I’ve thankfully arrived fully intact at my hotel (hostel?) the Anjali Inn, and will be going down in a few minutes to attempt to order breakfast off of a card menu they handed me last night. My two flights, first from Chicago to London, then from London here to Mumbai were of course uneventful, but I had a wonderful chatty and talkative seatmate for the first leg of the flight – a Montessori school teacher from Slovakia named Danka who had just finished her first-ever trip to the USA for an international school conference. She had only found out that her school was sending her to the USA 2 days before she left, and then she only was able to spend 3 days in the country! She told me that her “Esta” form, the E.U. version of a visa to the USA, was good for 3 years though, and had only cost 10 pounds. I ruefully wished that such an amazing feat of paperwork existed for my Arab friends to allow them to come to the USA so easily.
My second seatmate was an Indian-American, a quiet guy named Maheer who taught me a few Hindi words – he was on his way back to Mumbai to visit his family but he was quick and proud to point out that he was an American first and foremost. I slept for most of that flight; chatting seemed to be far from our minds.
Upon arriving at the Indira Gandhi airport, getting my ride to the Anjali couldn’t have been easier – the customs official barely glanced at my hard-earned $150 visa, and after making a withdrawl of several thousand rupees of local currency (the exchange rate currently being almost 61 to a single dollar) I made my way outside to the massive throng of people – young, old, and taxi drivers who seemed ageless in how they immediately hounded me like horseflies – where Patel, a man with a printed sign bearing my name, was waiting for me. As we waited for his car to circle around the airport to pick us up, a trim man in a polo shirt and jeans said something to him, pointing at me. I wondered if he was another driver, asking whether Patel was actually going to take me somewhere or just sit there, my money not being properly used. Patel showed him his card and the Anjali Inn papers, and then man walked off. The man was a plainclothes cop, he told me, making sure I wasn’t trying tPuri Bhaji or Ussal Pavo hussle you off somewhere.
Our driver found us a few minutes later, and bundled my two small bags into the back, and me next to them. My eyes were immediately drawn to the jeweled cross necklace wrapped around the rearview mirror. “Is one of you a Christian?” I asked. They both laughed. The driver replied that he was Muslim, and Patel said that he was Hindu. “But this car, for both of us, so we pick something not bothering either.”
The room they gave me was small but clean, although a slight scent of mildew pervades most things unfortunately. This being the rainy monsoon season probably doesn’t help. But the A/C works and so does the internet and it’s only for a couple days, so I don’t mind. I took a brief walk around outside near the hotel a few minutes ago, to see the area in the light – it definitely seems like a poorer neighborhood, judging by the open stormwater drains in the sidewalks, the piles of rotting fruit cores (also on the sidewalks) and then heavy, pervasive smell of exhaust that already seems to be cloying the back of my throat.
Time to wash that out with some Puri Bhaji or Ussal Pav! And then get myself down to the Mahim train station (somehow) by 10am for my first guided tour meet-up.