For our longest break of the semester, my roommates and our two other friends embarked upon a 10 day trip to Mumbai, the capital of Maharashtra and the largest city in India (4th largest in the world with over 20 million people within the metro area).
To say that it was unexpected is an understatement – everything about Mumbai was new to our experience of India. First, it was hot. Disgustingly hot. Nearly 110º F with humidity, everyday. Compared to our balmy existence in Bangalore at a consistent 70º, with occasional rain, Mumbai was like walking into a new world. Additionally, we were staying in Colaba, a section of the city that is super tourist-y, overrun by Westerners hoping for a taste of exotic India: eldery couples from Britain, sightseeing at the colonial buildings built by their not so ancient colonizing ancestors, German girls looking to go clubbing “authentically” and Frenchmen in Ray-Bans and yacht shoes. Okay, maybe that’s a little harsh, but it was hard to not feel ashamed FOR the stereotypical tourists coming to India. After being here 2 months in Bangalore I feel very comfortable in my churidar (leggings or loose pants, a kurta [tunic] and a dupatta [scarf]). Seeing foreigners in Colaba in tank tops and short shorts made me just feel uncomfortable for them. I felt like letting them know that people aren’t staring at them because they’re white or because they have light eyes and hair. They’re staring at them because the last time they saw that much of a woman’s chest, it was in an American movie or an X-rated film.
It also made me feel weirdly defensive to be around so many other foreigners and I got an inordinate amount of joy out of being able to tell the vendors on the Causeway (Colaba’s downtown shopping district) that I was a student in Bangalore, after which they would engage us in conversation and give us a hefty discount in addition to our now fantastic bargaining skills. It was so rewarding to be getting these fantastic deals while everyone else paid 5x more.
We found some beautiful things while shopping in Mumbai – we went to Chor Bazaar (also know as the Theives’ Market) which is basically in the middle of a heavily Muslim slum area, though home to some of the most beautiful mosques I’ve seen. Chor is a hidden gem, full of old British memorabilia, compasses from the 1800’s, lanterns from the early 1900’s, piles of jewelry left here by rich wives of colonizers. It’s super strange to see what you could find in a British vintage shop spilling out of dozens of shops in the middle of Mumbai. We bought old Indian Bollywood pin-up girl posters from the 50’s, gorgeous handmade silver lanterns and dozens of old postcards written in Farsi with Indian myths painted on them by recent artists to turn them into works of art.
We also went on a whim to the Mumbai Comic-Con, where I had an unexpected amount of fun. The comics here are amazing and beautiful and most revolve around religious myths and stories, so the heroes are Vishnu, Kali, Lakshmi, etc. They also have made-up ones including Super Mummy, a pleasantly plump, badass superwoman, bespectacled and wrapped in a saree. Just for a little illustration: https://comicconindia.com/images/merch/1346322241supermummy.jpg. I ended up leaving with a beautifully illustrated comic book of a Sufi myth, signed by the incredible illustrator, who coincidentally has his studio in Bangalore, just a few blocks from our apartments!
These are just some of the highlights of our trip – we also went to Elephanta Island, saw the Gateway to India, etc. but honestly, it was so hot while we were there that much of our time was spent laying on our beds under the fan in our hostel, trying not to die of heat stroke, and eating our new favorite breakfast food, Butter Naan Jam.
Our sleeper bus to and from Bangalore was actually pretty brilliant, my roommate and I shared a bed a little smaller than a queensize and it was only an additional 200INR ($4). I mean, it was still super bumpy, but definitely better than a seater bus, especially for a journey which we had been told was 15 hours but which turned out to be between 21-23 hours. Worth it, but just barely – I’m happy to be back in chilly (we just had a typhoon impact our weather here so it’s been in the 50’s and 60’s) and beautiful Bangalore.