Some fun little tales from my trip to the motherland..
Mumbai International Airport
It is witching hour when we step off the plane and into the tunnel in a dreamlike haze. People await their fellow travellers like confused ghosts floating in the tunnel. They stare at us walking by with slow, sleepy eyes, and we stare back. As we sleepwalk the halls and carpeted corridors of Mumbai International Airport, the sounds of Hindi flutter around our ears and dart across our path. The floor is beautifully busy with endless ‘boteh’ (Persian origin of ‘paisley’) patterns. We are hypnotized by each wall that is filled with a different form of 3D art – there are moving pictures, mud sculptures, a rotating compartment made of bottle-tops, electronic motherboards arranged into a map of Mumbai, . . .
We step out of the airport and onto Indian ground for the first time. Our nostrils are tickled by a sweet perfumed scent – only later do we realise the variety of flavours of pungency that this perfume was covering up.
The Cute Rat
There is a rat living in the dusty crannies of the subway train tracks. We watched it nibble open a packet of milk and suckle it down as we awaited our train for 20 minutes. Rats don’t have to be scary.. Too cute, rats!
The Kerala Train Saga
I book 2 train tickets from Mumbai to Kerala a month in advance through the website, for my sister and me.
2 days before flight to India, I realise the “WL” marking on our tickets means “waitlisted.” Note that our train is supposed to leave 7 hours after our flight arrives in India.
We land in India. We have barely moved up the waitlist so I call to cancel the tickets.
After a long nap, we go to the train station to inquire about Foreign Tourist quota tickets. No luck.
Early the next morning, we go back to the train station to try get last minute tatkal tickets. We sit biting our nails and waiting in line, soon to receive wonderful news that we have tickets, and our seats are next to each other! Joy and relief.
Morning of the train that leaves at 11:40am. After a busy morning, we rush to the train station in a rickshaw. I wonder why the station sign says Bandra though we are supposed to depart from LTT station, but the rickshaw driver says they are the same. Once inside, we can’t find our train on the information board. A man with a crazed look sitting on the floor points us to go towards a corridor while saying “Hyderabad?” Another waiting passenger calls us over and tells us, “Go to the Enquiry Desk. Do NOT talk to anyone else.” At the Enquiry Desk,
Them: This train leaves from LTT station.
Me: This is not LTT?
Me: How far to LTT?
Them: 30 minutes.
Me: But the train is in 25 minutes!
Them: It’s too late. Call to cancel your ticket.
Me: No!! We have to make it. Which is faster, rickshaw or taxi?
Me: Ok, thankyou.
I grab my ticket and run into the road, spreading my arms to stop the oncoming cars and yell at my sister, “Cross the road!” We jump in a taxi shrieking that we need to reach LTT in 20 minutes. The driver is crazy, even by Mumbai standards, nearly hitting someone and screeching the brakes. I still manage to bargain the fare a bit.
We arrive at LTT and run around in circles, unable to figure out where to go and panicking what with the train leaving in 2 minutes. The taxi driver appears and points us in the direction of a train track. We run. Sprint. My sister spots the information board. “It’s our train!” she pants. 11:39am. She spots our carriage as we keep galloping with our heavy backpacks. We jump on and find our seats. 11:40am.
Go to your kind of places and you will meet your kind of people.
The many-headed monster sways from side to side while shuffling slowly forward – like a crowd of “waddling brown penguins.”
Chaos with an Order
India is chaotic.
City highways are a hooting mess of zigzagging rickshaws, cars, motorbikes, and people. Trains get booked up 3 months in advance but the day before departure one can line up from 5am to obtain a last minute ticket. Mumbai’s slums are a heap of arbitrarily thrown boxes. There are more languages, cultures, foods, festivals, histories and geographies than it is possible to keep up with.
But underlying the chaos is an order that renders this bewildering melange painlessly simple to a local.
Despite the thronging, busy roads with hooting, impatient drivers, cars move with fluid speed and reach their destinations. Trains have a General quota that allows one to buy a basic ticket within 30 minutes of departure, and buses are a ready option for travel too. The higgeldy-piggeldy slums are cleverly built up vertically to accommodate more people. The variety and diversity create a thriving vibrance and pride throughout the Indian sub-continent.
India has a chaotic order indeed.
The heartbeat of a people can be found in their arts.
Quirky Pushkar & the Model-cum-Thief
Little Pushkar is one of India’s most sacred cities, that quietly surrounds a holy Hindu lake. The population is mostly made up of:
- Hindu pilgrims bathing in the holy waters of Pushkar Lake
- Hippies in colourful clothes shopping in the delightful bazaar
- Naked, long-bearded Brahmins with orange draperies smiling or marching the streets
Beware of the old model-cum-thief at the market corner. As one poses for a photograph, the toothless old model runs up smiling and insists on being part of the picture. She acts somewhat crazy, pretending to push rickshaws and giggling all over the place. As you depart, she will suddenly grab your bag and run off with it.
Trains must be Late
The train from Rajasthan to Gujarat was actually running slightly early, so we stopped in the middle of nowhere to “catch up.” Only once we were safely 50 minutes late did we start moving again.
Through the Seven Seas of Seven Colours
One hundred years ago, in the Gujarati village of Khakarada, lived a good man Kanji Bhatia, his wife Jiwibai and their 8 children. They were descendants of the nomadic Lohana community who used to roam the Kutchh desert with their sheep, goats and camels. Some of these wanderers had converted to the Khoja faith 400 years prior and gradually migrated away from the desert.
Poverty was ravaging the land of Gujarat. People had no food to eat, no clothes or shoes to cover their bodies, and their land bore no fruit. The spiritual guide of the Khoja community advised them to leave these barren lands and migrate to distant Africa. Kanji Bhatia and his wife sent forth their 5 sons and 1 of their three daughters.
Older Alibhai, Abdul and Kassamali, youthful Habib and Hyderali, and their sister Sakar headed to Mumbai. There, they boarded a cargo ship as labourers, and set off for the faraway lands of Africa. Nights would be spent sleeping on the hard floor of the ship. When in rough waters, all would help bail water using buckets. After crossing the seven seas of seven colours, they finally arrived at the Kenyan port of Mombasa. They eventually settled in the western village of Broderick Falls (now Webuye), where they started life from scratch buying and selling maize.
This is the history of my family! The 3rd son Habib is my maternal grandfather.
The crests of the waves of the Arabian Sea glow orange with their icing made of mango lassi.