“Middle class Mumbai” is what this city should be called. It seems a large proportion of Mumbai is made up of the future generation of young educated intellectuals who go on marriage apps on their smart phones and drink breezers on the sly on the weekends in one of Mumbai’s top exclusive clubs. We were constantly told to be aware of the dirt within a city, however, apart from the abnormally sized rats, Mumbai seemed to be as equally as dirty as the rest of India, no worse or less. Although I mention the large proportion of middle class that are prominent within Mumbai, those who are suffering in poverty are also here too. However, our experience of these people was limited as we spent most of our time in the city centre, behind windows and doors of Mumbai’s black and yellow cabs nipping around Mumbai- not seeing the truth behind its glossy veneer, its lows as well as its highs.
Colaba is the main hotspot for tourists because of its shopping, hotels and food. You will find saris, necklaces, shoes and pashminas flung in your face pressurising you to “Look! Looking is free!”, so head out of this area as quick as you can. There are many sights to see in Mumbai ranging from interesting and educational, to traditional and local, so I advise heading out of the tourist areas as quick as possible. Walking past open squares with pebbled stone streets, buildings that imitate holy churches and cathedrals, and parks that could easily be Kensington Gardens, one can easily notice exemplars of colonialism reflected onto the city of Mumbai (without paying an extortionate price for the Prince Of Wales Museum- which is awful).
The Modern Art Gallery is magnificent. Whilst I visited, there was an exhibition displaying various forms of media in connection to the nation’s pride, joy and favourite pastime: cricket. Displays showed how towns and villages united together to play “gully cricket”, how tight communities became emotionally, but also physically close because of the lack of open spaces and how uncomfortable and damaging it could be. Many exemplars of work highlighted the strength and geniality of the nations favourite cricketer: Sachin Tendulkar. He is seen in the nation’s history as legendary, put on a pedestal because of what he was like on the field, as well as off the field.
Crawford Market, although advertised as a great market, is not at all. Rather selling limited produce and RSPCA’s worst nightmare of caged animals, there is little else. Instead, pass taxi drivers leaning on their Italian old cars smoking beedis, table cloth sellers on every corner urging you to choose a colour and children pleading with their parents for new toys, and walk to The Gateway of India, a large example of colonialism. The best time to visit this attraction is early in the morning to watch the clouds turn pink, and to have the attraction to yourself. As we walked to the train station to catch the metro through Mumbai, we caught a glimpse of what life is like for those who are not so lucky. We passed families sleeping in the street and washing in the toilet, a little girl squatting in a prim rose garden staring aimlessly at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, adjacent to The Gateway Of India. This extreme poverty and luxury in one single snapshot made me shudder. I wanted to catch this powerful image on camera, but I thought against it. Although slums are a large part of Mumbai and millions live there, to see homeless families on the street whom couldn’t afford to pay for rent in a slum, made me recognise and apprehend how poor these people really were.
With this in mind, head to the Dhobi Ghat, reachable by train. It is a place bordering on the suburbs of Mumbai where it seems the entire city’s washing is done. Small basins are split and surrounded by rows and rows of colour coded washing and washers washing themselves. It is incomprehensible to understand the vast amount of laundry here, until you have seen it as well.
From here, make your way to Mahalaxmi temple, famous because it hosts the Goddess of Wealth. We took a wrong turning and began to walk along a path within the sea, surrounded by wasteland and dressed goats munching on plastic. One side of us were beggars raising their hands up in hope, the other side was shops selling religious knick knack. Realizing we were walking to Haji Ali Dargh, we turned around. I felt a little relieved as this journey seemed desolate and dank. Each side of the path were in desperation for your money, framing the final destination of the mosque, in a negative light. Finding the right temple we were greeted by fragrant smells of brightly coloured flowers, sweets and savoury smells of Uttapam. Here we were given stickers of the Indian flag, (it being Republic Day), welcomed by others and asked to be photographed for various family portraits. Passing many barefoot and elderly to reach the temple, I noticed that all were encouraged to unite together in prayer. As I bought a beautiful lily to leave on the shrine of the Goddess of Wealth which so many had queued up for, and travelled lengthy fares to get to, I couldn’t help but notice the change in atmosphere and mood in both places of worship. Hinduism seemed more vibrant, more receptive to all and carefree.
As it was India Republic Day, we thought a visit would be not complete without seeing the Gandhi museum. His house in Mumbai has been turned into a museum showcasing various stages of his life and his vast collection of books. Already aware of the great fortitude and lengths that Gandhi went through for others and his nation, the museum still took me by surprise. His house was filled with various quotes that seemed to encapsulate life in a nutshell, and the struggles that Gandhi has faced, and many wise words that others should adhere too.
Make sure you head early morning to the the Sassoon Docks, a part of the naval area meaning no photography is allowed, where you will see fishmongers arrive on shore from their multi coloured boats, hands and decks full of fresh fish. Fish here are an assortment of all different shapes, sizes and colours. We even saw a bloodied and battered shark being pulled along with pride on a wooden cart through the entire market, being eyed up in envy. Women balance plastic bowls on their head from all colours of the rainbow, carefully selecting what fish to have for the meals over the next couple of days after haggling in auctions that attract large crowds. Fisher women sit in circles and peel shrimps in a frenzy, looking at me curiously whilst I stroked the shiny scales of their catch.
Another attraction whilst in the city of Mumbai, is attending the cinema. Like I have posted before, there are two types of Hindi films; one for the light hearted involving song, love and dance. Whilst the second concentrates on more serious issues that are thematic and are relevant to modern society. Being a lover of fight-club esque films, and bought tickets to see the movie, “Baby”, I was enraptured within the first few seconds. As the movie began to unfold, the plot became clear: a terrorist organisation was trying to attack India who had links with Pakistan and the Middle East, who were Muslim. Someone was deeply perturbed by this imagery, (or someone was overly patriotic) which meant it took quite a while for the audience to settle. This then raised questions on the representation of Muslim’s in this Hindi film and how moral the perception was, one can only point out that it’s banned in Pakistan because “it portrays a negative image of Muslims and the negative characters in the film also have Muslim names”, and allow the viewer to make their own judgement.
Sitting in the dress circle, (the cinema seemed to be the size of a theatre), which meant that from a safe distance we could see the action off screen, and not be part of it. Also, just for 70 rupees extra, you got the best seats in the house! As the movie went on, the audience became one; all on a journey together, reacting to certain parts of the movie with excitement, delight and surprise. Jeers and howls were made whenever the good guy did or say something impressive, whilst claps of applause were made when he asked for a alcoholic beverage, (which I thought strange because of most people not liking alcohol because of their religion, and the consequences it brings). Both being professional female actresses, we were shocked by the female leads, who couldn’t act and had very little depth of emotions. As they fluttered their eyelashes and let out large sighs of exasperation, I cringed at her acting, as well as her character. However, this being a serious film, I’m sure the portrayal of women in other Bollywood films would be even more horrific. Although a large language barrier, phrases were spoken in English and the slapstick humour, facial expressions and body language were able to read, making the viewing of a Hindi film at the cinema, an unforgettable experience and one I urge you all to do- plus the cinema to locals is a way of life not just mere entertainment, so really it’s a cultural exchange!
Due to lack of funds, we decided against a Bollywood tour, (who knew they would charge a similar price to Universal studios in LA) and only being spotted in Colaba to act as a hostess for a wedding, not as a Bollywood extra, we spent our final day in Mumbai getting a rickety boat to Elephanta Island to see some beautiful caves. I looked around the boat filled with other Indians acting like tourists as well, which made me think, how remarkably different Indians are within their country. It being so vast and a sub continent, it seems each state resembles a different country. Although vast continents like Australia or America have different ways of life and accents, they do not have different features making people seem as if a different nationality, or have different languages or different cultures which India has. Seeing so many different types of people under one country is overwhelming.