Mumbai Meri Jaan

So, the first part of my journey to India was 2 weeks in Mumbai with one of my really good friends from undergrad. I admit this was the first time in my life that I felt such horrible jetlag. So, in all honesty, I spent those days being pampered with my friend’s mom’s dosas, chai, and yummy vegetarian treats. Finally on Day 4 we got ourselves out into the action of Mumbai. It was quite nice to hear my friend reminisce about her childhood days and meet all of her friends from grade school.

In some ways, her stories and memories gave me some context of the city. Spending time with her family gave me a better idea of who she was. We met in college about two years after she came from India, and it was always exciting to hear about her life there. I was always excited at the thought of being able to visit her and see all of the places and memories she described to me. It was quite surreal that I was in Mumbai meeting the people dearest to her. One of the most interesting people I met, however, was my friend’s great uncle. He was a hilarious man at almost 80 years old, but filled with stories, advice, and many funny sayings that I probably should have written down for my (imaginary) memoir.

The feature that distinguished Goan Uncle D (I will not use his name here) was that despite his diabetes and his half blindness, without fail he would have his night cap. Whether that consisted of Kingfisher or vodka or whisky, this was a man who savored his alcohol all while inserting his insulin shot in his arm (something my public health side found a tad bit scary for the first few days).

He was a treasure on my first few weeks of India and I enjoyed long hours of conversation with him about marriage, youth, career, world news, and the cold that he escaped in Canada. And he was pretty awesome at bridge and Soduku – two things I have not even come close to understanding. He wanted to come along on a chaat run or many times, he really wanted to make a stop to the liquor store after getting chaat. Still, it never bothered me because he never let his age stop him from enjoying life the way he wanted. That is quite admirable.

So, the most touristy thing I did in Mumbai was my visit to the Haaji Ali shrine. If you have ever seen the film Fiza with Hrithik Roshan and Karishma Kapoor, the song Piya Haaji Ali refers to that exact shrine. Now, in the film the shrine seemed extremely peaceful and just a great place to get one’s makeshift version of Sufi spirituality on. Still, I held no expectations. In fact I walked out of the shrine with some laughs. While bargaining with a shopkeeper over a bracelet that he was trying to sell me for 30 rupees, as soon as I said ten, he put his hand to his heart and said “Subhanallah!” and I replied with “Inshallah, dus rupein mein do!” (God willing, give it to me in 10 rupees). I admit it was a bit theatrical and gave me a bit of a giggle in the way we both satirically used these religious terms said by Muslims all over the world (sometimes in excess, which kills its meaning – an issue to talk about another day).

Nevertheless, I enjoyed the visit inside of the shrine, despite the tourist trap feel outside of it. While I consider myself to be much a spiritual Muslim, I am not sure if I was able to feel any connection to the Haaji Ali shrine or to the man himself. Perhaps it is a bit ingrained since I grew up always being told that these shrines were “un-Islamic” because nobody had the power to grant anything but God.

While I understand that view and sympathize with it, I could not help but find it endearing to see Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs alike stand in worship together. Haaji Ali’s memories somehow brought them to one place, and while theologians and religious purists have issues with this, I must say it is very rare to see such interfaith collection as an ongoing tradition. I would say that just this circumstance was spiritual in itself, whether or not I believe in the power of the worship taking place there.

Okay – so I just slipped into the one thing I make fun of when it comes to travel in India – the tourists “finding themselves” or their “spirituality”. However, to be fair, there was no finding that occurred here – just a little moment that could be as spiritual as any other moment in any other location in the world. Still, I think everyone is entitled to their “find myself/feel meaning” moment in India.

Inside of the women's quarters of the Haaji Ali Shrine

Many people have claimed to me that they did not like Mumbai and found it to be too fast paced. While it definitely is, there was a sense of bluntness that I enjoyed in Mumbai. I would not say it is like the New York aggressive bluntness, but rather a “I will not spend 10 minutes in a roundabout way trying to tell you something I do not know or tell you I can do something when I can’t” kind of way.

Perhaps more than the sites of Mumbai, I enjoyed the food and the general cosmopolitan culture of it. There was an amazing place for Falooda in Kolaba Causeway that I just cannot seem to remember, and that I hope to go back to. I will definitely update with the name as soon as I find out. I did not experience too much nightlife as getting over jetlag took longer than I expected and the urge to not want to be out too late also was present.

However, despite the typical portrayal of Bombay “hi-fi” nightlife in Bollywood films, there is the very relaxed lounge scene. One of the places we went to was The Big Nasty in Bandra. I actually really enjoyed it, although I admit I found the DJ, at least that night spinning tracks from drastically different genres without much transition. For instance, from Red Hot Chili Peppers he went to Backstreet Boys. I found that strange, though it got better through the night and I started to enjoy the atmosphere. I certainly hope to go back when I am in Mumbai again

Apparently we were next to a bar that Bollywood stars frequent, but unfortunately, no spottings. In fact there was not one B-wood star spotting at all. Oh well, better luck next time I suppose!

For New Year’s Eve, we went to a beach town that was 45 minutes away by ferry called Alibaug. By no means was it an amazing beach, and unfortunately the “bungalow” that we had rented for the night wasn’t much of that at all. It was a few rooms in a man’s house (who said we could not make noise past 11:30 – yes on New Year’s Eve night despite people going mad on the beach – but we still did) with some not so great bathrooms. Nevertheless, we figured we would make the best of it, play games, dress up like mafia hooligans and enjoy it. I would say it was quite a success, and I got a nice intimate taste of hanging out with some true Mumbaikars.

Hands down, one of the best dressed Indian Mafia looks at Alibaug - with the NYE coconut.

Anyway, I plan to go back before I return to the U.S. since I have to leave from Mumbai anyway, so anything I have missed hopefully will be covered while I am there. For now, I leave you with some of my favorite photos from Mumbai. My next post will be about the few days I spent in Kerala.

Here’s one more of my favorite photos from Mumbai!

Oh the silly uses of the English language - from a coffee shop menu cover! Sadly, Hot Italians were not to be found.
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