Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Maxed Out

Every day is an assault on the senses. Every sense. Especially around the area were staying in, one of the densest on earth. It all fills out onto the streets and alleys. During Holi, Christians were celebrating Easter and Muslims were celebrating Eid. It was crazy. On Saturday, I suddenly noticed 10 or 15 goats as I walked down the street. I saw a man grab one, and turned my head as he put his knee on its neck and slashed its throat. This continued throughout the day, as the goat hides piled up and the guys were pulling out the entrails in the shop next door. The blood and inside just got washed into the street and from there….???? The air smelled of dead animals, but it was festive. Music blared, people hollered, the sun baked, the dust kicked up. Upon leaving Mumbai, I was maxed out. After my roommate left, I moved to a cheaper room. But it was on the top floor, and had small amounts of pigeon feathers and droppings filtering through the ceiling when the fan was on. There were only a few food options around, and I was very tired of rice, curry, paneer, samosas, and biryani. It was hot. The parties ran through the night, and all the smoke from the bonfires and general Mumbai continuously found its way into my room. My 7 day headache was now on day 3.

I hate to use cliché’s, but Mumbai truly is a ‘maximum city.’ The trains here make the trains in China look like a kiddy ride. Forget about doors, but there is always room, somehow. Time is a strange thing here. As a traveler, the more you stay, the more difficult and wearing it becomes. But, if you move here, it will certainly take time to get settled, and adjust to the absolute craziness that makes Bombay well, Bombay. By the end of my time there, I was completely maximized. It is a city of dreams. Bollywood. The Ocean. The clubs. Skyscrapers. IT jobs. It is all there. And nightmares: Slums. Gangs. Heat. More Heat. Filth. Extortion. Absolute masses of people. Violence. Religious conflict. More than anything, this place is REAL. And there is a hope to it:

“If you are late for work in the morning in Bombay, and you reach the station just as the train is leaving the platform, you run up to the packed compartments and find many hands stretching out to grab you on board, unfolding outwards from the train like petals. As you run alongside the train, you will be picked up and some tiny space will be made for your feet on the edge of the open doorway…Your fellow passengers, already packed tighter than cattle are legally allowed to be, their shirts already drenched in sweat in the badly ventilated compartment, having stood like for hours, retain an empathy for you, know that your boss might yell at you or cut your pay if you miss the train, and will make space where none exists to take one more person with them. And at the moment of contact, they do not know if the hand that is reaching for theirs belongs to a Hindu or Muslim or Christian or Brahmin or untouchable or whether you were born in this city or arrived only this morning or whether you are from Malabar Hill or New York of Jogeshwari. All they know is that you’re trying to get into the city of gold, and that’s enough. Come on board, they say. We’ll adjust.

-Suketu Mehta, Maximum City

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