Mumbai Missives: Third First Impression

It  is my third time here and at dawn, Mumbai is nothing like Nairobi. Driving in from the airport at 6:30 am, the city still waking up, has a ruffled intimacy about it;  a city that has yet to brush its teeth and put itself together. The smell of warm sleep thick in the air, there is a dreamy languor hovering in the air. Not like Nairobi which at that time of the morning is already heaving with irritated impatience. It is a lovely time to arrive in a city which when fully awake is an assault on the senses. As we drive down the still dark streets, I see men in white cotton dhotis facing the Frangipani lined roadside, floating through their morning yoga sun salutations, their bodies effortlessly floating in a rhythm that is centuries old. When the sun finally deigns to rise, it carries with a haze, a thick smog obscuring the horizon and smudging the skyline as if a child scribbled white chalk over the outlines of the buildings. And of course, the Mumbai fragrance is also aroused. A mixture of thick ocean air, sewage and heavy masala.

There are a lot of people in Mumbai. In fact, it houses half of Kenya’s population in a city the same size as Nairobi. And you can feel it. Life spills out onto the streets. Space is a premium. And so is dignity. Buildings sit higgledy piggledy atop each other. Clothes hung out to dry on lines outside roadside shacks kiss the puffs of fumes farted out by Technicolor buses speeding by. The city could use a lick of paint. And a few of those city council workers that toil away on our highway. Nairobi positively sparkles in comparison to Mumbai. But the city feels like a lived in sofa set, shaping itself around the human body, not bothering to mask the stains spilled by clumsy exuberant children who became shaky wrinkle lined senior citizens.

If you thought Nairobi traffic is chaotic, Mumbai is like the apocalypse of order. Lanes are but a mere suggestion. Rickshaws, bicycles, motorbikes, scooters, cars, buses, trucks, pedestrians, cow all bully their way through in a battle of wits. A simple 500m ride can have you soil your pants several times over in sheer nerves.  And the din. Everyone hoots. All the time. Everywhere. The soundtrack of Mumbai is a cacophony of honks. I think perhaps Mumbai wallahs don’t fully trust that you can see them coming. They prefer to alert you of their impending arrival in a more obvious manner.

Beep. I am coming. Beep. Do you see me? Beep. I said I was coming. Beep. Watch out. Beep. You Bastard. Beep. Move. Beep. Be careful. Beep. Son of a. Beep. Daughter of a. Beep. Mother of a. Beep. Oh hello there. Beep. Take that. Beep. Ok I am coming

I wanted to post more tonight but the internet is infuriatingly slow. So till tomorrow.

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