I Will Not Forget


I will not forget.....the sweet Alphonso mango.
I cannot forget…..children selling wares everywhere.
I find it hard to forget…..open spaces becoming homes and toilets.
I will not allow myself to forget.....the spirit of the Mumbaikers after the bomb blasts.

I arrived at Mumbai only to find that transfer was not arranged. So I looked round, asked, gestured and finally booked a taxi. I stared as the porters hauled the heavy bags onto the roof instead of placing them into the boot.

At the hotel room, I gazed outside the window only to see the living quarters of the Mumbaikers which was a sharp contrast with the hotel grounds.

Travelling to work was tiring with bumpy rides going over huge potholes accompanied with the continuous blare of the horn. Vehicles had notices at the back “Horn Please”. There were no marked lanes. Cars were so close to each other such that the side mirrors were not used but rotated inwards. Trains passing by were filled to the brim with commuters clinging to the open doors. Passengers were seated on the roof and exposed to the wind, sun or rain like being in a theme park ride except that there were no safety belts.

In the evenings, streets were congested with buses, lorries, taxis, autorickshaws and people at every nook and corner. There was nonstop activity with weddings, rallies and festivals. Children and dogs gathered round cooking pots outside tents called home. My colleague laughed when I asked “The people here don’t sleep?”.

July brought the monsoon rains. It did not just rain; it poured. And would pour until September, the driver said. He had hammer and ropes ready after the unforgettable floods in 2005. Hammer and ropes....my imagination started running while the heavy rains lashed at the windows.

Not wanting to be in the city on a wet weekend, I popped into a nearby hotel. Surprisingly, ayurvedic treatments were available. While Thai massages stretched, reflexology hurt and Balinese massages made me sleep, I could not relax here. With the recorded chanting and hot oil poured from head to toe, I felt like a chicken being prepared to be roasted in a religious ritual.

Religion and rituals, festivals and celebration, song and dance, vibrant colours. At Gateway, a man in saffron robes insisted on predicting my fate. The Juhu temple allowed photography of the gods but not the interior décor. Men wore many rings inscribed with images of the gods. Every office workstation had pictures or miniature statues of the gods.

Once a colleague refused to process data between noon to two. I enquired “Lunchtime?”. His answer “It is Holy Time”. Work was structured around the Holy Time or Holy Day. No agreements and documents could be signed on a holy day.

In the city there were the familiar red double-decker buses. The majestic looking building was not a hotel or university as thought but a train station. Formerly named Victoria Terminus, it looked as Victorian as could be. Gateway and the General Post Office testified to Mumbai’s heritage.

A kid pointed at my footwear and laughed. I wore black covered shoes with flat heels. Indian women wore open toed sandals. After three weeks there, I find myself dressed in a lime green salwar kameez with the matching green sticker bindi on my forehead and open toed beaded sandals. At the shopping mall suddenly a man approached me and spoke in Chinese. He was from Taiwan.

Shopping meant taxing the mind with currency conversions. Paise and rupees. Lakhs and crores. Ten lakhs equalled one million with the comma after the second digit instead of being after the first digit (10,00,000). It was not just commas and digits. The Bombay duck was actually a fish. Even making tea was an experience. I found myself following colleagues’ style of dunking the teabag for at least five minutes.

At the hotel , I was asked “Would you like jam with your pancake?”. He did not understand my reply “No”. After saying No for three times, I decided to say it the Indian way. Wordlessly. By shaking or swinging my head. He understood.

One hotel guest was not served coffee and got noticeably upset. The nervous waiter said “Ma’am, your coffee is on the way. Would you like to have white bread or brown bread for the toast?” She glared and retorted “Does it matter? Once toasted, it is brown!”

Colourful Mumbai. I will never forget.

L Y Foong

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