Monday, November 23, 2009

First Impressions, Part II

And then the herding began.

After landing in Mumbai at 4:30am, being squashed in the aisle and the physical comfort perimeter of the Rabid was unduly compromised, we finally got off that plane. Seemed like forever. I stopped in the concord to wait for Spouse. Which was not the right thing to do, for I was accosted with, "No waiting! No standing! Must go!" So I went. And kept wenting until I figured out that if I walked slowly, Spouse would catch up.

Once Spouse caught up, we were herded through a maze to the escalator. We were herded through the Swine Flu Inspection (yes, government officials equipped with masks were screening folks for the Swine Flu.) We were herded through emigration. We were herded through customs. We were herded through money exchange. And finally we were herded through the prepaid taxi line.




Incidentally, if you become lackadaisical about your place in line, the herded horde will swallow you whole. Spouse and I learned rather quickly that you must get aggressive about not being considerate. Like non-consideration on crack.

Alas we were unleashed into the explosive smog of the Mumbai masses. It was 6:30am. Our next plane to Pune leaves at 9:55am. As was demanded by Spouse's employer, we were to check into a hotel for those few hours because the Mumbai airport fails to accommodate those waiting for transfers. Originally, we were scheduled to land around 2:00am, not 4:30. Checking into a hotel made more sense back when 2:00am was the plan.

We're grateful for that hotel. Even if we could only spend two hours there.

The twenty minutes from the taxi to the hotel were so very long. I know I've said stuff was long before, but this really truly was long. Many things smacked me right between the eyes with garish stereotypical-yet-authentic India.

Our first attack once we left the armed defenses of the airport included a gentlemen with a greatly disfigured left hand and missing teeth. He took our luggage, while pretending to be with the taxi company. He said he'd help us find our taxi. Once the taxi was found, he put the luggage in the car and demanded money. "Gimme ten you ess dollahs. Righ now. Ten you ess dollahs! Come on. Come on. I carry you luggage. Gimme money now." Spouse and I had no U.S. dollars. Just traded 'em. And he didn't want Rupees (Indian currency.)

This You Ess Dollah guy did not work for the taxi service and we had to fight him off. It's what people around here do. They stand around, looking official, waiting for greenies like ourselves to pounce on.

We climbed in the taxi. The driver was very cordial and drove reasonably well for the area (more on that to come.) But honestly? I was scared spitless. The chaos of it all is indescribable. It's 6:30am and I'll bet 10 of Mumbai's 13 (14?) million people are asleep. And it's still chaos! Aaaah!

The ride to the hotel was paramount at revealing the city. We saw it all - wild dogs running around, swarms of people sleeping on the side of the road and half-naked children with mangled hair tromping around barefoot. There were rows and rows of corrugated metal shanties with blue tarps for shelter and/or decoration, people peeing in the gutter, and trails of garbage.

I had done my research. I had see that accurately presented Slumdog movie. I had seen many pictures. I was prepared for the poverty, the children, the garbage and the pollution. I wasn't prepared, however, for the emotion that comes with seeing these things in person. I wasn't prepared for how it would make me feel.

Oh how it made me feel.

When the taxi turned onto the hotel access road, we were met with six or seven armed security guards. One had a large mirror that he used to check the undercarriage of the car. Others opened every cranny of the car looking for weapons. After nothing was found, they let us go. We drove a few hundred yards more, turned the corner and were presented with this ray of 5-star studded streak of sunshine. Angels were singing. Harps were playing. We were somewhere safe!

We walked through the security screening (all hotels have metal detectors and x-ray machines) and were presented with marble, brass and leather luxury, tropical trees, flashy fountains and new-age, serenity-now disco.

Here we are, a hundred yards or so away from the most desperate of situations, where millions have no bed, or clean water, or food. Here we are... about to plop down a wad of cash for a measly two hours in a room.

It just didn't seem right. Still doesn't.

But what do you do? Subject yourself to the elements in the most terrifying place you've ever been? And throw off the heap that comes at you, arms waving and yelling at you for money? Thinking that if you don't just give it to 'em they'll force it from you anyway?





Guards at the road to the hotel in Mumbai.

Five-Star Rest!

After resting for two glorious hours, we made the trek back to the airport -- only to go through the same madness once again. But we made it to Pune with all of our luggage and belongings intact!

Slums from window of airplane.
All of the flat area with blue is wall to wall cardboard/metal shanties

Mumbai from airplane window.


Pune is different. It's nice. Friendlier. Not so dog-eat-dog (for lack of a better term.) It also helps that we were greeted by our driver for the week. He had a sign that read, "Mr. Spouse of Rabidrunner."

Don't laugh! The sign really did say that.


Lars said...

What an excellent sign. This series of posts is quite exciting. I feel like I need to go watch Slumdog all over again or at least listen to some sitars while reading.

Be safe Rabid!

Carol Baiey said...

I'm loving reading all this! Please tell me you have a picture of the sign! That is just way too funny! Can't wait for more!

Winder said...

I am just happy you are safe. Keep posting so my Nervous Nellie self can deal. Oh, and by-the-way love the hat. It sends images of The Derby racing through my brain.

The MacMizzles said...

I was not prepared for how this post would make me feel. Your ability to put me right there with you is uncanny. Your blog will be famous I feel. I am going to say prayer, I am also going to hug and love your children constantly...for you.

PS> Have you found the bathrooms yet??? Or are the slums not inviting? :)

GAK said...

Well, I tried to "warn" explain it to you. Hope your time is enjoyable there. Hopefully Spouse and you will get sick at the same time so you can spend some time together in the hotel, tag teaming on the $h*ter. Remember, NO uncooked fruits/veggies!

rabidrunner said...

Guys. I totally lied. The sign said Spouse's Real Name, not Mr. Spouse of Rabidrunner. See isn't this blog stuff great? I can totally lie and you can totally call me on it.

rookie cookie said...

Yowza. All of this stresses me out. And I would have been emotional about seeing little kids living in slums. It would have made me cry.

p.s. This is going to sound so weird, but you were in my dream last night. I know weird. But I was in Paris in my dream and I saw you there. And we acted like it was like waving hello at a neighbor at the grocery store.

Mandee said...

unbelievable- i am so glad you are posting it as you living it! on the edge of my seat.

Sparks said...

Why in the world did you clarify about the sign?

I feel really good about knowing you were kidding, but I wanted everyone else suckered.

Whit's right, this sucks. I love hearing about your trip--all of it (we should have a sleepover and you tell me all about it and I don't let you sleep and then you actually fall asleep on a tiny love seat)--but it's sad and frustrating nevertheless.

rabidrunner said...

I'm flattered that Rookie had dreams about me last night... I should send you a case of Nutella. Just for that.

Glad you like the hat dear Winder. It's more of a Wyoming Downs hat than a Kentucky Derby hat, however. Do they still have the Wyoming Downs? We should get dressed up and go the Wyoming Downs.

MacMizzles, the Slumdog flick made the slums look inviting. They are not inviting. I will not be looking for the toity you speak of. Sorry. I just can't do it. Delicacy.

rabidrunner said...

Frustrations and all, I cannot trade this experience. It's a life time life changing kind a thing.