A day in Bombay

I might have been in India a little long. It crept up on me slowly, until I didn’t even realise that I had become immune. It was small things, small clues that gave it away – sniffing my undies on the third morning and deciding they could go one more round, ignoring the people begging for a rupee, getting pissed off at the touts, swearing at ‘those fucking idiot drivers’, going days without taking a photograph of the chaos around me. Becoming aware of this I decided to open my eyes again, take notice of my surroundings and record a day in my life in India. I wasn’t even moderately successful.

I wake sometime around dawn. Sam, for some inexplicable reason, is awake and watching tv shows on his laptop. I reach for a water bottle and gulp half a litre then pull my scarf over my face to block the light coming through the window. A few hours later Sam is back asleep and I’m listening to the hotel wake up. The plywood walls of our small cell go up about 10 feet then stop, leaving a large space above the rooms for our neighbours’ noise to circulate. Our stall is around eight feet by 12: two single beds, a desk, mirror, a power point and a tiny window. Overhead the ubiquitous ceiling fan whirling wildly like a spinning Sufi. I listen to the Russian couple talking on the other side of the partition – they sound about six inches away. In the hall I can hear people opening doors and lugging packs around. A television blares somewhere. I give up pretending to sleep and go to have a wash. There is a wait and I stand around blearily brushing my teeth. Avoiding eye contact with the other inmates. I have a cold shower to stave off the inevitable sweating a while longer.

Back in the room some music from my laptop adds to the noise. A little Biggie Smalls to start your day. Hope you niggas sleep. I put on the same singlet and shorts I wore yesterday; must remember to pick up laundry today. Sam and I barely talk as we get ready, just trade a few insults and we’re ready to roll.

Down in the street it’s warm already. Already? The temperature never dropped. Thirty three degrees (and smuggy as the smoking section of Gokul where we swilled pitchers of beer until they closed sometime after 2.00am). Later it will go up to 37 degrees. Not that you really notice the difference. Walk slowly to minimise sweating. People sweeping the streets and washing down the storefronts. Sam steps on a loose paving stone squirting murky black water up his leg. He swears. I laugh. Both of us ignore the old lady sitting near us holding out her hand for a coin. Likewise our only reaction to the family living on the footpath is to cross the road, sidestepping their babies slung in hammocks between the bollards. Walking on the far side of Shahid Bhagat Singh Road we avoid the worst of the street vendors hawking bracelets, sandals, handbags and drugs.

“Hello sir, yes sir, you look.”

“Money change, change money.”

“Yes hello, tailor sir, suit?”

“Look my shop, excuse me, you look my shop.”

“Hashish, buy hashish?”

“[Indistinct nasal gruntings]”

“Hello friend you buy for your girlfriend friend.”

I ruminate on why Indians seem to repeat themselves so much. In all conversations everything seems to get repeated at least once. I suppose it is for emphasis. To reinforce what they are saying. I wonder if I am thinking like an Indian yet? I doubt it. A month ago I thought I was getting it. Now I realise the only thing I’ve got is the head wobble. Bobbling my head like a nodding dog dashboard ornament during conversation is about the only thing I feel confident in having learned in this country. Their mentality is still maddeningly, frustratingly, laugh-out-loudingly foreign to me. On a good day it’s fantastic, hilarious, a trip. On the bad days, well, you shouldn’t be here if you’re not loving it. I’ve been wondering a bit recently whether it’s time to leave.

Yesterday we found a cafe with free wifi. Taking into account the money we will save on paying for internet we can afford to eat here. So long as we get at least two hours online. Two hours might seem excessive but there’s always a lot to do: a dozen unanswered emails; new FB friend requests; Skype calls home; trawling Stuff, the Guardian, Reddit, Google Reader; bookings to make – tickets for trains, festivals and planes.

Our breakfasts long eaten the waiters buzz around, clearing plates, asking us if we want anything else, hinting none too subtly that we might care to piss off now. The bill arrives. The menu prices have been augmented by a series of taxes: 3.09% Government tax; 8% service charge; and 12.5% VAT. For some reason the VAT is charged twice. This adds around 40% to the bill, taking it from 510 rupees to 629. Suddenly our plan to subsidise our breakfast with the internet money doesn’t seem so smart; our daily budget is around 1000 rupees each and we have already dropped 550 on the ‘hotel room’.

It’s now 12.30pm.

“Lunchtime,” I declare as we step back into the heat.

“But we just ate,” Sam says.

“Nope, we ate two hours ago. Lunchtime.”

“Whatever,” Sam shrugs and we pick our way across the street between battered black and yellow taxis, Priscilla Queen of the Desert buses and multitudinous motorcyclists.

Lunch is cheaper. Goan sausage chilly fry, rice, Thums Up cola and custard and jelly comes to 120 rupees apiece.

“What now?”

“Mmm, back to the room?”

“You don’t want to check out Chowpatty beach?”

“Nup.”

In the room we strip down to our underpants. Sam watches Friday Night Lights on his laptop while I stick rolled up pieces of toilet paper in my ears.

***

“Where’s the next Rugby World Cup being held?”

“Your Mum’s house?”

***

“Oi did you reckon those Spanish girls were hot?”

“I thought they were South American?”

“Oh. Well?”

“Nup.”

***

“Did you call Terry about dinner tonight?”

“Nah, not yet. Did you call the Bollywood casting guy?”

“Nah, couldn’t be bothered.”

We are supposed to be working as extras in a Bollywood film sometime this week.

“I called the Strangler though, we can stay with him tomorrow.”

This is good news. The Strangler is a friend of a friend who works in Bombay, staying with him will be cheaper than staying at the hotel.

“Yeah we’re meeting him at the Breach Candy Club for dinner tomorrow night.”

Ok so staying with the Strangler won’t be cheaper than staying at the hotel. Should be interesting though.

“Why’s he called the Strangler?”

“Meh.”

***

It’s 3.00pm and I decide that nothing else worth recording is likely to happen today and give up. I’ve said nothing whatsoever about India except to make a few veiled complaints. It wasn’t like this when I arrived; every day was a big adventure then. India is being wasted on me. Time for a new country. I decide to brave the streets once more and head out to book a plane ticket to Nepal.

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Update: It’s 5.00pm now and we’ve organised to meet up with Terry. At Gokul. Thus rounding out the day.

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2 Comments on “A day in Bombay”

  1. Chris says:

    It all sounds and looks so very foreign yet if it is feeling as you describe then it really sounds like time to move on.

    • nzcampbell says:

      Yes, I exaggerate a little in this piece but it was quite a startling realisation that I had got so used to all the exciting stuff here. I love India and have already planned my next trip back (2014), the place really gets under your skin.


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