Slept only an hour and a half before my breakfast came. My first meal in India: white toast with butter and orange marmalade and tea. Got dressed and went out. Any first impressions of India have to begin with the weather. Mumbai’s humidity is awful. It combined with temps in the mid 80s is really unpleasant. There is a haze everywhere that drains the distant features of color and sharpness. There is lots of traffic, especially taxis, but it is controlled, so getting across the wide boulevards is easier than in Istanbul.
I walked in the areas of Colaba, where I’m staying, and the Fort, where many banks are located.
I followed Dr. Dadabhai Naoroji Road, the former Hornby Road, as far as Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, the 19th-century train station formerly known as Victoria Terminus. It was here less than a week ago that the terrorist attack began, killing 58 people. The former Hornby Road is lined with the legacy of the Raj, large, very solid-looking Victorian buildings made of stone. This was planned development; all the buildings had to have a gallery at their front. This gives protection from the sun and rain. Very nice.
I also looked at the Taj Mahal Hotel and the Leopold Café, two other scenes of terrorist mayhem last week,
I’m sitting in my room at Bentley’s Hotel trying to remember something. A few days ago, I was in someone’s place of business and the person, a man, showed me a collection hanging on a wall and around and over a window. He asked me to bring him an addition from India. I said I would, but now I can’t remember who he was nor what he collected. The objects were small and he had many of them. Perhaps if I dwell on this from time to time, it will come back to me. At my age, I notice how my short-term memory has declined. It may be because often I don’t focus enough on the present moment. Interesting.
Today, I visited Elephanta Island, an hour away from Mumbai by boat. On the boat I met an elderly couple originally from Zanzibar but living in the States for many years. They had hired a guide, who invited me to join the group. He did a really good job; I don’t know that all he said is accurate, but it was entertaining. One thing I learned is that Shiva is depicted differently in South India than in the North. Whereas in North India the god is usually shown standing or seated in meditation on a lotus blossom, in the South, he is shown dancing.
This is the Shiva of several arms. In fact, the god has only two arms, the additional arms being added to express movement.
Later in the afternoon I visited the Prince of Wales Museum not far from where I’m staying. The best thing about it is the building itself and the gardens, which I wasn’t allowed to visit. George Wittet, who also designed the Gateway to India, was the architect of this flamboyant pile. Architecturally speaking this style is known as Indio-Saracenic. A picture is the only way to convey what it really looks like. Inside, there is a sculpture gallery with Hindu works from past centuries. Some of these are very good.
The day turned as it did by my meeting a taxi driver I liked as soon as I walked out about 8 AM. His name was Bablu, and he offered to take me to some of the Bombay sights I’ve planned to see for a price that I knew to be very good, so I accepted. I’m a bit tired of walking and the sights I wanted were too far to walk to anyway.
B’s taxi is one of the million Premiers, old-fashioned Fiats, that fill the streets of Bombay. They are absolutely clunky and free of amenities. They don’t even have side mirrors, and the back windows on many are covered with some kind of advertising. The also have a column shift and three gears forward I believe. B’s is more than 20 years old.
We drove along Marine Drive to Chowpatty Beach, names familiar to me from having read Midnight’s Children this year. The beach itself, with a thin cover of dirty sand, is not very nice. It reminds me of Kuta Beach in Bali. At one point on Marine Drive we passed the scene of a bad accident. A heavy water truck had hit and run over a motorcyclist. The bike was under the front of the truck and there was blood on the pavement.
One of the day’s highlights was visiting a Jain temple. Although tall, it is rather small and intimate inside. On its front, on either side of the entrance steps are two large, brightly painted elephant statues. They are shiny and look like giant figurines. The interior, around the large supporting columns, is open to a main shrine, At the side there are smaller chapel-like altars. On the altars are figures, which I’m guessing represent deities. Burning joss sticks perfume the air, and there is a balcony where a man sat grinding cosmetics. People would approach and mix the powder with a bit of water then paint marks on their faces. I have no idea what all this signifies, but it is fascinating to watch and very unwestern.
The second highlight was a visit to Mani Bhavan, the house where Mahatma Gandhi stayed while in Bombay and from where he began the movement to oust the British from India. It’s now a museum filled with photos and documents of Gandhi’s life and work. One especially moving section consists of small dioramas illustrating the milestones of Gandhi’s mission.
Our last stop on the scenic tour was a spot overlooking the largest open-air laundry in Asia, a huge expanse of concrete tubs, sorting and folding surfaces, and clotheslines. As many as 10,000 people could be working at a time.
I took a nap the found another cab to take me back to Marine Drive at sunset. I walked a long way and took some nice pictures.
Witnessed a demonstration by Mumbai’s teenagers along Marine Drive. They carried signs for peace. Touching!