The Mumbai Diaries — p1

I’ve been in Mumbai for the past 3 weeks and my friends in Canada have been asking me a lot of questions about Mumbai and India in general. I want to try and capture potential answers in these posts. Starting with…

Flying into India

Oh boy. As a Canadian citizen traveling to India with a COVID pandemic (or Corona, as it’s called here) going around, Indian e-visas are banned. However, Indian visas are not banned. Yes, e-visas and visas are different. I had to apply for the visa online, print off a copy, book an embassy appointment, physically hand in the application, get rejected, fix the errors they told me about in another online application, print off a copy, wait in a “walk-in” line for 6 hours, physically hand in the application, get rejected … You get the drift.

Lesson #1: India has a lot of bureaucracy, everywhere. From applying to visas, getting a temporary license, to paying for national park fees. Don’t be discouraged if you face it, going through this gives you stories to tell to Indians … who love hearing about how bad it was.

After I did get the visa, flying in is straightforward, I flew into Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport in Mumbai. Which was gorgeous:

credits: https://www.cntraveller.in/story/mumbai-airport-name-will-change-to-accommodate-maharaj/

But not before my flight from Abu Dhabi to Mumbai was delayed in the bloody air by 4 hours. Yup, that can happen. The plane didn’t have permission to land because of a hurricane/typhoon in Mumbai, so we circled a bit, landed somewhere an hour south and hunkered down. I learned two things in this delay.

  1. Indians are good at organizing and raising hell.

In the tail end of our 4-hour delay, our pilot announced that we’re heading back to Abu Dhabi and staying there because who knows when the hell the hurricane breaks. The Mumbaikers didn’t want that at all. Loud groans, talks of “I want to see the pilot”, and general discontent was the name of the game. The plane couldn’t legally take off unless everyone was buckled in and, instead, people were standing and gesticulating wildly. I like to think that if I was on a flight with Canadians, I’d still be in Abu Dhabi now waiting for my flight.

2. Holy shit, Mumbaikers are kind.

During this 4-hour delay, an aunty beside me started talking to me. We were talking about where she was from, what she’s doing, what her children are doing, etc. When we reached to where she stays in Mumbai, this is approximately what happened:

Me (M): I live in Navi Mumbai, wbu

Dhannu aunty (D): Oh me too! where in Navi Mumbai?

M: Seawoods

D: Oh me too! Where in Seawoods?
M: *pulls out directions I wrote down* by this place called Akshar complex, near the Mahanagar petrol pump.

D: Oh what! I live 2 minutes from there, my son is going to pick me up, do you want to come with me?

M: Really?

D: Yup.

M: Sure!

And this was true! I got a ride (which would’ve cost me around $30 CAD and my pride in barely speaking Marathi) for free from a Mumbaiker I met on a plane. It was an act of kindness I didn’t expect and I bet you can’t find in most places. If you ever read this aunty, thank you so much ❤

Adjusting to India and the Story so far

The indian air smothers your entire body and even at 6am, the city is loud with trucks and horns and hawkers and unmuffled bikes. The monsoon brings out many smells. Road oils, petrol, general vegetation, and rarely: suspicious rotting ones. It’s a bit of a running joke that my nose picks out the darnedest smells, so I doubt the smell issue will bother the average person.

India might also try and kill you. It doesn’t mean it, of course. Different allergens in the air, a smidge of pollution, and a new zoo of microbial life took me out of commission for a week and a half. My throat and nose were clogged air tight and I would cough if a fan was running. Not doing great. But here’s one of the ultra-cool things about Mumbai: you can get (legal) drugs fast and cheap.

I walked into one of the 6 pharmacies within walking distance of where I’m staying, told him my symptoms and he gave a bunch of drugs for about $3 CAD that fixed me right up. Similar situations in Canada have left with me about 1 hour in waiting time only to be told that ibuprofen and water were the only things I needed. Oh, and this was the walk to the pharmacist’s:

Lesson #2: Cars don’t stop in India. It’ll be scary at first, having to cross with scooters and autos and cars weaving around you. But you’ll get the hang of it, just remember to not take your time, do it fast, and stare down everyone who’s in your way.

So I ended up getting better, and after the quarantine period I met my relatives, joined a gym, and started exploring Navi Mumbai. More on that later, hopefully.

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