Surviving in Mumbai: You are never quite prepared for India


The city encountered on the road that until today has created more chaos in my mind was Mumbai. The traveler, tourist or worker who is, is never prepared to face the shock wave of contrasts that is thrown at you against every step taken within this world. I want to tell you how my childhood dreams have been subjugated and improved by some moments of my first trip to India, teaching me some basic rules that I should have known before venturing into that reality.

In 2012 I was asked to attend an international event in Mumbai for the presentation of new projects in the power generation sector. So I took the opportunity to get a taste of the reality in which my grandfather had lived and on which I had heard so many stories.

I have always associated India with the scent of tea, mango and moisture that came from the clothes of my grandfather Vittorio when he returned from his long business trips to the country of tigers, to stories about the incanters of improvised snakes that died in the seventies roads and beaches of Goa, images of floods due to monsoons, stories about the impassable sectarian walls that separated the rich from the poor. All these images in my mind could finally have an encounter with reality.

At the first step in the tunnel that connects the aircraft to the earth a gust of humidity September September monsoon invaded my nostrils: it was the same smell that I felt in the old suitcase full of labels of my grandfather. The first approach with that world has therefore reassured me, since I thought I was ready and to know, even partially, that reality. Never error was more serious …

Recovered the luggage, I ventured to a prepaid taxi to head to the hotel. Of course I tried to get in line with other Westerners, but the problem is that the locals threw themselves like crazy stones on the reservation desk. Talking to other people we started to say “maybe it’s just a case, it will not be everywhere, maybe there’s a problem and therefore they can not respect the line …”. We were still virgins of the place and therefore we could not know that every inch in India must be earned with sweat, blood and cunning.

After about thirty minutes of orderly waiting in line I decided that, if I wanted to have at least a minimum chance of reaching the hotel, I had to adopt a more aggressive behavior, so I studied with my occasional companion in arms, the English Thomas who he was going to visit a friend, a strategy to obstruct the side passage and facilitate the disposal of the row. We then placed several carts on the sides of the taxi booking counter to create a containment barricade towards those who tried to enter from the sides, finally managing to get the reservation ticket with the driver number.

Always use the prepaid taxi if you do not want to get lost in contracting on the price of the race, in case you want to have fun, you always propose the amount to the driver and offer him a quarter of what he asked. If he refuses, go to another; keep in mind that with a thousand rupees (about eleven euros) you can find someone willing to take you around the city every day.

A little advice: when you leave the airport, try not to go back, because in India all the entrances are guarded by the army, which will not let you in if you do not have an outgoing flight. Remember to always bring the ticket printed on paper when you have to leave otherwise … you will not enter or lose hours and hours to discuss with the military!

The noise just came out of the airport is deafening. The horn in India is used to signal the most varied range of activities and feelings, including overtaking, bad mood, happiness, presence, birth of a child, belonging to a group and a myriad of other things that you never thought of. If you were in Mumbai traffic and there was silence, start worrying: something catastrophic is going to happen and the world will end! You will also notice that on many vans appears the writing “horn ok please”, which is as if in Italy we wrote “please ring the horn because otherwise I feel alone”.

After spending two hours in the car to cover a distance of 6.4 kilometers – yes, that’s right … I used to load baggage on my shoulder and go on foot – and discovered with amazement that the suitcases were still firmly anchored to the roof of the car with a very strong twine like that to hang clothes, I entered the hotel.

If instead you do not have luggage, rely on a rickshaw that for a few rupees will thrash in traffic as if there was no tomorrow. Of course you will have to get the same amount of courage to launch yourself with a parachute.

Next time I will tell you about the Pharaonic and slum buffets, two opposing aspects that coexist in Indian reality. I let you know that once I arrived in Italy I experienced a particular psychological state, which by definition can be compared to the Stockholm Syndrome, created by the sensibly traumatic, violent and unexpected experience unexpected awareness belonging to that place …