Bangalore and Mumbai, India
I recently made a visit to Bangalore and Mumbai, India after an 18-year absence. Back at the beginning of 1992, I had travelled extensively around India anti-clockwise by truck with 23 other young people (and some not so young) for three months and had fallen in love with the country but I had not had the opportunity to return since. This time I was there for a trade show in Bangalore and I'd like to share with you some of my impressions. Unfortunately, I only had my camera out during a side trip to Mumbai for a business meeting for a few hours, so I have no physical visuals of Bangalore, and only a few of Mumbai as I was able to stop briefly at a crematorium and a handicrafts emporium on the road from the hotel, where the breakfast meeting took place, to the airport, thanks to my gracious driver. You will see the small selection of photos at the end of this text.
Otherwise I have attempted to write down some of the visuals I still have in my head but alas not in my camera so as to let you “see” my missed snapshots.
On my arrival at an ungodly, wee hour in the morning, my taxi driver and I careened along the road, weaving in and out of traffic at a terrific pace - luckily at that hour traffic was light. It seemed as though some drivers thought that the line down the middle of the road was where you should place the centre of your car rather than drive to the left or right of it. Added to this speed was the high volume of Hindi music blaring out of the car radio - it all sounded the same to me, tune after tune. The driver would periodically spit jets of red beetle-juice-stained saliva out the window - luckily, he'd remember to roll the window down before expectorating and he was kindly checking that no cars or 2-men motorcycles were passing on his right (they drive on the left in India) at the time. Added to the cacophony of the music were the noisy, muffler-free, two-stroke motors of 3-wheeler motor rickshaws or tri-cycles.
Dust caking the palms and bougainvillea at the sides of the road while brightly coloured sari-ed women swept the ground with brooms made of bundled sticks.
A beggar with babe-in-arms still asking for money after we passed a package of Sweet-Marie biscuits out the car window to her.
Many more men than women everywhere, and if I stared too long at some men, they'd start to smile lasciviously, shaming me to look away.
Friendly, courteous, certainly respectful, people, addressing me as ma'am or by my first name if they knew it and felt confident enough to do so.
Spicy food - even when we asked for no chillies, no spice, there was still something in there that piqued the taste buds and caused our throats to burn. Cooling, plain yoghurt helped and we were advised not to drink cold water until 20 minutes after eating spicy food to avoid indigestion.
Waiters who were anxious to please, eager to find you some kind of food that would suit your taste buds.
Dust and heat; noise and crowds; the homeless huddling in make-do shelters made of plastic bags and canvas, while electric light, if they were lucky, shone thanks to the generators of nearby stores.
Stores packed chockablock with communal goods - small stalls using every bit of space possible to display shoes, etc.
Gaudy, painted temples, crowned with statues of gods.
Honking horns, even at night, slow busses and trucks carrying men and women like cattle.
Live goats being pushed unwillingly toward a store in whose window you could see dozens of hanging, skinned goats freshly slaughtered and ready for sale.
Dhotis, suits, saris, jeans, school uniforms, long dark hair - some men too with long hair, not Sikhs, but with the curly hair you'd imagine the Sikhs hid under their turbans.
Different ways of wearing the scarf that goes with the sari. The bindi, the spot in the middle of forehead, which nowadays is just a sticker, apparently protecting the energy found in the gland where the two frontal lobes of the brain meet.
Southern India food: various types of starch (buns, rice, fried bread "puri") with various sauces most of which are spicy.
Ladies-only lines at the airport security, which was about ten times shorter than the men's line - showing you just how many women travel compared to men. I'd love to see this practice adopted in other countries' airports!
Continuous and repetitive airport announcements that start with “Ladies and gentlemen, may I have your kind attention please” - a stark contrast to Copenhagen's airport where absolutely no announcements are allowed.
The sign at the exhibition centre that says “Smoking is strictly prohibited - it is not allowed” an explanation for both higher and lower education levels, perhaps. Nevertheless, India seemed pleasantly smoke-free.
A cow sitting on the side of a narrow alley-way at night among piles of garbage and several feral dogs.
“This is the last and final boarding call”: Redundancy rules, yeah!
Outside the Bombay airport, a soldier with a Kalashnikov resting on his desk pointing straight outward. I walked unknowingly right into his line of fire although, luckily, he did not have his eye to the eye piece but he certainly had his trigger finger at the ready - frightening really. I looked at him and raised my eyebrows questioningly and he merely smiled at me pleasantly.
At the crematorium (photos 1 to 5), consisting of five open-faced platforms with bundles of 2-inch diameter faggots at the ready, the corpse of a male in his late 60s lying in a grey Nehru suit with garlands of flowers around his neck, and two crematorium workers pouring a can of cooking oil over his chest and thighs prior to lighting. Above, vents to pull the smoke upward into a central chimney. The strong smell of burnt flesh reminding me of the Ghats at Varanasi all those years ago.
Women under the bridge in bright pink, purple and yellow saris with bunches of gerberas in their hands, sprinkling water over them to give them that “just washed by the dew” look before attempting to sell them to passers-by.
Coming into landing at Mumbai airport, and seeing undulating hills of green and brown shaped like the toes and feet of a giant god.
The Kashmiri emporium in Mumbai (photos 6 to 10) with mein host, Tanveer (photo 11), the representative or head of a number of families, a sandalwood elephant the prize of the collection, other smaller elephants of marble, gaudily painted paper-maché pots and jewellery cases, metal jars, figurines, paintings, painted chests and cupboards and upstairs a special place where you could sip tea and watch as shawls, silk carpets or Kashmiri embroidered table cloths, which could double as bed sheets, were brought out and displayed.
Sarim, the Sunni Muslim driver I had from the hotel meeting to the airport, who offered to take me into the slums of Mumbai on my next trip where he said I could take as many photos as I liked. A strapping, tall and handsome young man, he said he would protect me as I spent 3 or 4 hours there, no problem.
Jet Airways letting us out the back of the plane where we piled into a bus which made a 180-degree turn to take us to the arrivals door located only about eighty feet in from the nose of the plane - at other airports, we might have merely walked from the plane to the door!
At Mumbai airport the announcer apologizing for the delay of a flight and stating the reason for the delay - if only other airports would show travellers this same courtesy!
The chef at the hotel in Bangalore, Godwin, so kind. When he asked where I was going to have dinner my first night I said “at the restaurant on the 1st floor - was the food any good?” His reply was “No ma'am, I only do continental cooking!” And then as he got out of the car I was taking from the hotel to the airport, I tried to tip him when he stuck out his hand, but he gave me a very firm “No ma'am!” and instead indicated that he merely wanted to shake my hand and wish me luck and a good journey home. In view of this reaction, I didn't dare try to tip the driver later on, but noted he looked a little crest-fallen and now, regretfully, I have all those spare rupees burning a hole in my pocket! Oh well, I'll just have to keep them safe until my next trip to India which I hope will be very soon!
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Flash file, photography, text and layout by Angela Fairbank.
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