I write this on my Samsung Galaxy Tab while onboard Indigo flight number 6E 181 on my way to Mumbai. In a recent in flight announcement the captain informed us that we were flying over the city of Surat. Quick peek out the window with a hope to see the city didn’t yield any results. Lots of white cotton clouds and a big blue plane wing was all that seemed to be out there. It is beautiful but after a few minutes you realise that the sky and the clouds are quite boring. So here I am, writing the first post of my new section “The Mumbai Journal” thousands of feet above the ground.
The old man seated next to me has been sleeping since take off and hasn’t moved. I sincerely hope he is still alive. The seat belt signs are off, but I am still wearing them, because I feel lazy to take them off. There is a noisy kid sitting a few rows ahead of me. I have a feeling that he will be irritating me the rest of the way. I want to recline my seat but I do not want to break the knees of the poor old lady sitting behind me.
(Psst: She is awfully big)
So, I am forced to reminisce about the last few days sitting in an uncomfortable upright position. Leaving NOIDA and Delhi was tough, not because it was my home but because I was used to it. I was used to travelling on the Delhi Metro and haggling for prices with the auto rickshaw walas. I more or less knew where everything was and how I could reach them. But Mumbai is going to be a lot different. Even though I have visited Mumbai quite a few times, I do not know much about it. For a start, a quick glance at the Mumbai map revealed how big it really is. The local train network seemed closed to indecipherable. Wada Paav seems absolutely disgusting and the humid weather will be uncomfortable.
Also, I don’t know Marathi. That can’t be good either.
But, I hear the Mumbaikars are cool, open minded, fun loving people. The architecture in the downtown area is fantastic. The city has this rustic, old look to it but still is quite modern. I might also run into celebrities. Also, I have grown up watching Hindi movies set in Mumbai and have always wanted to live there for a while. So, when the opportunity to relocate there came along, I just could not let it go.
So yeah, I am bloody excited!
Anyway, this is the plan for today. Once we are safely back on the ground, I will make my way to the other side of the city to a place called Colaba. There I will try to find a Victorian hotel named Bentley’s, which is supposed to be a short walk from the famous Gateway of India. Whether it actually is or not, I will find out when I land. Bentley’s will be my home for a few nights.
I should add here that my experience with Mumbaikars during my past visits have not been a pleasant one. They always seem to be in a bad mood and in a rush to be somewhere. If my friends are to be believed, they have the tendancy to backstab. Ofcourse, I will not let my limited experience with them or the opinion of my friends dictate the way I behave with them.
I believe in a survey it was found that Mumbai was the most unfriendliest city in the world. I don’t know the credentials of the agencies that conducted that survey, but I do not have a hard time believing it. I have experienced the unfriendliness first hand.
At this point, I must share with you a horrifying story.
The year was 2008 and it was my first solo trip. I reached the Mumbai railway station at about 3 in the afternoon. It was hot and humid, like Mumbai usually is all year round. I decided to take a taxi from the station to Ville Parle, where I planned on staying. I was nervous, excited and scared all at the same time. Faking confidence, I approached the taxi drivers and asked them to take me to Ville Parle. I asked them to use the meter, but they would not. No one would. They would either totally ignore you or say that the meter is broken.
Just when I was about to give up, this guy came out of nowhere, dressed in a safari suit, sporting a thin black moustache. He was wearing Ray Ban sunglasses and had neatly brushed back his short coarse hair.
“You want to go by the meter? Let’s go.”
I was a bit surprised by his abruptness, but I agreed. He was using the meter. What can possibly go wrong?
Yes, I was delusional back in 2008.
(Delusional and many other things, as you will soon find out)
About an hour into the journey, he stopped in, what seemed to be, the middle of nowhere. It was a wide, dusty road, with nothing but empty fields on both sides. Even the trees had dried up and there did not seem to be another soul in sight.
He got out of the taxi, moved around for a bit around the vehicle and told me that it had broken down and can’t go any further. I did not know what to do, apart from flashing this blank, confused, stupid look on my face. The long tiring train ride, combined with my inexperience of travelling alone was working against me, as I sat frozen in the backseat of the taxi, trying to make my numb brain think of a way out of this situation. It came up with nothing more than..
“Man! You are screwed!”
Seeing my helplessness, he took out his cell phone and called me an auto rickshaw, which curiously showed up in less than 5 minutes. The taxi meter read Rs. 190/- but he said that the rates have been revised and that I will have to pay the new rate. He then brought out this laminated piece of paper, which on hindsight I realised was fake, and asked me to pay Rs.520/-.
Yes, I still remember the exact amount.
Obediently and idiotically, I paid him Rs. 520 and loaded my bags into the auto rickshaw. I remember it was hot and I was sweating. I must have looked pathetic because the auto rickshaw driver had a concerned look on his face.
You must be thinking now, what’s the big deal. I got charged a bit more. Atleast he arranged an auto rickshaw for me. And come to think of it, it was largely my fault for not standing up to the taxi driver. But I was inexperienced and when it came to the real world, I was still a helpless little kid.
Anyway, the story doesn’t end there. Just when the auto rickshaw was about to move, the taxi driver returned. He wasn’t done. He came charging at the auto rickshaw, yelling something.
“You gave me Rs. 120/-. You are trying to cheat me. I am a poor man and you are trying to cheat me.”
In his hand he had a Rs.100/- note and two Rs.10/- notes.
“But… I gave you a Rs. 500/- note, not Rs. 100” I mumbled.
“What! Now you are calling me a liar? You are trying to cheat me off my hard earned money!”
He kept yelling.
I checked my wallet again. Please note that this was a time when I did not earn, so I had a very limited number of notes. And yes, I had given him my Rs.500 note. I had three before, now there were two.
Unable to find a solution, or my backbone, I parted with one more note and got out of there.
I gave Rs. 920/- to that dishonest taxi driver that day. This was how Mumbai welcomed me six years ago.
I do not remember that day because of the money. I remember it because that day I felt helpless. I was sad the next few days, thinking how pathetic I was. It shattered all the high opinions I had about myself. I cursed myself for not standing upto the taxi driver.
But that was then.
This is 2014, and I have grown a backbone since then. I also have a bit more experience travelling alone.
So, bring it on taxi drivers of Mumbai !
(Still, I have Rs.1020/- ready in a separate section in my wallet, just in case.)
The lavatories have now been closed and as per announcements, the plane will be starting it’s descend towards the Chatrapati Shivaji Air Terminal soon.