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Archive for the ‘Mumbai’ Category

Published in HT Cafe on March 9, 2010.  Page 20

Buying milk in Mumbai is so asy, it’s absurd. The `kirana’ shop only has Amul Shakti when you prefer Taaza? No problem, the shopkeeper can probably source your preferred milk from a nearby store. Don’t feel like making the long 200-metre trek to the shop? No problem, the shopkeeper will probably deliver your Rs 35 package to your doorstep. Don’t have the Rs 35 on hand? No problem, the shopkeeper will probably look you in the eyes and offer credit, with the unspoken commitment that you will repay within 24 hours.

After living in Mumbai for nearly four years, I am still amazed at how easily credit is extended and taken. I’m not talking about the credit used to purchase houses and automobiles. Nor am I talking about Mohammad Yunus- style microcredit, in which women are extended loans to jump start microbusinesses. I’m talking about informal micromini-credit, better known as the casual “no worries, pay me later” attitude displayed by many local business people. (more…)

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What an autorickshaw looks like, in case you were wondering

What an autorickshaw looks like, in case you were wondering

So, I got in an accident today. It was one of those stupid, extremely avoidable ones that left an (equally avoidable) bad taste in everyone’s mouths. My friend and I were on a motorcycle, driving very responsibly for the most part. We were less than five minutes from our destination when my friend decided to make a quick right turn onto a side street. We turn, suddenly realize there’s an autorickshaw coming full speed in the opposite direction (that’s now screeching its brakes), try to make a quick getaway, and ultimately fail.

My left foot ended up colliding head-on with the auto’s headlight; my friend flew for a bit and hit his shoulder on the pavement; both vehicles toppled onto their sides; the rickshaw passengers (a mother and son) fell on top of each other; and the rickshaw driver fell onto his side. In true Indian ish-tyle, there were 40 spontaneous spectators, a fraction of whom helped all of us up.

As they say, “it all happened so fast.”

It turned out that my foot was the only seemingly serious injury of the lot, emotional shock notwithstanding. We were luckily two blocks away from a hospital, so my immediate thought was to hobble back onto the bike and get my foot X-rayed. I was in serious pain, up to the “holding back tears so I don’t look like a wimpy little girl” point, so I was moving as fast as my good leg would allow me. However, before I could actually sit on the bike, the rickshaw driver yelled out for my friend and me. (more…)

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Ganesh Chaturti

Ganpati procession in Lalbaug, a neighbourhood in central Mumbai

After ten long days of prayer and celebration, of dancing on the streets and recklessly blocking traffic, of beating drums and reciting devotional bhajans, it will be time to bid farewell to Lord Ganesh.  Ganesh, widely regarded as the bringer of prosperity and remover of obstacles, will not slip away unnoticed.  Rather, devotees will make sure he is seen off in style, so that he may triumphantly return next year for a similar round of celebrations.

On the morning of September 3, 2009, hundreds of thousands of devotees — hands filled with some combination of coconuts, flowers, uncooked rice, and coloured powder — will flock to bodies of water.  They will loudly chant, “Ganpati bappa morya, pudcha varshi laukar ya” (Hail Lord Ganesh, return again soon next year) while dancing and dousing each other with colour.  They will then say goodbye to the beloved elephant-headed god by immersing their idols into the sea.  The idols, historically constructed of clay, are intended to dissolve in minutes and become part of the ongoing circle of life (a fitting choice, given how Ganesh himself was supposedly concocted out of sandalwood paste). (more…)

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dharavi1Three times in the past week, I’ve unexpectedly been a participant in conversations regarding Mumbai’s hottest new tourist spot: Dharavi. In case any of you missed the Slumdog Millionaire bus (er, bulldozer?), Dharavi has the dubious honor of being Asia’s largest slum. It houses upwards of 1 million people over a 175 hectare expanse of marshy land in the northern part of the city. First-time international visitors to Mumbai may be surprised, upon descent of their aircraft, to see the runway nestled against a sea of seemingly makeshift blue tarp and corrugated metal. Yup, that’s Dharavi.

Eight Academy awards and several Vogue cover shoots later, Mumbai has entered something of a post-Slumdog era. Local newspapers have always covered Dharavi, but now they actually take the trouble to talk to residents. International DJ’s are keen on using the area’s vivid neighborhoods as backdrops for their sickest new parties. And of course, slum tourism is shooting up faster than Ewan McGregor in Trainspotting.

Note: I must confess that I have not yet been on a tour of Dharavi, so my opinions here are based primarily on hearsay. Then again, I’ve worked as a consultant for over two years, so I’m quite accustomed to this :) (more…)

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The Mumbai Suburban Railway. Mumbai’s arteries, veins, and capillaries rolled into one functional hunk of steel. Even after living in this bulging metropolis for so long, I am continually amazed by the efficiency of its semi-antiquated local rail network. This is not a network built to help, say, a quaint German hamlet go about its daily business. This is a network that carries upwards of 10 million bodies – approximately 60% of Mumbai’s population – up and down its slender archipelagic body on a daily basis. Her compartments (yes, Mumbai’s train system is feminine in my eyes) do not try to please the occasional tourist’s camera lens; they are designed to take space efficiency to the next level. Similarly, the majority of her stations are not aesthetically pleasing in any conventional sense; rather, they are giant containers through which daily passengers… well, pass. But then again, what do you expect from a train whose body parts are called dabbas, or “boxes,” in Hindi? (more…)

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