Travelling through Mumbai is like nothing you could ever have imagined.
My steed was a black and yellow FIAT which looked as if it had driven straight out of 1970s Havana and boasted, amongst other gadgets, a solitary light bulb. However, by far the one accessory which interested the driver the most was the high pitched horn which acted as an outlet for his frustration and was thus used generously. In fact
most drivers shared this partiality and the overall effect was that of an urban rainforest with the mating calls of Honda Civics piercing through the dry air in a never-ending chorus.
The roadside scenery was littered with piles of rubble which, in places, were being tenderly transferred into dusty sacks. A job, I feared, that was cursed never to end, but the presence of this rubble also portrayed a symptom of the absence of much government activity on the street level.
You also couldn’t help but notice the array of slums which had evolved by the road. Some of the houses were comprised of large billboards with ‘Coca Cola’ draped next to the entrance in faded letters. Sitting on top of these DIY foundations at a fashionable slant, a corrugated iron roof provided the primary means of protection against the ominous monsoon rains.
Each of these houses were then balanced precariously on top of one another to give the impression of an unfinished jig-saw against the horizon. Whilst this organised chaos suggested the haphazard nature of the houses’ construction, it also lent an artistic flair to the surroundings which is barren to most Westernised cities.
Against this backdrop were the Mumbaikars themselves, the life force of the city who flowed and ebbed through the streets each with their own purpose and unique knowledge of the city.
Whilst activity was never far away, many locals contented themselves with perching besides stalls and watching the stream of bikes, cars and rickshaws- which resembles a cross between a scooter and a squeezed VW campervan- beep and whine their way through the streets. In fact, so little were these particular locals’ actions that they had ceased to become human and simply blended in with their surroundings as an another decoration for the stalls.
Inevitable to such a place of extreme poverty, beggars also walked the streets. Exercising their broken English phrases to any tourists strolling past and, when that failed, they pulled and tugged at clothes as if trying to will money out of the pockets. Even though such an activity was nothing new to me, it was a shock to see that none of them were older than seven. No doubt sent out by their parents to earn their keep, even at so young an age. Although the weight of the responsibility is distressing for such small shoulders, some comfort can be derived from the fact that, even in such dire circumstances, the children rallied together and still found the energy and will to play by the road.
Standing out amongst this bustle of life was the elegance of the women, who glided authoritatively through the crowds like a swan negotiating its way through a pond of lilies. In contrast to the dusty décor, which had been cast lavishly across the buildings and streets, vibrant colours, plucked from every crevice of the spectrum, lit up their saris. Plumes of emerald green collided with splashes and swirls of dark blue, whilst delicate patterns lined the edges, all to create small vortexes of colour in every direction you looked.
As if this elaborate attire was not sufficient, many women also sported patterns across their hands and upper arms in such a delicate shade of brown that it served to compliment the skin on which it rested. Though it was observed that plants and flowers served as the primary artistic inspiration, there seemed to be no limits to this extravagant ‘mehndi.’
The diversity of such characteristics gave the impression that you were revisiting a patchwork of old dreams. Being unable to remember one specific storyline, you have taken the highlights and put them together in a blend that defies any logic but somehow makes sense.