This morning I went to get my photo taken so I could acquire an Indian sim card. As soon as I started looking, I realized that there are photo booths all over the place. Apparently bureaucracy requires pictures attached to anything you can think of. At a hole in the wall on a dirt street I was escorted to the front of the line then ushered behind a curtain. There I found a professional-looking photographer, a plastic chair in front of a graying white sheet, and a young guy tapping away furiously on a computer. I sat down and was told to straighten up, turn my head this way and that, and finally to smile. Immediately the photos were transferred to the computer, where I realized that its operator was using Photoshop not just to crop to size, but also to enhance reality. The shiny reflections on my forehead? Gone. The large pimple on my chin? Zap! The bags under my eyes? What bags? I think if he’d had enough time he might have given me a new hairstyle. I ordered six instead of the minimum four. The photographer continued to click away. Four young men were helped into borrowed jackets far too big for them and had their collars straightened before the maestro would deign to snap them.
Back at the phone store, the application required (reasonably enough) an address. Bizarrely, they seemed to be perfectly ok with my writing down the name of my hotel –as long as I provided a receipt. Also on the application was a line for the name of my husband or father.
This might be a good time to mention the seeming segregation of the city: in certain places there seem to be only men.. and then all of a sudden the women appear, generally in groups. You do see couples and families, but often you see mostly men. I am having a difficult time adjusting to seeing scores of straight men walking down the street holding hands or putting their arms around each other. Every now and then you see a man and a woman holding hands, but I’m told that’s only because people are very liberal in Mumbai. You also see a fair number of women in western clothing – jeans and long-sleeved t-shirts – but I’m under the impression that it’s not the case outside the big cities. I bought two sets of salwar kameez’ on Saturday, but I’m not in love with them. The thing to do is get some made, which I’m planning to do in Goa. I’m not sure whether I’ll wear them all the time, as they’re not quite as comfortable as I’d hoped (even though I’m quickly getting used to balancing the scarf on my shoulders at all times) and I feel like a bit of an idiot wearing them in Mumbai when not even all Indian people do, but I’ll reevaluate when I arrive somewhere more rural.
This afternoon I went in search of an art supply store. I took a taxi to the Chor Bazaar, which is basically a warren of dirt streets filled with stalls, men sitting on stoops, and goats. (But not art supplies; those are harder to find in Mumbai than you might think.) What I came to realize is that the city is divided up into districts of things to buy and sell – there’s the computer district on Lamington Road, there’s the steel sheeting block, there’s the stone and marble area, there’s the auto parts area, and the fabric area etc. I guess it makes things easier – if you want something you go to that part of the city and you compare what there is instead of haring around from one end of town to another.
Hopping the train to Goa tonight. It wasn’t enough time in Mumbai, but I’m dying for a swim and wouldn’t mind acclimatizing somewhere more mellow; I’ll probably come back through here to see the museums in a few months.