Thursday, December 15, 2011
last day in Mumbai
December 15th, 2007
My last day in Mumbai. There are plenty of things I could go see, but I just felt like going for a walk.
In Colaba, there's a big park, called the Oval Maiden, that seemed to be full of people playing cricket every time I passed by. It's also lined with the distinctive colonial architecture that I love about Mumbai so much. I'd mostly only seen these buildings through the windows of taxis, so I decided to get some closer looks today. The Bombay High court, finished in 1862, is the most noticeable building, similar to the Vitoria Terminus, but on a much lesser scale, beside a massive Gothic clock tower. On the southern tip of the park, a man sold freshly squeezed sugar cane juice for 5 rupees. Drinking it form the glass he served it in made me a little nervous, but at least it didn't make more trash...
The official population of Mumbai is around 12 million, and of these 12 million, nearly two-thirds of them live in slums. I wasn't curious/brave enough to venture into the famous Dharavi slum, but I did happen to come across a small scale slum hugging the shore line. The way the shore curved out, there was an interesting juxtaposition between the small shanty town on stilts, hugging the coast, and across the water, Malabar Hill, the rich residential area. I walked to the end of a cement dock between two houses, over a small but of littered beach and took my camera out of my bag and just about had my shot cropped when, through the view finder, I watched a man enter the scene, back to me, pull down his pants, squat, and squirt out a soft, runny pile of shit. I couldn't bring myself to take the shot but the image is etched in my minds eye and really would any of you really wanted to see that? I slowly put my camera back in the bag, while he continued to force out all that was in him, and quietly walked away, not to take out my camera again for at least a few kilometers...
Once I'd had my fill of walking in the 32ºC heat, I waved a taxi to take me up to Malabar Hill and see if I could talk to Ramesh Balsekar one last time. Since I could have gone to his morning talk, I figured I would buy him some fruit in the market. While I was in the market, I walked down the path to the shore, where some rats and goats rummaged through the trash for food. Not far across the bay, I could see the line of devotees filing along the causeway to the Haji Ali Dargah, a stunning Indian Islamic tomb, built on a small islet in 1431. I'd considered visiting it already, but the causeway gets submerged at high tide and wasn't sure of the proper time to go. Apparently, now was a good time but I decided peering at it from this spot was good enough.
I took the old fashioned lift up to Ramesh's floor and rang the bell. When there was no answer, I knocked on the neighbor's door to ask if they could give the fruit to Ramesh when he was in. What I didn't realize was that it was Ramesh's care taker who lived next door and that Ramesh was sleeping. She told me to wait and went inside to wake him. I felt really bad, knowing that he's 90 years old and probably really needs his rest. He kindly invited me in and asked me to sit on the sofa with him and asked me, "What do you want?" When asked so simply, I realized I didn't even know what I wanted. I suppose, I wanted him to tell me the answer to life, of course, which I already knew could not be told in words, but I was feeling desperate. He remembered me from a few weeks before an I explained that I was left a bit confused. He remembered the Spanish woman and said he was speaking in a way that she would relate to. He suggested that I come back to his talk in the morning, but I explained I was leaving this evening and wouldn't be back then realized that he was tired and that was his polite way of asking me to let him rest. In a final anguished plea, I said, "The more I think about it, there more I feel that there's nothing..." His face lit in a smile and he patted my shoulder. "That's just it," he said, with a warm empathetic kindness, "there is nothing." Honestly, I was hoping for a "better" answer, but knew there wasn't one. I bowed to him deeply, thanked him, and apologized for disturbing him. I left not really knowing much more than when I arrived, but I felt a little less confused. Much ado about nothing...
I took a taxi down to the beach and looked at the smoky horizon across the Arabian Sea. It was the same sea I'd swum in in Goa, but from this spot I seemed more aware of the "Arabianness" of it and all the romanticism I'd associated with the name my whole life. I think I was expecting a bit more of a fairy tail from this trip but the reality of it was getting exhausting. I was tired of haggling for everything, from rooms to bottled water, to taxis. I was tired of what I represented to people in this place, tire of not being able to trust anyone for their word, even though I gave them the benefit of the doubt almost every time. I've rarely been homesick in my life, but at this moment all I wanted to do was go to a mountain temple in Korea (not even my home) and sit in the Dharma Hall and enjoy the peacefulness. I've seen amazing, stunning places of this trip but they were almost never peaceful. The temples are lively and exhilarating, but where to go when you just need some peace? I looked through my Lonely Planet for the map with the tea house I'd read about and started walking, enjoying the posts on the electronic billboard along the way.
The Tea Center was very modern and sold muffins, cupcakes, and pies. It wasn't nearly as exciting as the hookah cafe I'd been to with Shelley back on our first day, but that was kind of the point. I ordered a cup of Darjeeling and a muffin a had a short moment with the tea before it was time to gather my stuff and head to Victoria Terminus for the 21 hour train ride to Agra.
Inside the massive terminal almost felt like a Roman cathedral, except, with the intense movement, maybe just after Christmas Mass. Voices, announcements, and other sounds echoed through the space, melding together into a supernatural buzz. I stared at the giant panel that announced the schedule waiting for English to come across so I could find my track. A porter came and offered to carry my bag on his trolley. I declined but he wouldn't accept my answer and said it was a two kilometer walk to my track. I agreed and we set a price then walked about 300 to the train. I didn't bother mentioning the short distance and paid him. He was friendly and it was only about $1.50, anyway.
I was prepared to camp out for a while, waiting for the train, but I didn't realize this was the beginning of the line. For the first time since I'd been in India, the train was living on time!