My taxi driver calls it MumBay. I call it MumBye. Most locals I meet still call it Bombay. That confusion is so totally the feeling of the city at first glance–but I can’t even say “glance” because the moment you get there, you’re saturated, a piece of fabric dropped into a boiling dye vat. There’s no standing aside, observing, or you might get robbed or hit by a car or God knows what. If Mumbai were a sentence, it would be an endless run-on: Smash honk yellow cab red bus bonk jazz moombay me a roasted river of glittery slummy…well, add a noun and a verb and keep going.
My brother Dave once told me that when a friend of his got off the plane in India, every single thing was unfamiliar–not one vaguely recognizable smell or sound or face. That’s pretty much right on for a first visit, I’d say.
I arrived about 10 hours late due to delayed flights and missed connections that sent me traveling AVL-ORD-LHR-BOM (Yeah, that’s Chicago and London in the middle!) so my tail was already dragging when I joined about 300 other visitors in two painfully slow lines at 4am at the Mumbai airport. Apparently, we were unexpected guests. There was so little staff on duty, we were all relying on each other for directions in innumerable languages from Urdu to French to Romanian. Plus, people’s English was so strangely accented it was indecipherable to me, I’m sure partly due to my exhaustion.
We ended up forming small like-minded groups to try to make sense of things; my group of four included Luisa, a young hiker from Colombia who spoke only Spanish, a guy from Philadelphia meeting his girlfriend for a Mumbai wedding, and a Malaysian man on a buying trip. It took 3 hours to make it to the front of the line. When we got there, Luisa was told she was at the wrong counter and had to go to the end of the other queue, no exceptions, no line-cutting. If I were her, I thought, I might just book the next flight home.
The abridged story for me was that I got out of the airport around 8 or 9am, got to my hotel, got 3 hours of sleep, and had to go catch my overnight bus to Hampi. The long story is for another day. Over a very cold Bombay Sapphire martini.