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Posts Tagged ‘Mumbai’

“Oh these rains? This was just a drizzle compared to the pounding that’s coming soon”.

That’s how my second night ended – thinking I had survived the first afternoon of monsoons only to be told that we hadn’t seen anything yet. I was prepared to write about and post video of the unstoppable and sustained violent rains I had watched through the evening. However, as I’m learning, it’ll take me a long time to see what Mumbai has in store.

But long before the monsoon, we were awoken at 4am by the arrival of Phoebe, our dog, fresh off her flight into Mumbai. Daniel opened her crate and she shot out. She was embracing Mumbai because it wasn’t a confined space on a plane. And with that early morning arrival our little Mumbai family was complete and ready to look for a home to make our own.

And that search was to be the focus of our day: find an apartment. Make sure it’s clean. Don’t get ripped off for being foreign.

We were greeted at 10am by our broker. She immediately came off as a powerhouse. She made demands of brokers we were meeting into her iphone: “”Is it a renovated exterior? Or a dilapidated exterior? Because we only want new”.

And so we drove into Bandra, one of two areas we are considering. It’s the northern suburb that has become a small city in itself. Tree-lined streets and colorful sidewalks play host to varying apartment buildings and restaurants of every possibility.

We went to apartment after apartment. We learned early on not to let on to the countering brokers what our highest limit was, because suddenly every apartment would cost that much. Some exteriors WERE dilapidated by any western standard. But they still held home to brand new interiors and expensive rents. Others were a beautiful shell hiding dingy bathrooms, peeling ceilings and lizards running up walls. Our broker made demands of the other brokers in Hindi, Marathi and English.

After noting a few buildings we liked, I finally fell in love in the most unexpected place. Despite saying off the bat that we didn’t need a view (“we’ve never had one in New York so it doesn’t matter to us”) and that we wanted a new looking building, we walked into just the opposite. The exterior was fading and peeling. Rain stains were visible on the paint before you even walked in. But it looked out onto Bandstand’s beach and the promenade and I saw myself suddenly seeing character and charm in the beachy building. Once again, in such a short 2 day span, Mumbai had taken my expectations and turned them on their head.

We walked in to an apartment that was kitschy and beachy and pure India. I would never decorate an apartment like this one on my own, but for our time here it seemed to feel right. And looking out at the beach view I felt this was an oasis of calm in a crazed city. I’d still have to convince Daniel and our broker still wanted to show us buildings in the Central Belt, but I was hooked.

We drove into the Central Belt next. It was, as we’d heard, the opposite of Bandra. Just yesterday I had been convinced that this would be the place for us. It’s right in the middle of the city – it sits between Bandra and South Bombay where Daniel will be working. All the buildings are brand new with modern facilities. But the downsides are only understandable once you’re there: they have to contend with slums and no neighborhood to speak of. “It’s ok though”, our broker said, “You’ll have a compound with a gym and pool and when you want to leave you can just drive to the mall.”

It truly feels like the new Mumbai – everywhere you look you see structures of building rising quickly among cranes and scaffolding, itching for occupancy in this growing part of a metropolis. I looked out of one building and saw a large swath of slums in between where we were and the newer buildings on the water. I ask the broker: “What happens when the developers inevitably want to build where the slums are?” “Some developer will probably just set fire to them if the people in the slums don’t negotiate. It’s sick”. I just kept looking out the window to the complete dichotomy that faced the old and new residents of the central belt.

We went last to a building adeptly named “Planet Godrej”. It was huge. And coming from New York I believe that’s saying a lot. It was 5 towers of 50 floors. A massive space overlooking massive grounds that held the aforementioned pool and gyms and squash courts and gardens. It’s so new that Tower 5 is still under construction. But the apartments inside were gorgeous and the definition of modernity. Marble floors, even layouts and floor to ceiling windows looked out onto the racetrack and the sea. Yet the building I had expected to love was paling in comparison to my kitcschy beachy yellow-walled Bandra apartment.

We drove away and prepared to see more tomorrow. And as we did the rain began to fall. With it, people came out – overjoyed that the oppressive heat of summer was ending and monsoons were coming. I’ve always seen rain as a nuisance. It blocks my quick walk up avenues and afternoons in Central Park. In Mumbai this sentiment doesn’t appear to exist. Rain trumps heat. Three months of rainwater provides showers and drinking water for the entire year. Hands reached out of taxis to touch the rain. Men women and children walked through the streets – some casually holding umbrellas but others just grinning and bearing it. I’ve never seen so many people walk through a torrential downpour as casually as if it were a sunny day.

We were meeting our friend Elise for dinner but traffic stopped us. How can you move in a 3 wheeled rickshaw or a 20 year old car when rain is beating down faster than you can imagine? The slow traffic of Mumbai halts in the rains and I’m starting to wonder how we’ll survive the next 3 months of daily rains and constant floods. But a dinner of Indian seafood and a familiar face quashed my fears. And as we drove back the rains stopped and I could see Mumbai once again.

It feels like we’ve been here forever but tomorrow will just be our 3rd day. I’m ready for more monsoons and more apartment hunting and, hopefully, I’ll end my next day having convinced Daniel to move forward in my little oasis of calm.

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“Spitting Spreads TB. Don’t Spit”.

Seeing a bumper sticker with that phrase was the first thing that made me laugh after sitting in 15 minutes of silence leaving the Mumbai airport. I’d been trying to take everything in. Here it was, my new home Mumbai. Madcap, colorful, dirty, amazing. And apparently hilariously straight forward and matter of fact.

After walking out of the airport and losing the ability to see due to the humidity hitting my glasses and fogging them up, I got a reality check. As we drove into our new city, I kept wondering: How can an American raised in South Carolina, used to living in New York, adapt to this environment? I let that marinate as we drove past the construction, the families of 5 crowded onto one scooter and the buses with dozens of faces starting back at my own. We were only on the highway and I was already overstimulated.

But then Daniel pointed out the bumper sticker.  And the feeling of being overwhelmed and exhausted from traveling was overtaken by the sheer excitement of living in a place that could be so many contradictions at once.

As we continue driving in, the most glaring thing I notice about Mumbai is that the disparities everyone talks about when India is mentioned are so overt its shocking. It’s not just that some people are wealthy and others are impoverished – it’s that two cities are co-existing and growing together, like two plants in the same pot. The seemingly brand new gleaming glass Price Waterhouse Coopers building is in between two dilapidated buildings. The whole city is one big construction boom with modern towers coming up inside of shaky scaffolding and built by cranes with the paint peeling off.  Mumbai’s modernity fights with it’s past right in front of you.

As I’m thinking this, looking at a sleek highway with a shantytown under it, I am jolted. A young girl has just pressed her face against our car window and she’s staring at me, hoping for money. I look down – everyone I’ve spoken to has warned me that this will be the hardest thing to adapt to. How can anyone say no to helping a child staring at you? “But you have to just say no”, I’ve been told over and over again. “The money won’t go to them”, “It keeps the cycle of poverty” “you’d go broke”. I heard it all from the comfort of Manhattan. Nothing prepares you for it.  So I just don’t look. And when we drive away I look at the window and see there’s a smudge from where her face was – it’s there for the rest of the day, a constant reminder that I’m entering a world that, for an outsider like me, will be infinitely more complicated and difficult than the one I left.

We arrived at our guesthouse in Mumbai’s suburb of Bandra and I was happy to put down my belongings and rest for a moment. Wireless internet. Bottled water. Air conditioning. The city of contradictions had quickly made me a contradiction – one moment you worry about all the difficulties you’re seeing right in front of you. The next you’re thanking your lucky stars that you’ve been allotted the amenities you crave.

We left before we our jetlag coerced us into napping. We drove to South Bombay and stopped at the Gateway of India, Mumbai’s own Statue of Liberty of sorts, the first thing a ship would see from the Harbor. It’s a remnant of the city’s British past but today it is pure India. Indian tourists cram in to take photos while vendors sell food and horse carriage drivers try to recruit passengers.

We finished our day driving through the neighborhoods of the Southern end of the city – I was surprised to see that this area was still just as busy and hectic as the rest. I’d read that the house prices, in relation to per capita income, are the most expensive in the world.  Yet the constant construction, the sleek buildings next to crumbling relics, the new spas next to abandoned unfinished concrete — it was still there even in the mecca of Mumbai real estate. It made me love the city a little more.

We drove back to Bandra over the sea link, which connects the southern part of the city to it’s north. I laughed when I realized it looks just like Charleston’s new Cooper River Bridge. A little piece of home connecting Mumbai together.

It’s a lot for one day. And even that long rambling explanation doesn’t even come close to covering everything I saw. But that’s what you get from one day in India – a lot of observations and not a lot of time to gestate. But I’ve got that time laid out in front of me. I’m excited for the year – still a little overwhelmed, but ready for tomorrow.

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