lonely Planet I blushed and almost fell off my chair laughing – you’re supposed to tip those guys about twenty rupees. It hasn’t been my goal to do something stupid every day, but I may achieve it anyway.

We left the hotel at noon in search of something better and cheaper. With our big backpacks we were sitting ducks for touts and had to fight to be left alone. We saw a number of dirty rooms with awful shared bathrooms before settling on one that was at least less expensive. The bathrooms will definitely take some getting used to.

Otherwise I haven’t felt much culture shock yet. There is no question that this is a completely different kind of place, and yet I’m not overwhelmed. I wonder when it will catch up with me? V  studied psychology, and he speaks endlessly in elegant French about the mind’s mechanisms for coping. I think he is actually a bit blown away, even though he just spent two months in Africa. It’s not that I didn’t see the people sleeping on the streets or the toddlers begging today. I smelled the same smells he did and took the same leap of faith into the madness of traffic at the huge roundabouts (although frankly drivers here will actually slow down for you, which is more than I can to say for Edinburgh).

The one time I felt a bit panicked was when I spoke to another American at the train station, waiting to buy a ticket to Goa for Monday night. I told him I would likely be here for six months and he was gobsmacked, which momentarily threw me. What am I doing here? I have no delusions about ‘finding myself’. I think I finally know who I am, so it’s not that. Are well-traveled people more interesting? I used to think so, but I’m not sure any more. I’ve met plenty of shallow assholes who’ve been all over the planet, and some thoughtful, peaceful people who’ve never held a passport. At the moment the only answer I have is that I have nothing else to do, and it’s here.

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3 comments
  1. Eric said:

    As soon as you started dissing CDG, I was onboard. *grumbles indistinctly*

    Sounds like the beginning of an awesome time! I’m more than a bit jealous. =)

  2. Holly said:

    I’m happy to see your blog up and running! And I must say, you are a very entertaining writer. If you continue to have trouble figuring out what you’re doing in India (ie. why you’re traveling around, what’s the point of life, the universe and everything), remember that you can fall back on the important job of keeping me entertained. There’s motive for you. 😉
    Hope all continues to go well and that the communal bathroom experience ends up being mostly positive…!

  3. Dagmar said:

    Having been to Mumbai recently, you paint a very real picture…I look forward to more tastes, smells and sounds through your verbal “paintings” of the sights…Namaste!

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