Friday, December 7, 2012

DISC 26 Mumbai (7 Dec)

My handler in Mumbai was Subhash Sharma, pleasant young geophysicist with ONGC.  He met me at the airport and gave up a saturday to tour town (bringing along his wonderful wife, twin boys, and a niece).  Special thanks to ONGC for sponsoring the DISC and organizing.

2012 Mumbai DISC class (40 by my count)

Book signing scrum

About town

Subhash and family taking ice cream at the Taj (my treat)

Early notes

It all started with a taxi ride. From my house to the airport is about 45 minutes, unless your driver is a survivalist granny telling her life story. Then the trip seems to take a couple of hours. By the time we pulled up at the airport I knew everything about her, I'm pretty sure she knew nothing about me. Best quote? "I told the kids if you're going to have a baby you better have a spouse and a house. Granny ain't raisin no grandkids."

The flights were uneventful. But in Newark I did find a good oyster bar. Sublime.

In Mumbai it's a long hike from the plane to your luggage. They have a curious custom here of scanning luggage on the way out of the airport. No idea what that's about, unless maybe they're worried you might smuggle out a pilot.  Stepping off in India the first thing you notice is the smell. A bit hard to describe, it's some combination of sweet and moist and thick. Not unpleasant, just India.

Arrival was around 10pm, by the time luggage is collected, your man is located and you're in the car it's 11. Taxi ride to the hotel is another hour. A night ride through Mumbai (which they pronounce Mumbay; so little different from Bombay you wonder 'What's the point?'.)  The street-level shops and side streets are ruinous tenements. No slum anywhere in the world looks more in danger of falling down or as innately decrepit and unsanitary as a side street in Mumbai. But even here is industry, little crime, and a good heart. These people are somehow happy.  The apartment blocks where upscale folks live are half looming skeletal monoliths, perhaps unfinished or never to be finished or in some state of renovation. The other half are just shabby.

The traffic is outrageous even at 11pm. Three wheeled Tata scooters jockey for position with taxis and monolithic transport trucks. These are not the shiny, well-maintained trucks that Americans are used to, but something like the Sand People would have in the first Star Wars movie. Vast juggernauts held together with baling wire and twisted bolts, dented on every square inch and painted garish colors, all of which are covered by beige dust. My hotel is actually in Navi Bombay, a twin city across the bay. To get there you cross the only bridge and pay a toll of 30 rupees (50 cents), which has no effect on the quality of the pavement on the bridge and every effect on forming a massive traffic jam. And then there is the eternal din of honking as everyone jostles for position inches away from scraping the neighbor. Honking from light taps to Long strident blasts. To a westerner all of this seems very aggressive, the kind of honking that would get you in a fistfight or shot. But I think of it like a flock of birds. Just as birds squawk at each other to hold formation, drivers honk in Mumbai traffic to maintain constant communication among the players. No road rage or anger, just honking as communication between the birds. Of course the real danger is that a bird not of the flock will wander in and screw it all up. Not understanding the communication system, the new driver gets confused and aggressive. This would be the case if I, for example, were to rent a car and try driving around Mumbai. There would be a wreck in 10 minutes.

In my experience, India always seems overstaffed. Walking in my hotel lobby at midnight there were four people behind a small desk in a marble alcove. I was the only customer in sight. But the place does have a certain kind of efficiency. Judging by the jackhammer at the swimming pool, work starts promptly at noon. Or maybe just whenever I show up. 

1 comment:

PARTHA said...

Hello Chistopher,
I am Partha, working as a Junior Geophysicist in PGS, Mumbai. The topic you cover was excellent and I leraned a lot from this DISC course. It is really charmful to read your blogs.

I enjoyed the course. Hope to meet you again in future.

wish you Merry Christmas.


Partha Pratim Mandal
Junior Geophysicist,
PGS, Mumbai