Among the many towns I visited until today, the one who messed up most with my mind has been Mumbai. No traveller, tourist or foreign worker is ever prepared to face such a wave of contrast. My childish dream have been turned upside down in a few moments during my first journey to India and I learned a few basic things I probably should have known before reaching the Subcontinent.
In 2012 I attended an international event in Mumbai about new energy projects. I didn’t miss the chance to taste the world where my grandfather once lived and about which I heard so many stories as a child.
I always linked India with the scents of tea, mango and humidity coming from the clothes of my grandfather Vittorio when he came back from his long transfers in the land of tigers, with the stories about improvised snake enchanters who died at the street borders in the Seventies, with the images of floods due to the monsoons, with the tales of the insurmountable walls dividing rich from poor people. Now was time to confront this images with reality.
At my first step down the aeroplane the moisture filled my nostrils: it was the same scent I had felt in my grandfather’s old suitcase, therefore the first contact with that world felt reassuring. I thought I was ready to explore that reality, but I was so very wrong…
Once I got my luggage, I tried to get a prepaid cab to get to my hotel. I tried to wait in line, but the locals kept going through. With other Westerners we said “it’s not going to be like this everywhere…”. We didn’t know yet that in India you have to fight for every centimetre.
After about thirty minutes I realized I had to be more aggressive, so I sided with Thomas, an English guy arrived to visit a friend, and we placed several trolleys beside the desk in order to restrain those trying to squeeze in from the sides. Eventually we managed to get a ticket with the cab’s number.
I suggest you always take a prepaid cab from the airport, unless you want to get stuck in endless bargaining with the drivers: if that’s the case, ask them for a price and start by offering the fourth part of it. With one thousand rupees you may find someone willing to take you on a daily trip around town.
And here is another hint: if you get out from the airport, make sure you don’t have to get back inside. Every entrance is guarded by soldiers and you won’t get rid of them so easily!
Once I was out of the airport, the noise was deafening. In India the horn is used in every possible situation, as when surpassing another vehicle, or to express bad mood, happiness, birth of a child, ‘I’m here!’ and whatever may cross your mind. If you are stuck in Mumbai’s traffic jam and you hear no noise, start worry: something terrible must have been happened!
To drive over six and a half kilometres it took us about two hours, but at least our luggage was still tied on the roof. Finally, I entered my room.
This was just the beginning of a long journey which allowed me to get to know this incredible country. When I got back in Italy, what I felt can only be compared to the Stockholm Syndrome. The traumatic, violent and unexpected experiences I had in Mumbai shaped in my inner consciousness the awareness of belonging to that place.