Twoandahalfweeks in India – Contrasts and challenges

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When I arrive at the airport the streets are empty. 3 a.m. in the morning. Everything works well: Visa check, changing money, meeting the pre-ordered taxi driver at the arrival meeting point, getting into the hotel. I feel welcome in India. People here are very kind, without any doubt.

The first adventure? Just take a taxi. I am convinced: Mumbai’s taxi drivers are undiscovered, but genius Formula One pilots. I admit – not all. Some of them seems to be still in training phase to get there… However, in the early morning the streets are empty. Mumbai sleeps for a few hours. But soon life will restart with its maximum of power.

The first impressions in the morning
High temperature. Humid. And even in the darkness you see the poverty, a lot of people sleeping in front of shops, houses (?), on or under some pieces of wood and paper, on two, three old chairs. Men, women, children.

Then, after a few hours of sleep, the chaos arrives. Strange loud noises wake me up. A continuous sound of cars, air conditioning, horns and people – everywhere.

You ask yourself how a city with 22 millions of people can survive – without any underground or modern traffic system. A continuous growth is ongoing. Half a million without any home. They just stay and sleep in the city. Somewhere. Additionally to the uncountable vehicles everywhere ca. 250 new cars join the streets every day (!) – that’s what Mala tells me, a certified guide that some Indian colleagues of mine have organized for a first city tour.

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Just a few hours in Mumbai? Take a guide.

Mala is a great city guide. She makes you feel welcome.
She lived in the Netherlands, spent some years in US and then came back to India, to Mumbai. She knows a lot and she loves her city. You can see it in her eyes and you feel it when she answers your questions – always with a lot of patience and a smile. But most of all empathy and pride.
‘Indian people are proud of what they are. They arrange themselves with what they have. They accept it, they do not feel this kind of injustice just because another person has a better life, better life circumstances ‘ – that’s what Mala tells me.
Is this their secret of life? Of how extreme poor and extreme rich people live in the same city at a relatively low crime rate?

Do you understand how life can be?
If you feel tired and exhausted, maybe you should come to Mumbai and have a look. Maybe this can give you a good overview on what is possible in life. And how impossible things work. Nevertheless.
Life can be like in Europe – at least at a first glance. The office working day? I did not observe huge differences on how people work at their desks.

But life can be also totally different. You will notice it immediately. Just passing along the streets you get an idea of extreme life conditions (in a negative and positive sense), different worlds, different ages, different cultures. In all dimensions:
People sitting in front of endless dirt, huge poverty, the huge ‘open air’ laundries, children and old women in need to earn a few rubies, young men trying to sell you even a flower, a newspaper, whatever, but then – still in the same area – also impressive historic buildings, the famous train station, the hanging gardens, a skyscraper built by a rich man just for himself and five family members. 27 levels? Yes, I think this is the number of levels Mala has mentioned. Or 28?
Probably another impression that will stay are the strange Parsi towers where family members are not buried after their death, but put on the building’s top and offered to “big birds”. From the hanging garden you see the birds flying around the tower.

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The bodies disappear in a few hours … ‘It is just their body is offered to the birds’, stresses Mala, ‘not their souls.’
Is this way of ‘body dissolution’ really that strange and that different from our traditional funeral? Mala makes me think.

Dhanyavad, Mala!
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P.S.
Feel free to contact me in case you look for an excellent city guide contact 😉

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