A few weeks ago, Savatri, our maid, had invited us home for a late lunch, which was very sweet. When we got there, after an hour in traffic, her husband just got out of bed and looked pretty miserable, but her two daughters and one son were pretty excited and shyly curious. Her son is 17 and dropped out of school. He is working as a DJ to hire and wants to become a famous professional DJ, much to the distress of our maid. One daughter is still in school, the other works in a call center.

Savatri lives in an area that our Mumbai map designates as a slum area near the Eastern Expressway. For about $7000, she owns a very small house with a cramped living room and kitchen on the ground floor and another bedroom on the top floor. Her children sleep in the living room – the two daughters on the floor and her son on the little couch. It’s all very cramped, but it’s clean and homey, and the television was on the whole time. Soon, the entire neighborhood is going to get replaced to make room for new constructions, and Savatri thinks that the government will provide them with new housing.

As Ksenia and I we were sitting down having lunch while the rest of the family watched us, some curious neighbors stopped by to say Hello. In between Hindi television commercials, the daughters and her mother kept serving us food and orange juice. After the Hellos were said and the lunch was eaten, the maid took us to a visit at her childhood friend and neighbor. Savatri is originally from Kerala and her friend from Goa, but they had moved to Mumbai for better prospects. Savatri’s friend finds Goa boring now, especially since her husband spends most of the year in Dubai. He used to live in Kuwait and was there during the Gulf War and had sworn never to go back to the Middle East, but then he went to Dubai for the money. One of his sons works for Dell now; he still lives with his parents and was sporting a baseball cap.

Savatri is thinking about going to Dubai, but she doesn’t want to work for a Muslim family, because, she says, their families are too big and they don’t treat Indians very well. After yet another tea with our maid’s friend, we took off to make our way home through the Saturday afternoon insanity called Mumbai traffic. Due to the bird flue panic, chicken prices fell from Rs100 to Rs15, and fish went from Rs300 to Rs1000.

British DJ

So for a week now I was looking forward to this British DJ coming to Mocha in Juhu. Mocha is of course the hipper version of the Barista coffee shops, and there’s one in Juhu. Actually, some people refer to Juhu as Juhu Beach, because, well, it does have a beach. Anyone going swimming there, and there are a few crazy ones, must be seriously suicidal, because the water is a dark brown soup of sewage and plastic bags, and the beach itself, although fairly large, is pretty firmly in the hand of hawkers, drug addicts, and a wild assortment of food stands. Nevertheless, the beach is crowded with people going for a leisurely stroll.

Across from the beach is Mocha. They usually have apple pie shakes and tiramisu and things like that, so I was curious to see how they turn this into a dance club for the occasion. Well, they didn’t really. The DJ wasn’t bad, and they even had beer (well, Foster’s), but apparently the crowd wasn’t very interested. Still, for some reason there was a waiting list for the airconditioned room, and even though there didn’t seem to be anybody in there, it took half an hour to get from the boiling hot outside space inside.

Apart from our Mumbai tour guide from San Francisco, there was another expat from work, plus a Canadian and a French/Austrian couple, so the expats were well represented and at times made up the majority of the dancing population. The decidedly best part, however, was the Indian lady, around 50, who sat down by herself at our table, pulled a little bottle of Jack Daniel’s out of her bag and proceeded to pour herself some into a plastic cup under the table. She very proudly announced that she was invited by the British Council to come to this event. And indeed, apparently the British Council thinks that India might need some development aid in the form of a DJ, because they were noted as the main sponsors of the event. Certainly, Mocha didn’t pay the DJ’s bills.

So it was all pretty relaxed and somewhat sad. But at least, there was no Bryan Adams or Led Zeppelin being played, so it was great. On the way home, I almost ran into a car with a mobile phone equipped driver who very lazily crossed the street without looking left or right, and I missed a riksha or two by a few inches, so all things considered, the evening included a bit of excitement as well.

Daily Life

I am afraid this will be another whiny blog entry, but such is life. So on Monday it was raining some more. Well, a lot more, and the office was closed. Our maid still made it on time, which was great. Unfortunately, she ran out of gas while boiling some rice – literally, and not because of the rain. Our apartment has a gas cylinder beneath the kitchen stove, and if it’s empty, then you call for a new one, and it gets delivered.

So far so good, except today is Thursday, and there’s still no gas. Calling the number for the gas man didn’t work – first, because I didn’t have the number, then because the number didn’t work. I guess I am not the only one whose phone isn’t working because of the rains, so I had to go there myself.

The gas man is basically a tiny office behind a screen, so nobody can hear a thing being said. After I practically forced my way behind the screen so I can at least try to communicate with the guy, above the street noise and beyond the usual language problems, the conversation went pretty much like this: “I would like to have a new gas cylinder, mine is empty.” – “Eight days, Sir.” – “what do you mean, eight days, I don’t have any gas to cook.” – “Ok, Sir, today or tomorrow.” – “Well, can you be a little more specific?” – “Ok, Sir, tomorrow before 10 will do?” – “Ok, tomorrow before 10 is good, but it has to be before noon, before 12, oherwise there will be noone at home, ok?” – “No probs, Sir, tomorrow before 10 will do?”

So, apart from people really saying ‘no probs’ a lot, it wasn’t really a surprise that of course nobody showed up the next day. In fact, I expected as much, so I made a point of stopping by the place at around 9, asking them whether they will deliver the gas today, before 10, and of course the answer was yes. Well, that was this morning, I know the maid was here untill 12:30 at least, but there is still no gas. And the probably very yummy chicken dish she had made on Monday, before the gas ran out, is gone as well – but that’s because I told her that if there’s no gas today to have the chicken with, then I don’t want the chicken anymore (it’s a bit too hot here to have chicken that was cooked four days ago, and the chicken is a bit too spicy to be had without any rice).

Anyways, so what better to do in such a situation than go out for food, besides, after all, a lot of neighborhoods don’t have any gas at all, but instead stand in long lines to purchase kerosine, which comes in a wild assortment of plastic containers, which are sold to them basically in the middle of huge mountains of garbage on the street.

So on my way to a new eatery that I tried to discover in my neighborhood tonight, I walk by a real modern Reliance WebWorld shop, i.e. an internet cafe, which I had discovered last night. I regret very quickly not having hired a rikshah for the short distance of maybe 200 meters, because by the time I get there, I am already pretty exhausted from the heat and humidity, not to mention my unsuccessful attempts at trying to avoid getting splashed by cars and rikshas that are passing me at very close distance while running over another pothole puddle.

In any event, I get to WebWorld at 9:30 tonight, hoping to check some gmail (which is blocked both at work and on my BlackBerry), before they close at 10 – except tonight they were in the mood to close right in front of my nose, so I am writing this from my BlackBerry. I guess I mentioned that my landline phone is still not working?

Alright then, so let’s find a place to eat. A few near death experiences as a pedestrian later I walk into a place called D’Nosh, which greets me with an American Diner style interior with a black and white checkered bar counter, a large flat screen TV showing some Rap for the pretty pictures of some rapper ladies doing their thing (I am guessing, because there was no sound and the picture was quite distorted due to bad reception), plus, most importantly, The Scorpions followed by Led Zeppelin followed by other crimes to humanity commited at least 20 years ago – of course played by a real DJ at the CD deck, and played at full earsplitting volume with a number of air conditioners and fans adding to the general feeling that I might have walked into the wrong place.

Not surprisingly, the food was equally bad, but I didn’t really care anymore and marked it down as yet another day that I have been unable to find a place that doesn’t try so damn hard to look American. It would be nice to find some place that has music that’s maybe post-1985 and not Bollywood pop, but untill then I should probably stick to the regular dark holes in the wall that just have great food designed to strengthen my immune system. Or maybe I should just stay at home on my terrace, having nice home made food. Oh, wait, there’s still no gas in the kitchen, and I have never heard back from the furniture store that was supposed to deliver some terrace chairs last Tuesday. Hm, I guess I should call them, except their phone is not working either. Oh, and even if it does, no doubt they also expect that somehow someone is always at home to greet their delivery.

I must be doing something wrong, because the TV cable guy certainly seemed quite surprised not to find anybody, not even my wife, at home this afternoon at 4pm when he tried to install a digital cable box for the TV. That conversation went pretty much like this: “Sir, there is noone at home.” – “No, I know there is noone at home, because I am at work.” – “I am trying to get into the flat, but noone opens the door.” – “No, there’s noone at home, that’s why I said twice, you need to come before 12, when my maid is at home.” – “Ok, Sir, tomorrow will do?” – “Yes, tomorrow will do.”

On the plus side, when I got home after that bizarre Rapper/Scorpions experience, I made a very quick kill. Maybe that cockroach had just had dinner as well, but it was too fat and too slow to survive for more than two seconds under my “NEW! HIT! Cockroches – Rs.33 off!” spraying onslaught.