Friday 3rd part 2
Henry at hotel 8.40
Pay for 4 more nights
To internet cafe near Eros Eros cinema
To Dhobi Ghats near Mahalaxmi racecourse
Haji Ali Durgah – meet bloke from UP whose son is studying MSc in Genetics at Birmingham and collapse into giggles at this example of a small world.
Then bus to HSBC
taxi to near hotel [scary scam]
sleep, wash, xerox maps
train to Grant Road is full, yet at each station more people literally hurl themselves on
Walk for 3 hours around Grant Road/bazaar area. This teaches me what Bombay drivers mean when they use their horns. They’re saying either
- I’m behind you [and I can’t be bothered to turn on my lights] so get out of my way
- I’m behind you. Even though there is no way you can get out of my way because something is in your way (and you’re blaring to get out of your way, not that it can because…), I don’t care, get out of my way anyway!
Further definitions will be added once I’ve understood them. Unfortunately, like an orang-utan’s ‘ook’, all these are expressed in exactly the same tone.
I saw 4 taxis blocking each others’ paths. There was space for at least 2 to reverse out of the way but no….
However, Mumbai drives have to be the best in the world – no-one else I’ve seen could squeeze through the gaps they do. Also, I don’t think anyone should try to take on India in battle – everyone here is already used to the noise and confusion and to maimed and dying lying around.
decide what to post home [I’ve realised that I have quite a lot of surplus kit]
decide what to do next
- today sightsee in Colaba/Fort/Churchgate area, try to contact local chess federation, see Mumba Devi [city deity] temple
- sunday Elephanta island, wash clothes
- Monday if possible, speak to local chess folk
- tuesday head for Goa
- so started by walking to Colaba. Met first scam – a holyman will almost force some sugar sweets on you, then tie a cord around your wrist, bless you and then ask for a donation. The way I can see it’s a scam is his wallet full of change, ready for folk with big denomination notes.
Another is the “buy my baby milk”. I’ve refused several of these and each time felt as if I had killed a baby. I can see the child is thin and dirty and I can’t see any reason why its life is any less valuable than mine (apart from I can do some useful things and it can’t yet), or why I have any more right to life than it. I can almost see why death-squads target street children – but don’t let that make you think I agree with their solution. Mine would be an airborne infertility virus that stopped over 90% of people being fertile, without discriminating between races or financial conditions. OK, it wouldn’t help much now but it would stop the next generation of utter bloody misery and the next generation of western capitalists from buggering the planet for the rest of creation. (Now call me a hypocrite because I flew here.)
Whatever the theorising, if anywhere could break my heart it’s here. I sat for a moment near the natural history museum to drink and cool off. A pre-teen girl was playing with a toddler and the fun they were having caught my eye – I love seeing children having fun. One came over and tried to insist I give her my water bottle – there was a playful battle of grunts since she spoke no English and I speak no Marathi.
Eventually, a woman who I thought was her mum came over to talk. It turns out she was the older sister (called Vayshali), aged 13 (I had thought about 18!). Their mother, Anita, also turned up. We (mostly Vayshali and I) talked about conditions here and in the UK. We talked about homelessness here and there – the only thing I could say is that not so many people sleep in the streets because it’s too cold.
They also asked whether I was rich. [My answer was “I used to be when I had a job. When I go back to the UK in September and get a job, then I will be rich again. For now, I have no job so I am poor”]. I suppose I should have said “yes by Mumbai standards, no by UK standards, even when I have a job”. Vayshali is in 8th grade, studying English and Marathi. She says she wants to be a doctor. I think she could, given the chance: she certainly seems bright enough. There’s no way I’d be as fluent in any foreign language as she is if I had to haggle for a living and lived on the street – I’d be too busy trying to get food to have time for school. Vayshali also was clean and bejewelled enough to say ‘I take care of how I look and am proud of it’ (unless she was yet another scam-artist).
So on Monday, I’m going to ask her to show me her school because it will have a postal address. If it turns out to be true, then once I am back in the UK, have a job, have sorted my finances and have some surplus, then I’ll send the school some money to be spent on Vayshali. If she can’t show me her school then I’ll walk…
Saturday 4th part 2 – synagogue blues
You may know that my mother’s uncle lived in Mumbai from around 1938, after getting out of Dachau, to some time in the 1960s. My mother tells me that during this time he became Indian chess champion. He was also a fairly religious jew. Part of my reason for coming to Mumbai was to see if I could find out ny more about him.
So having seen big synagogue marked on my toutrist map and it being sabbath (which means the place should be in use), in I went. I talked with a very friendly hazan who invited me to come back to the end-of-sabbath prayers because someone who’d worshipped in Mumbai all his life (and was now 75) would be there. If anyone could remember my uncle, it would be him. I burst into tears – I’ve been carrying this hope to get a bit closer to this side of my roots for years – and was reminded that it’s forbidden to be unhappy on the sabbath! I choked out “happy tears” and promised to come back later.
I did and met the elder. He can’t remember my great-uncle but suggested I try the University, the David Sassoon library (it was endowed by a rich jew in the late 1900s) and also come back during the week to look at the synagogue records. There are also a couple of other synagogues in Mumbai so I haven’t given up hope yet.
So, time to crawl into my pit to get up early tomorrow for a sea-journey…