India, well Mumbai really, is becoming my favourite place to see and spend time in. To those who have know me for a very long time, that is probably surprising. I would go to the ends of the Earth to watch the cricket team, but the actual country has always been more of a distant land than anything else. When I was 21, I had spent less than a month in India. Now, at nearly 26, I’ve spent nearly 4 months in the last four years. I’m even thinking of going for a weekend trip, prior to returning to the UK. Mainly for food, but it’s not as though Dubai has bad Indian food (including chaat). Mumbai in particular has got a magnet on me at the moment. It’s meant that I have not gone to my beloved home of Umhlanga, which is paradise on Earth.
When I arrived in Mumbai, it was late and against my own suggestion, my parents decided to get a cool cab (aka, a pre-booked with AC) instead of just getting an Uber on an Auto. We were staying in BKC which does have really nice high-end restaurants such as Yauatcha, however at 10:15pm I didn’t feel like going to top end restaurant and wanted something that was quick, light and frankly delicious. I wanted pani-puri which meant that we had to head over to Bandra and go to Elco Market as we know what we were getting and the service is fast. Cue being stuck in traffic, for what was meant to be a 45min round trip, and realising that we were not going to make it in time before Elco Market shuts (at 23:30)! So, pulled out my phone and trusted Google maps, what was open? Hakkasan! From Elco Market to Hakkasan and sitting next to a party of everyone wearing Gucci. It’s not something that would exist in most cities, but it does in India. Mum and I both got a cocktail, some dim sum and mock duck salad to welcome in the festive period. This story encompasses everything that I love about this city, nothing is impossible in India. It can be a pain to sort out, but it will happen. The sealink bridge is a testament to that idea.
What shocked me was the amount of smog that was in the city this time, compared to last time I visited. I blame my friend for not taking care of the city, but that is part of the downside to Mumbai. Development does have a cost and to negate the pollution takes regulation that no one is going to enforce. The city had changed quite a bit since I had arrived and I still felt at home. The hustle and bustle, with god only knows how much noise, is something that at this age I love. Don’t get me wrong an escape to the country side is nice and all but give me people with good vibes and I can stay up till my body truly gets to 0%. Versus relaxing all the time in the countryside.
This story encompasses everything that I love about this city, nothing is impossible in India.
The one thing I was unable to get good photos were the Christmas Lights of Bandra. That’s something I may write about more in the future, but the growing polarisation in Indian politics and how it felt as though religious minorities are becoming more active in showing themselves. The lights themselves are different form the ones in the UK. In the UK, they are large and over the top. In Bandra, it was more Bollywood. Trees had lights hanging off them over the roads, except all along the road. It was magical!
Let’s just say that I ate a shit ton of street food while I was in Mumbai, which is slight understatement. There were only two possible outcomes of this idea of mine, putting on some weight over the trip by eating everything in sight or lose a ton of weight due to food poisoning. I did the only respectable thing and not care, ended not changing in weight and missing the great food as soon as I left. I’m just going to leave a montage here.
I do think of myself as Indian, just an NRI (Not Really Indian).
I was able to explore part of Goa next, which surprisingly was more expensive that Mumbai. Seriously 300 rupees for a 10-minute drive! Ended taking the bus instead for 10 rupees. You can take the man out of Gujarat, but you can’t take the Gujju out of the man! Now Panjim is not exactly what I would call a city, more a town. It would be like calling Chelmsford a city. I don’t care that both are, but there’s no way that either have a real city vibe to them. I say this as kid who grew up in a village surrounded by sugar cane, which has more hustle and bustle than these places.
What I did in Goa, apart from going to great restaurants (shout out to Black Sheep Bistro and Mum’s Kitchen), is learnt a surprising amount of history about the Portuguese rule in Goa. I spent a day with Dad going to the various forts nearby and apart from taking a ton of photos of Dad and posing for some myself. Though there was a great comedic moment that happened on this day. For some reason my father forgot that English is a lingua franca in India and after setting up a photo someone stood in front of the camera took out their phone and started to take a photo. My father turned to me and said: “What a dipshit! Is he blind?!?” Like a flash the guy turn around and I was crying with laughter thinking what dipshit my father can be!
Apart from galivanting around forts, I was on the beach getting a nice town to become dark and beautiful. I have talked about colourism on the blog before, but briefly there’s a real issue with people wanting to appear lighter. I’ve never understood the obsession. Personally, I want to have a tan and prefer to hang out with people who looks as though they aren’t afraid of the sun, which may seem counter intuitive to an anti-colourism claim. However, it’s true and secondly there is so little out there being for darker skin. Just remember to wear sunscreen, none of us are stronger than the sun. Back to the beach, the water was lovely. It was quite funny to see the life guard calling people back towards shore and I was there thinking that the water was so safe compared to Umhlanga. It was so calm, that I even just walked into the water in my shorts and carried my camera. Might have soaked my shorts a couple of times, but what’s the point of being on holiday if you’re going to act up tight: especially when I could buy a new pair for a couple of hundred rupees.
New Year’s Eve was a quiet affair for the Kotecha as the rest of the family were going early in the morning to catch their flights, while I was on the last flight out. We ended going to the south and seeing our friends (and former neighbours) for an afternoon at the beach, glass of champagne and getting our feet (and my shorts) wet while we watched the sun set. Not a bad way to see out the year.
The final day in Goa, was New Year’s Day. As I was alone, I ended up going around Goa. I spent time looking for baked goods, hired a private tour guide to see a Christian Relic, went to a spice farm where I got see an elephant lounging around, went to the beach and hired a photographer to take some photographs of myself and then got completely bored in the airport while I waited for my flight. Going back to the elephant. When I first saw the elephant, I saw it lying on its side I thought it was dead. Let a loud “oh shit” in front of some kids. Luckily, they were more interested in seeing an elephant, even if they referred to it a Dumbo when everyone knows that Nelly & Bazar are the far superior names to call elephants. I blame the parents…
I like Goa, I just don’t imagine that I’ll go back anytime soon. It’s not a terrible place, just there was no…magnet for me. My heart doesn’t yearn to return.
Back to Mumbai
I headed back to Mumbai to spend some time with the friends from South Africa and to see some family. Let’s not forget about the enormous amount of street food. I spent the last few days running around Mumbai. I’m not going to give a play-by-play of everything I did. However, I will talk about paan. Now paan traditionally was thought to be a digestion aid. The paan that you get outside of India (well Asia), is shit. Luckily, I was able to get magai (not Maggi noodles) in Mumbai, which is made from young and tender leaves. Dipped in in coconut and rose syrup. As my Mom said: “They’re like tequila shots. You don’t have one. You have one after the other!” As you may tell, I can from a party family. We didn’t go to the side of the street for the paan, instead we went to the racecourse at 11pm. At Gallops we were presented with an array of paan platters, tins to prepare all the flavours. It was unusual, but something that doesn’t seem out of place in Mumbai.
On the last day in Mumbai, I do what I always try and do by the end of the trip. Go for a facial treatment, haircut and massage. I did and left with glowing skin and a new trim. Then I headed to Santa Cruz market, where we (Mum and I) met a woman called Nisha (same name as Mum) and her sister’s name who escape me. The sister called out: “Oi, Nisha! What do you think of this?” in a thick British action. Mum and turned around looking bemused thinking who is this person? Quite funny that there were two Nisha’s in the shop. After a bit of chatting, we found out the other Nisha was from Kenya and now living in Saudi. Talk about being eerily similar to my own Mother.
I got onto the plane heading back to Dubai with a feeling as though my time in India has only really just begun. The country has something special. I do need to visit Bengal and head further south, but time is unfortunately short. This trip has cemented the idea that I will get my OCI when I decide to return to the UK. I do think of myself as Indian, just as an NRI (Not Really Indian). Obviously, my identity is a bit complicated, but someone else’s problem, not mine.
I don’t escape the winter, I embrace the summerHanik P Kotecha