Arriving (on time) at 4.25am yesterday had one major compensation, enabling me to watch Bombay wake up – surprisingly slowly.
On a jetlag-dazed hour-long walk up to the station (Bombay’s main train station operates as a choke point between the suburbs in the North and the commercial areas in the South), newspaper sellers piled up their copies of the Times of India ready for the commuters as the roads slowly filled up with taxis, buses, cars and beeping horns. There were also momentary glimpses of the poverty that pervades this city as shapeless rags stirred on the pavements, and street-children brushed their teeth in the gutter. Seeing kids playing cricket at 7am in the Oval Maidan was also more than a little bizarre. I reached the station at 8.30 in time to witness the mass of human traffic emerge from huge carriages(exits both sides). Quite an eye-opener and slightly overwhelming – the city has an estimated 6.1m commuters crammed into these trains each day. And I saw most of them.
Later, I called a contact I had been given by someone I met at a wedding three weeks ago. And promptly got an invitation onto a boat party. (Thanks Priya). This turned out to be on a Dhow owned by one of the richest men in Bombay, for 65 first cousins from a Gujerati family who by all accounts aren’t short of a penny or two. Insightful conversations, great food, Bollywood music and a rare chance to see Bombay at night from the sea. I fell on my feet. There was a slightly nervewracking moment when the coastguard paid a visit; but as 1-litre bottles pre-filled with Whisky & Coke and Vodka & Lemonade were flung to the thirsty policemen, I was assured that this was merely a pre-arranged visit to collect their pre-arranged bribe.
Today’s been more about settling in, and learning two important lessons:
#1: Don’t stand under the ledge of buildings in Bombay if you can help it. (The pigeon missed the bullseye of my head, but it did manage to glance my ear and leave an unstatisfactory splodge on my shoulder).
#2: Don’t ask an England cricketer how they did if you don’t know the answer. (I went to the stadium after the end of England’s warm-up game against a Mumbai team, happily enquired of England wicketkeeper Matt Prior, Paul Collingwood and Ravi Bopara how they had done, and was met with a terse “We got rolled for 100” and some fiercesome glares. Oops. Prior got 3, Bopara 8, and Collingwood 9. And for the record, Collingwood was struggling in the nets).
Leaving for Goa on Friday morning on the Mondavi Express. 2nd Class AC is the interesting choice.