“I don’t understand why people think Mumbai is so intense,” I said to my host Linita as we rode to the grocery store in an autorickshaw.
“Well, it depends on a person’s perspective. A person chooses how they perceive what they see. You choose to see things in a positive way,” she replied.
I hadn’t thought of it that way before. I played a game with myself and turned my perspective around. I observed everything with a negative attitude. Horns honking constantly around me. An unending jumble of cars, rickshaws, motorbikes, and pedestrians filling the roads, weaving in and around in chaos. Red lights are mere signals to yield. This must be a place that is scary, dangerous, irresponsible, and insane. We pass a man standing on the sidewalk and taking a piss on the wall. The choppy road throws us up, down, and sideways so that we have to brace ourselves to not fly out of the vehicle.
Ughhhhhhhh. This experiment was horribly unpleasant and I only did it for 5 minutes max. I flipped the switch back to my normal self and told Linita the psychological results.
We rode over another set of bumps and I laughed out loud from the bouncing.
I’m not a pollyanna, although I may sound like one sometimes. I don’t *not* see the negative, but I naturally put fewer things into the negative category by default. There’s a line between things that are actually bad and things that a foreigner, an observer, may be more likely to view with a negative lens.
My favorite short-distance mode of transport is the autorickshaw. (Long-distance face being the train). The rickshaws have curtains you can draw closed to keep out the sun, but they weren’t necessary. Most drivers have a Hindu god figurine, often Ganesh, on their dashboard. Some have container gardens with leafy plants growing in soil.
The seats are always padded, which makes for a comfortable ride on the pockmarked asphalt. Sitting with good posture is essential because bouncing up and down can otherwise throw out your lower back. But with my spine straight and body not rigid, with my hiking boot covered feet splayed out and tamped down in the perfect spread to keep myself in place it’s so fun. I feel like Mr. Toad in The Wind in the Willows when he first gets an automobile and is driving wildly through the countryside.
The rickshaws in Mumbai have meters like any other taxi, so you’re never going to be cheated. And the drivers are so helpful and honest. They give exact change and worked with me to figure out how to get me back home when my phone still wasn’t connecting to the phone carrier.
The streets change smell as you walk. Often there’s little more than a vague scent of petrol from the vehicles. Sometimes it smells ripe, like trash decomposing into a puddle. This is especially where empty lots get covered inches deep trash and the stray dogs pick through looking for food. There are a many stray dogs milling around or sleeping on the street. Most are alert but some are ill or hurt. It’s such a common sight here. This I do hate, and it pulls on my heart.
There are elevated sidewalks in many areas of the city. The first time I saw this was by the hostel during a brief period of awaking from hibernation. The multi-lane streets were very busy and the elevated sidewalks stretch above the roads over countless blocks so you don’t have to walk on the street at all. Tons of people were walking around at 9 pm in the Santacruz neighborhood, at least half of them scrolling on their smart phones and listening to whatever on their telltale Airpods.
The McDonald’s here has great Indian choices. I got the McAloo Tikka sandwich: potatoes & peas patty topped with chopped red onions and a mystery sauce that looks and tastes a lot like Japanese yum yum sauce. On a bun, of course. The meal comes with regular fries and some super cool soda choices. I tried Masala Coke and Chilli Guava Sprite. The Masala Coke had a spicy kick that when combined with the fizz made me cough a little after every sip.
And finally, a propos to nothing above: I love the meanings of the names here. Chiraag means earthen lamp, like where a jinn/genie might be trapped. Sawan is a name related to the monsoons. Usha means dawn. I also love how people tell me their name’s meaning in the next breath after telling me the name itself.