What a goddamn hectic mess of a city. I spent just under two weeks there. Caught up in the strange energy of the place.
First thing noticed. Heat. A wet humid cloud of heat that hits you as soon as that door pops open. You begin to sweat, the jeans and lumberjack shirt you wore in London cling and constrict about you. This is the last time you will wear them in this country.
Second. Smell. This one gets you a little later. After baggage claim and passport control. Right as you exit the terminal. Its the rancid perfume of 21 million people, all living on-top of each other. Its spices, car exhausts, rats, garbage, piss, shit and cigarettes.
Third. People. As I mentioned, 21 million. All of them appearing to have come out to greet you. The city writhes with this torrential, unrelenting energy. The place is busy, stuffed far beyond capacity.
Fourth. Noise. Right now, sitting, waiting for a bus that will float me out of this city, a car backfires, the fan above me gently hums, the sizzle of a man cooking his street food, three different languages; English, Hindi and Israeli, pans clattering, footsteps, rickshaws and my pen on paper a gentle reminder that this city is leaving an indelible mark on me. All this overlaid on the constant cacophony of car horns. Creating a bastardized, desperate white noise. Sleep comes hard.
A few days pass. You get used to the smell and the people and the heat. The only thing constantly pressing against your psyche, never once showing signs of receding is the noise. You begin to crave silence. To be able to close your eyes and just breathe.
I begin training. Running, tracing my way along Juhu Beach. A sad stretch of sand trapped between two estuaries. Cutting and weaving my way through the flotsam of debris washed up from……Where-ever.
The morning after the night before. Festival night. Juhu is the worst I have seen. Dinosauresque earth movers scalp the beach of the never-ending trash. I run through it. There is no cutting and weaving today. There is barely any sand. Just trash.
I run further. Past the boys playing cricket. Past the men selling coconuts. Past the fishermen, old and wizened. They’ve lived out their whole lives here, tending their nets and waiting to cast off towards the setting sun, where they will dance with the sea.
I run past this plethora of life, right to the edge of the universe. I then see a crow pecking at the entrails of a dead rat and it snaps me out of this strange mental trip. I turn around and begin the long run back.
On my second day in the city I discover the simple joys of traveling in rickshaws. They are driven by barefoot men in simple khaki uniforms. Together we bounce and flow, swimming through the traffic like some maniac fish. Propelled by the high pitched whine of a two stroke, it doesn’t give you confidence as an engine should and the whole thing feels seconds away from tearing itself apart. Still nothing beats riding in one in the mid afternoon sun. Tearing over the city. Locked in the constant movement. A light breeze stroking through.
We take a trip to the centre of Mumbai. The beggars turn to tourists, the rickshaws to new(ish) air-conditioned taxicabs. We drink cheap beer at a cafe with gunshot wounds peppered across the walls. Half cut we take a ferry. One hour across the bay and we are at an island. Home to Elephanta Caves a small, yet beautiful cave complex. It takes us three hours to get back to our small area of the city.
The city begins to wear thin.
So we decide to leave.
We book a bus out of the city. And as it breaks free from the insatiable gravity of the place, ricocheting over poorly kept roads, it is quiet. And, for the first time since arriving, I sleep.