This post was first written and published on an older blog in October 2005.

Another trip to Bombay – three days of hectic work, traveling, missing meals and some socialising and serendipitous-bumping-into-friends.

It was the first time that I didn’t so much as get to look at the beach or the sea, except a couple of taxi drives near Haji Ali, which incidentally looks absolutely breathtaking, lit up at night. I was informed that they are going to bring the monument down for it has irreparable structural damages. What an awful pity. I tried to capture the beauty while driving past at night through the taxi, but all I could manage was this:

At my arrival in the city, I hired one of the yellow-top Fiat taxis instead of a Cool Cab this time – all because of my disorientation with the new terminal at the airport and some confusion owing to my phone deciding to die on me. A one and a half hour drive was to follow, and I wasn’t looking forward to the traffic I would encounter – the obnoxious October heat of Bombay was bad enough. The confusion, my disorientation and the fact that I had been strapped to my seat in the plane for a full extra hour because they wouldn’t let us take off due to “VVIP movement” at the Delhi airport had resulted in me being not at my affable best. Well, nothing could be done, so I loaded my bags and myself into the too-rickety and worn-down cab and we grunted off onto the Western Express Highway.

I was sitting there with my dour mood, when the cabbie struck up a conversation.

Cabbie (C): Madam, aap dilli se aayi hain? (Madam, have you arrived from Delhi?)

Me: (with a suspicious look and curt manner that’s a default Delhiite reaction to such probing) Haan. (Yes)

C: Dilli mein to barsaat zyaada nahin hoti hogi. Aapko pata hai bombay mein 26 July ko baadh aayi thi? (It doesn’t rain too much in Delhi, does it? Do you know Bombay was flooded on 26 July?)

Me: Haan pata hai. (Yes, I know)

C: Yeh mera gaadi yehaan tak doob gaya tha, gaadi paani mein chhod kar apna jaan bachaya. chaar din baad gaadi mila, ek hafta garage mein khada raha toh phir chalna shuru kiya…apni toh rozi hai, bahut nuksaan hua madam. (My car was drowned till this point (pointing towards the top of the steering wheel)… I left the car in the water in order to save my own life. Found it after four days, had to leave it at the garage for a week, before it started running again. This is my bread and butter. I had to face major losses, Madam).

Me: (slowly getting out of typical Delhiite mode): Accha? (Ya?)

C: Sab yehaan ke logon ki galti hai madam, dekho kitna kachra hai, sab saala city ko apna ghar toh bana leta hai par ghar jaisa saaf nahin rakhta. Bahut bheedh ho gaya hai bombay mein. Dilli mein toh aisa nahin hai na? Humne TV mein dekha hai… bahut saaf hai… bahut kam log hain. (It’s all the people’s fault, Madam, look how dirty it is (pointing to the roadside)… everyone makes the city their home but doesn’t keep it clean like their homes. Bombay has become really crowded. Delhi is not like this, is it? I have seen on TV, it’s very clean, very few people…)

Me: Nahin, saara dilli saaf nahin hai, aur log toh wahaan bhi bahut hain… (No, all of Delhi isn’t all that clean, and even Delhi is crowded…)

C: Haan, lekin woh country ka capital hai na, sab neta log rehtein hain wahaan, saaf toh hoga hi, saara jamaadar log hi toh politician banta hai (laughing). Madam, dilli bombay jitna bada shehar hai kya? Hum kabhi gaya nahin…sirf TV pe dekha hai. (Yes, but that’s the capital of the country, all politicians live there.., it has to be cleaner, after all, it’s all the uneducated sweepers who become this country’s politicians (laughing). Madam, is Delhi as big a city as Bombay? I haven’t been there, have only seen it on TV)

Me (now smiling, despite myself): Dilli bombay se teen guna bada hai… (Delhi is thrice as large as Bombay…)

C (wide eyed): Sacchi?! Par itna traffic toh nahin hai… News mein dekha hai, bahut chaudi sadke hain, zyaada kich pich nahin hai… (Really?! But it wouldn’t have as much traffic… I have seen it on the news, the roads are very wide there, no chaos there…)

Me: Haan sadke toh acchi hain lekin traffic bhi bahut hai..jitni badi sadak, utni zyaada gaadiya … (Yes, the roads are wide, but there’s a lot of traffic there too… as many cars as the roads are wide..)

C: Sab bade sheharon ka same problem hai Madam… yeh UP-Bihar ka log bade sheharon mein aa kar use ganda karta hai  aap bura nahin maanna… Aap UP ya Bihar se toh nahin hain na? (All big cities face the same problem Madam… these people from UP and Bihar come to the big cities and dirty it… (sudden guilty look in the rear view mirror)… Oh, please don’t mind, I hope you aren’t from UP or Bihar?)

Me: (I am a third generation Delhiite with a UP based ancestry, but not wanting to make him uncomfortable): Nahin. (No)

C: (evidently relieved): Madam, aapne India Gate dekha hai? Humne TV mein dekha hai… bahut solid dikhta hai. Gateway se bhi accha. (Madam, have you seen the India Gate? I have seen it on TV, looks really majestic, even better than the Gateway of India)

Me: (beginning to get tired of the conversation, despite my amusement at his chattering): Haan dekha hai. (Yes, I have)

C: Qutub Minar bhi? (The Qutub Minar too?)

Me: Haan (Yes)

C: Madam, aapko pata hai Asia… ya pata nahin… shayad world ka… sabse bada slum idhar bombay mein hai? (Madam, do you know that the largest slum of Asia… I don’t know… perhaps the world, is here in Bombay?)


And it went on and on and on, till I finally reached my office at Colaba. The friendly cabbie lugged my bag all the way into the office on the first floor of the building, despite my feeble protests. Then, waving away my thanks, he folded his hands in a polite namaste (Good Day, Madam) and smilingly drove away.

My dourness had evaporated. I would have nipped the conversation in the bud had I been in Delhi. I would have never let him handle my bags.

Friendliness threatens us in Delhi, makes us wary. In Bombay, a simple chatterbox of a cabbie lifted my spirits inspite of myself.

And that is what I love about Bombay.


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