July 13-18, 2002
India forces you to look beneath the surface of things…there is more here than your eyes see…a midnight ride into the city from the airport in the non-A/C taxi with hot humid squalid air blowing the aroma of grey water and human waste across my face was not my idea of a good time. But we knew it. Expected it. Actually it was not as bad as I thought it would be and as I am writing this on the second day already I don’t notice it. Everyone remarks how cool it is for this time of year in India but after coming from a wintery South Africa it may as well be a tandoori oven.
Bombay was renamed Mumbai in 1996. Those that favored the change believe the name, derived from the goddess Mumba who was worshipped by the original Koli inhabitants, reclaims the city’s heritage and signifies it’s emergence from a colonial past. When I asked the taxi driver driving us from the airport which name he uses for the city he said that Mumbai was a new name and “people keep calling it Bombay so I guess we use both names,” he said shrugging-seeming not to care which name his city is called.
Eating In India
A thali dinner (there is no �th� sound in Hindi so it is pronounced t-holly) is a traditional meal on a large round platter that isserved with small tin bowls (katoris) around a larger bowl of rice and costs 10-50 rupees ($l.00) or more if it contains meat. It usually consists of a variety of curry vegetable dishes,relishes, papadam, puris or chapatis and rice. Often there is a yogurt raita and rice pudding for dessert. We had thali twice at “The Majestic Hotel,” a plain large dining hall on the Colaba Causeway where we were staying. The restaurant was full of working locals, mostly men, some barefoot, some in pants and shirts and some Hindus and Muslims all in white, some in blue, yellow and white turbans-all who couldn�t keep their eyes off us Westerners. The non English-speaking waiter found the pictures in our Lonely Planet India a wondrous curiosity.
During lunch one day I struck up a conversation with two black African men at the next table. They were from Nigeria but one had gone to school in Madison Wisconsin. I asked if he thought he would ever go back to the States. No, he said, it is so much easier for us to be here…people are so nice…no hassling he said with a knowing look…I get that it is easier to be black in India than in the US.
A Sidewalk Miracle
A few steps down the street at a right angle from the hotel we are tempted by a large group of people eating at night from a pavement stall on the street. Huge thin handmade chapatis called rotis were twirled around in the air by the young chapati-maker and then cooked on a red-hot half-globe shaped grill. The chicken and lamb kabobs, dahl, (pureed split peas), bharta (pureed eggplant), curried lentils sweet and sour tamarind sauce and fresh hot chapatis exploded with flavor on your tongue.
But half way through our meal a big truck drove up and several men got out and walked over and motioned to our table…table…have table…they said roughly and then stood and watched us intently waiting for their table. At first we refused to give up the table…they were not asking for the table of the Indian family behind us although they did take two of their chairs leaving the mother standing…how silly we Americans are-expecting fairness! What? I can�t believe they want our table…what are we supposed to do with our food…put it on a chair…the sidewalk…what? But the men just kept standing there staring at us…feeling very uncomfortable…so not wanting to be the ugly Americans we give up the table-finally figuring it must not be legal for the restaurant to have the 4 or 5 metal tables on the sidewalk. We gathered up all the little dishes, the chapatis and our water while they threw the table in the truck and took off! Bob
and I just sat there looking at each other for a few seconds…should we take the food to the hotel…no Bob says…so we set the food on a third chair and were proceeding with our meal as best we could when the truck came back with our table and the chairs belonging to the other family…a bureaucratic sidetrack…now they can say they did their job? I don’t understand I said to the 7 year old boy with his family at the table behind us…what has happened? “A miracle!” he shouted with bright eyes as if he knew exactly what he was talking about!
Tags: Bombay, Bombay (Mumbai), Conversations, Food, Funny Experiences, Hotels,Hostels & Guesthouses, India, Mumbai