When finding yourself in a dismal situation, it is easy to imagine that everyone you encounter is revelling in your misfortune. It therefore becomes acceptable to wind up bitter and twisted when considering their intentions towards you, resulting in a sense that everyone around you is sinfully up to no good.
This was certainly how I felt after being dumped on the uncompromising roadside of a Mumbai motorway at 5am on a Monday morning. Was it the fact that my bag had been thrown so robustly in my face? Or that for ten hours I’d had two hefty Indians ‘slept’ on top of my chest, due to the incredulous design of a reclining seat!
As I suppressed the urge to put a rightful middle finger up at my sleep deniers, I watched the battered old bus as it joined the stampede of animalistic vehicles on the road to nowhere. After fighting back sought after tears I hailed down a tuktuk to take me to my refuge. Being refused continuously for travel, my face awash with rejection I decided my only bet was to surrender to an overpriced taxi.
700 rupees and a few angry words later, I distressfully arrived at Colaba Causeway. Had my limbs not so resented me, I would have put up a hearty fight to the substantial taxi driver who’d driven us around for hours in the manner of a rally race. But with bag now on back, chai in one hand and map in the other I began my expedition in finding a source of sanctuary.
An hour into my hunt, and I was not having much luck. I breathed a sigh of anticipated doom.
‘Brown Sugar miss?’ accosted a husky voice from behind me. I’d heard this term for Heroin before in India and it was a topic I hoped not to stumble across again. I swung round in annoyance only to be appointed with an old lady practically the size of my thumb.
‘No thanks, but do you know cheap hotels round here?’ I hesitated, conjuring images of being lured into a drug den.
‘Of course’ she replied gleefully. And tentatively I went. It wasn’t long before I found myself in a hotel lobby which appeared to be located at the top of an abandoned building. I waved my weary goodbyes to the old dear, who clutched my remaining rupees urgently to her chest. I hoped she wouldn’t spend them on Heroin.
The hotel’s waiting list was not merciful of my lack of sleep, and by midday impatience was about to send me to a padded room. An Indian man at the reception caught my eye and then whispered wilfully into the receptionist’s ear. Another invitation to dinner is on the cards I predicted putting my head down, only to be tapped on the shoulder minutes later by the hotel porter.
‘Your room is ready’
I looked up to catch a glimpse of the man at the reception, but he had vanished. Guessing my stroke of luck was his doing, my preconception of the day ahead lapsed momentarily, a musing which was soon retracted after the regrettable venture back into the thrashing arms of Mumbai.
After being swarmed by hoards of teenage boys all requiring photographic evidence of my existence contrasting with being cursed and spat at, I decided that refuge in my hotel would suffice. What would once have been rage rapidly became exhaustion as my eyelids submitted to the consuming darkness of the night.
Hours later, I awoke to the frantic sounds of knocking at my door.
‘Maam its 4am, you need to catch your train!’
Of course it was. I was off to Varanasi in an hour and I was hopelessly late. I swung open the door, only to be met with the stranger who’d been at the reception. What had been a nightmare of a day slowly thawed into a blur of generosity and selflessness from a man I had arrogantly presumed just wanted an easy romance with a defenceless English girl.
As I boarded the train and waved goodbye to the man who’d saved me from more days of calamity, I reflected on my experience that day. Mumbai may have chewed me up like a piece of Indian Paan but it had spat me out into the kindness of a stranger and an unexpected fondness of a place that would never be forgotten.