Transitions commence new adventures. Make 'em last…
I merely loudly chuckled and smiled upon passing by this sign during our first daytime walk through Mumbai. However, a few moments later, it appeared that I had committed a huge “nuisance” as I was soon face-to-face with an Indian solider with a sub-machine gun in his hands. My heart dropped to my stomach. My hands began trembbling and instantly started to sweat profusely. Was I scared? Was I nervous? I was indeed a bit of both, but more importantly the question remained: What did I do wrong? If I did something wrong, I was innocently oblivious to it; however, I didn’t have to wait for more than a second for the soldier to address what he observed as criminal. The soldier neared in so close as to brush his long, curly mustache whiskers across my cheek when he began to quickly scrutinize my camera hanging from my neck while sternly repeating, “ERASE the photo! ERASE the photo!”
I stuttered a response of assurance as he stood firmly beside me watching my trembling hands delete the photo I had taken just moments ago. The only thought running through my mind at the time was that even though I did not know what exactly I did wrong, it didn’t matter, this man was supremely austere with his handlebar mustache and a gun in his hands, and following his order was the only rational option. Upon the realization that the photo had been deleted, the soldier turned to me and politely said, “Thank you.” I hesitantly retorted, “Sorry about that.” I still didn’t know exactly what I did wrong until I looked up and carefully examined what I had taken a picture of : the Federal Reserve of India. I definitely learned the hard way that I shouldn’t commit such a “nuisance.”
Although it was a nightmare averted, this ordeal didn’t help to soften my heart that had already become hardened towards Mumbai. Just a few hours before, Mark and I supposedly paid of 300-400 rupees ($8) more for a normal taxi ride to the hostel from the train station, which wasn’t too far at all in comparison to other distances we later underwent around the city for less than half the cost. Immediately upon exiting the train we were confronted by an individual claiming to be a taxi driver and hankering to give us a ride to our hostel. I immediately told Mark, “I really don’t like this guy.” Instinct immediately told me not to trust him and when Mark and I stopped to fix our bags, I told this man to “beat it.” However, he hovered close by and confronted us again when we reached the stairwell. Trying to box this guy out, Mark and I began talking with another taxi driver, and soon enough we were inside his taxi cab. Then apparently this unsavory character began talking with our taxi driver and entered in the front seat with him a few moments later. My instinct told me to vacate the taxi cab right then and there, and if i was by myself, not another second would have gone by with me being inside it. I’ve traveled enough to quickly realize when there is some form of con going on and it just irks me even now while writing about it because I normally always follow my instincts without any scruples toward inconveniencing anyone, including myself.
When I paid the driver the overpriced fare, he reckoned to say that I had only given him 300 rupees when I clearly had given him 700. In a blink of an eye the conniving taxi driver had instantly switched a 500 rupee bill for a 100 ruppee bill and a debate quickly ensued within the cab about how I did not pay him enough when I clearly did with absolutely no doubt in my mind. After cxchanging some rebuttals amid the dispute, I placed my closed fist on top of his seat frame and looked him square in the eye, and said, “I paid you 700. Don’t mess with me!”
The silence was golden.
With my cousin already waiting on the sidewalk with his bag, I soon joined him with my nerves rattled and restless. When we ascertained that we could not enter our hostel room until 11am, and the nearby recommended “Cafe Universal” was not open until 10am, we went to set up camp for a couple hours at a nearby McDonalds that I had spotted along the way. It was here that I instantly felt better after eating some scrumptious pancakes while drinking some hot “McDonald’s coffee” and playing gin-rummy with Mark.
My nerves were rattled again after the “federal reserve incident,” but Mark and I continued on our trek through Mumbai trying to maintain a positive attitude, and soon enough we reached the “Gateway of India.” The Gateway of India was completed in 1924 to conmmeorate the 1911 royal visit of King George V, and was later used to parade off the last British regiment when India marched towards independence in 1947.
From here Mark and I ventured around the Colaba, Mumbai’s southernmost market district, and it was here that I found some cool gifts and later returned to eat at Cafe Basílico, twice. The basil and pesto sauteed lamb was absolutely superb, and Mark and I ordered this dish during both our visits.
However, before we ate this delectable food, Mark and I had visited the Jain Temple of Mumbai and the Hanging Gardens on the other side of town. After having studied about Jainism in several of my Religious Studies classes in college, it was a definitely a delight to finally visit a Jain Temple somewhere in the world, especially in India where Jainism originated around 500 B.C. With only about 4.5 million followers in India, Jains constitute a very small minority, but they undoubtedly receive tremendous respect for their non-violent practices towards all living beings.
After leaving the Jain Temple of Mumbai, we headed down the road to visit the Hanging Gardens, which weren’t much, but we enjoyed a peaceful stroll and continued our ongoing conversation about life, girls, and our futures.
By this time it was mid-afternoon and we were fairly soaked with sweat, so we decided to head to a air-conditioned venue to grab a few drinks and lay low for awhile; the Intercontinental Hotel would be our next stop.
The cheesecake looked very appetizing, but it was seriously the most blandish, tasteless thing Mark and I had ever eaten. No matter, we just laughed about it and relaxed for a few hours enjoying our cool view of the Mumbai city horizon.
When dusk began to hit, we joined many Indians along the bayshore to watch the sunset.
The sunset was unfortunately veiled by thick cloud cover, but we enjoyed our time relaxing amid the sea breezes and locals curiously asking us where we had traveled in India. When we decided to give up our space along the seawall, we crossed the street and visited a bank in order to get much needed cash. Upon entering and commencing my bank transaction, we were eyeballed by two guards both carrying large shotguns; it felt like the Wild West. When I had initial trouble configuring the transaction, I called over to Mark to help me out, but he was quickly halted by the guard ordering him not to cross the line, which was scarsely visible on the floor. I attempted to explain that he was my family, but I didn’t have enough time to finish as I was distracted by the guard’s countenance while he got up from his chair and quickly began to approach me with both hands firmly gripped to the shotgun, one of them covering trigger carriage. I saw the insides of the barrel as the gun was pointed almost directly at me, and as the guard crossed the line and attempted to peek over at my transaction, I firmly said to him, “Step back, please. Step back.” The guard was flabbergasted at my retort. He stood perplexed, yet agonized, especially when I told him to step back a third time. I didn’t know where this obduracy came from, but I was innately fixed on not letting this unknown individual come over with his gun pointed at me and begin messing with my bank information. After he sat back down, I heard a few chuckles as I continued my transaction without any more trouble.
I was again fairly angry upon leaving the bank and needed something to cool me down; a walk along the bayshore would do just that.
Not only that, but I was also reminded by what Harbinder said about it being practically guaranteed that I’d find “true love” in Mumbai.
Mumbai was not jiving with me well up until this specific point, but I soon felt duly relaxed and at ease after I snapped photos of couples along the bayshore. However, I couldn’t help but be confronted with the yearning to be in their shoes. I was immediately beset by nostalgic notions of love that made me miss instances like these – sitting along the shore embracing one another while laughing and drinking wine without a care or worry in the world.
In the end, there was not a love story in Mumbai, and as much as a part of me wished to find true love there, I inherently realized that… I am a traveler… and during the rest of my stay in Mumbai and during the night-train to Goa I sincerely pondered the question: Can true love be found amid the constant desire to see the world and be on the move?