Mumbai Moments…

Back at the start of 2012, I read a book called Shantaram. Written by Gregory David Roberts, it is a narrative based on Roberts’ experiences in the Bombay underworld. It is a wonderful read, my first taste of India and according to the Indian friends I know, an accurate depiction of Bombay.

This week I got to see it for myself.

Lucky enough to travel to India for work, I spent an overnight in Delhi – not enough time to see anything unfortunately – before heading south for two days in Mumbai (aka Bombay) and after a day at our factory and offices, it was time to experience a little local colour with beer and vittels at Cafe Mondegar.

Cafe Mondegar is located on Colaba Causeway, (officially known as Shahid Baghat Singh Road), a land link between Colaba and Old Woman’s Island in the south of Mumbai and a buzzing commercial street filled with bars, restaurants, cafes and throngs of people. Cafe Mondegar, or Mondy’s to the locals, is a hub for both local and expatriate socialising with tables and chairs packed closely together and a menu catering for adventurers seeking local flavours as well as travellers pining for a little taste of home, wherever that may be.

The main cafe wall is covered with a cartoon mural painted by famed Indian illustrator Mario Miranda which depicts the hustle and bustle of life in Mumbai – these caricatures can also be spotted on the plates supplied for your meal as well as the salt and pepper shakers on each table and a range of items for sale like t-shirts and mugs.

I was told that Mondy’s represented just the tip of the culinary iceberg but was an excellent place to start so left the ordering up to my colleagues with the only stipulation being I wanted to eat local food. In my experience, eating food in its place of origin always tastes better and I was not disappointed. Each dish was delicious and washed down with a range of ice-cold beers. With the vintage jukebox busting out some excellent 80s and early 90s tunes, Mondy’s got a big Thum(b)s Up from me.

Thums Up, India’s favourite cola

The following day it was time for some retail visits, seeing the types of products available and how they are sold – quite different from the superstores and chains of the more developed markets that I am used to. What it meant was that, albeit from the back seat of our Tata car, I got to see Mumbai.

Our first stop typified Mumbai for me, a curious mix of new affluence and poverty side by side.

Taken at Phoenix Market City, Kurla, Mumbai

Our second stop saw us back in the Colaba region. The streets off the main roads were quieter and lined with colonial architecture, a hangover from the area’s occupation by British forces in the 1700s.

Famous residents include Sir Ratan Tata, the Emeritus Chairman of Indian multinational conglomerate Tata Sons, the holding company for Tata Group (ownership of Jaguar and Tetley Tea among its many interests).

Speaking of Tata, we did visit one of their Star Bazaar stores in Andheri…

…where we managed to buy a Magnum (ice-cream) – quite new and extremely expensive in India according to my colleague – and eat it watching one of Mumbai’s many entrepreneurs…

Mumbai money: She’s selling Tupperware from her car boot.

And then it was time to head back to the hotel so we hit the road…

So that was the end of my first visit to India and more particularly, Mumbai. Where 20 million people exist side by side in states of extreme wealth right through to abject poverty and where entrepreneurialism thrives as every man, woman and child finds ways to make ends meet. Its crowded streets are overwhelming, decimated at this time of year as the monsoon season wrings out its final downpours and filled with the strangely happy beep beep of car horns as the traffic pushes and snarls and untangles itself again. 

The atmosphere is one of tolerance – how could such diametric opposites co-exist without it – and a mixture of acceptance and hope, an acceptance of one’s destiny yet a belief that one’s actions in life will generate ‘good’ karma. And I found myself unexpectedly moved by this metropolitan melting pot, its busy, bustling hopefuls and its fusion of many opposites.

Gregory Roberts writes this in Shantaram:

“Fate gives all of us three teachers, three friends, three enemies, and three great loves in our lives. But these twelve are always disguised, and we can never know which one is which until we’ve loved them, left them, or fought them.” 

I wonder what Mumbai will turn out to be.

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