I fell in love today. I’ve always been a big city guy, even though I no longer live in a big city, but rather a quaint little town (Sausalito) just north of a major cosmopolitan city (San Francisco). Before that, for twenty years, I lived in Chicago, in the heart of it all. And I’ll never forget my first few visits to the Big Apple, walking out of LaGuardia, the energy of New York City was so strong you could literally feel it; and, stepping into it, knew something great would happen that night, partly because of you and partly because The City created an environment for you to flourish. Mumbai is that kind of town.
I love Mumbai, and all of its insanity. It’s the first city we’d visited in India that I feel like I would like to live in. We only got a taste of it last night – from stepping onto the empty cricket field (Wankhede Stadium, which was amazingly awesome; there because we mistakenly thought the semi-finals match between the Kings and the SuperKings was last night only to find out it was tonight, when we would be in Goa, tho Derek was able to get a picture with faux MS Dhoni, a famous cricketer) to driving thru its chaotically typical Indian traffic, to its energy and to its outright dirtiness and seediness (yet simultaneously so very bold and sexy). It’s a big (massive, actually) modern city; yet it still carries the traditions of ancient India with her. Because it is just so very different than anything we are used to in the States, there are so many reasons to be taken aback with India, especially with growing up as privileged as so many of us have. Yet, I just love it. Absolutely, unequivocally, with all my heart, love this place. I’m going to come back next year.
After the empty cricket stadium, we went to Leopolds last night – the very same Leopold’s made famous in the epic saga Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts – a bar and cafe since 1871; and I imagine looked much the same then that it does now. We had a tower of King Fisher beer accompanied by spicy Mongolian beef curry. It was small, hot, sweaty and smelly inside. Fans were strategically placed, but did not do much to avail us of the heat. The food was amazing; the beer much needed. The place was packed, just like the book stated, and opened into the street outside. Both inside and outside were ripe for people watching. And we saw a lot of people, all of them trying to sell us something. I absolutely loved it; and couldn’t take it in fast enough.
Our drive from and back to the hotel took us thru the busy streets of Mumbai, replete with massive honking, even at midnight. I think everyone in the city was still awake. We drove along the Arabian Sea, beautifully majestic and extremely powerful, watching the sun set against it as we entered Marine Drive, one Mumbai’s most well known roads where many of her famous hotels, posh places and movie stars lived. Though we did not get to see it, from an elevated point, Marine drive looked like a brightly shiny necklace, and in fact was often referred to as Queen’s Necklace for this reason. Soon we were on the famous Colaba Causeway where the Gateway to India was brightly lit for all of us to see, and very close to Leopolds.
Before heading back to our hotel, we needed (more) beer. our driver Nassim took us to a street stand. Men who did not want to go home to their wives and children were there – sitting, standing, smoking and drinking, and talking. Boys who wanted to be men, listened intently. Behind us, two men were cooking some amazing food, by the look of it simple delicious curries. (Think La Pasadita in Chicago, famous for their burritos, but outside and significantly dingier.) In front of us, there was a metallic garage door, rolled all the way down, with a square opening large enough for a cat or a small dog, or in this instance, a case of beer, to pass thru. I was patiently waiting my turn in the background; Nassim taking charge. Almost thirty minutes later, Nassim asked me for Rs 500. He handed the bill to the two hands that popped out, which darted back in. Five minutes later, Nassim turned to me for another Rs 100. Annoyed, I gave it to him; and he in turn gave it to the hands. Never once did I hear any words passed between Oz behind the metal gate and Nassim. I was fascinated. Who knew a beer run could be such an adventure?
And just like that, this morning, we sadly said goodbye to Mumbai and made our way to the airport to leave for Goa.
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