Category: South of India, 2012

Slumming it in Mumbai, February 5

We’d booked dinner at the seafood restaurant at the hotel last night. Lovely rooftop setting overlooking the water, but when we determined that there were only full, 3-course dinners, we elected to move into History, where we’d eaten the night before. Rejected our first table in favor of one away from the live music, which was more pleasant/less dissonant than last night’s offering. Excellent, spicy duck dish.

Room service decided that we should have eggs Benedict for breakfast, rather than what we’d ordered the night before. After checking out, we are driven the hour and a quarter to the Cochin airport, escorted by a Peirce & Leslie agent, then handed off to another P&L agent at the airport who escorts us in, checks our bags, gets our boarding passes and points us in the direction of the security checkpoint. This is the type of personal service we have gotten throughout and, while one could most-likely make do with less, it’s undeniably nice, and greatly reduces the anxiety associated with air travel.

On the other end, we’re met by our P&L representative, Suresh, and the driver we’d had earlier in Mumbai, Mohammed (who, embarrassingly, we do not recognize). The message that we wanted a tour of the slums had not made its way to Suresh (who, we later found out, had been up all night working last night). He made a call and said, no problem, we will visit the slums, but we should not get out of the car, because it was Mohammed’s birthday (not our driver) and there were big crowds and celebrations. The celebrations would start late in the day, but we encountered some early parades, flags and loud music. Mohammed-the-driver will celebrate, too, and though he gets a call from his 8-year old son, who wants to know when he’ll be home to take him to the festivities, we never have a sense that Mohammed is rushing or anxious to drop us off.

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Instead of going to the slums near the airport, Suresh said he’d take us to the larger slum, where Slumdog Millionaire was filmed. En route, Suresh explained that 40% of the people in Mumbai (or 8 million people) lived in slums. People came from villages to the city, expecting to realize their dreams, but soon discovered the reality. Some 60-65% of those living in slums were Muslims, but the percentage was about 75% in the slum we were going to.

When we got to the slums, we did get out of the car and walked around for almost an hour, getting a surprising education along the way. There is industry in the slums, people making pottery, leather goods, candies. These are sold in shops just outside the slums for a fraction of the price they bring in other stores. People in the slums were very friendly, many wanting their pictures taken or to say hello and shake hands. In general, people looked clean and healthy, and happy. (I admit that I have no basis for saying the latter, but it was definitely my impression from looking at people and from the brief interactions that we had.) For people living there, Suresh says, the area is quite safe. So, while I’m not ready to move in quite yet, I emerged with quite a different impression than the one I had going in. We owe our good friend. Leslie Paul, a debt of gratitude for the education we got, because it was her persistence that convinced us that we needed to make the visit.

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Across the street is an open lot, where boys are playing cricket. Looming over the lot is a large apartment block built by the government.

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Suresh says that people will live there a short time, sell them at a profit and move back to the slums; not what the government had in mind. We walk past leather shops. Carol looks at belts, but does not buy. I go into the next store and wind up buying a pair of leather shoes, for $30. Suresh is a little delayed getting back to the bus because he, too, has bought a pair. When Carol and I admire them, he says I can get a pair like it, and walks me back to the store. Unfortunately, though, they had only one in that size, which he had bought. Despite my protestations, he insists that I take the pair he’s bought, since he can easily go back any time. So, I wind up with two pairs of leather shoes for sixty bucks. Such a deal.

We go from the slums to our decidedly upscale hotel, the Leela Kempinski, very near the international terminal of the airport that we need to get to at three in the morning. At the hotel, I manage to get my iPad, which just stopped working at the Cochin airport, to start again, with the help of the hotel IT guy. Carol and I go down for a good dinner at the hotel, and plan to retire very early in order to get up for the 2:15 AM room service breakfast that we just ordered.

I’ll try to wind up this blog with some reflections From the plane tomorrow.

Slumming it in Mumbai, February 5

  • Noreen and Gil Cornfield

    Arnie and Carol,

    We hope Arnie is feeling better, and that both of you are well. It was a delight to spend this Sunday afternoon catching up with your adventures. Arnie’s photos and narrative make us feel as though we are visiting another dimension, inhabited by other intelligent beings. Isn’t it amazing that a place as small as Earth has yielded such multifarious responses to the human condition! Your blog gives us glimpses of everyday life in India that we do not find in the mass media. Thank you for sharing it with us!

    Affectionately,

    Noreen & Gil

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