Next Stop: Crazytown

Authored By Brian

I am standing in the Mumbai train reservation office at the head of the queue for tickets to Delhi on the overnight Rajdhani Express. The woman behind the counter is at least tri-lingual and runs her DOS-based reservation program as though she was playing 8-bit nintendo Track and Field (a legendary game where your speed is based on how fast you can pound the A-B button combo).

Just after two Afghanis cut in front of me, it was my turn and I have already paid but the computer system hung while trying to save my reservation. After two attempts, the lady left to announce on the mic that everything was stopped but the mic is broken too. I said, “tough day” and she coughed a half-laugh in agreement.

Stuck in limbo at the moment, the good news is the crush of people all trying to unfairly negotiate their way forward in the line have dissipated and I have the counter to myself.

I have been on the ground in India for less than 12 hours after arriving at 2:45am last night and making my way by taxi to Hotel Volga 2 in the southern Mumbai district of Colaba.

I have been pretty nervous the last couple of days. Splitting up with Jennifer and going to what might be the most hard-knock travellers destination by myself actually gave me butterflies as the plane taxied to the gate in Mumbai. Good thing I love a challenge.

Navigating the airport was pretty easy once I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes. I left Jennifer and Thailand just over 24 hours earlier when I flew from Bangkok to Seoul and spent the day in the business class lounge until my 8pm flight (which I almost missed because they changed the gate without an announcement – I hate running in airports). I am working on only a few hours of sleep but the change in scenery is keeping me wide awake. Plus I know there is great Indian food just around the corner. :)

As I exited customs, I put on my take-no-shit attitude and made my way to the pre-paid taxi desk to get my 50s-era taxi ride into Mumbai proper. Besides the guy trying to fleece me for a dollar for pointing the way to the taxi parking and the little girl banging on my cab window for some money, it was actually pretty easy. I thought, “this wasn’t any worse than SE Asia; Jennifer could handle this.”

That was 3 minutes before I was sure she had made the right choice by heading to Bali. We neared and crossed a river and the stench of stagnant sewage meandered into my nose and then to my taste buds. Usually this doesn’t get to me but even I had to hold my breath. Then we passed a smashed roadkill dog on the road. Whew.

With one exception the rest of the ride was standard fare: stray dogs everywhere, driving mostly without headlights, using the horn to pass or when approaching intersections, one or two close calls with other cars and a safe arrival. The exception was the number of people sleeping on the street. Not like the occasional bum you see curled up with some cardboard but practically dorm house like conditons on the ground under any covered area such as overpasses or under buses and heavy vehicles. We passed one girl who had been awaken by something and had propped herself up, looking around with hair going everywhere. Damn, I thought to myself. And this is a prosperous city!

Of course for every middle class up-and-comer in this city of 16 million people there are thousands of uneducated or caste-restricted who have seen no benefit from the IT-driven economic prosperity. For them it seems, it’s still sleeping in the streets.

I have my money back now as the computers aren’t working and I will have to return to do this all over again later today. Off to check out the National museum then.

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