Monday evening I drove downtown to see a German/Turkish movie called Gegen Die Wand / Duvara Karsi (Head-on) at the Goethe-Institute. The little room where they were showing the movie was packed with maybe 80 people, mostly Indian intellectuals, young and old. The movie plays in Hamburg, Germany, so I was happy to see some pictures of my hometown. It is about a slightly confused young Turkish couple living there. He is suicidal (well, they both are), she wants to get out of her traditional Muslim family. They meet and ten minutes later, she asks him to marry her for show, so she can live a little, have a little fun, do some drugs and fuck around a bit, and then it goes downhill from there. Not surprisingly, the movie is rated R in the US for strong graphic sexuality, pervasive language, some brutal violence and drug content, while it is PG13 in Germany (actually FSK12). So watching this in India, which is even more prude than the US, was quite interesting.

I quite liked the movie. The characters are very believable, the music is great, and the story is pretty good. Also, the couple might as well have been Indians living in London, so I thought, I wonder what the audience is thinking. After all, there’s a lot of suggestive dancing in Bollywood, but certainly no real kissing, let alone full-on sex, full nudity, or cocaine – and there was plenty of that here. Some seemed to be squirming around in their seats a bit and going tsk, tsk, and at least one was leaving early. Unfortunately, there was no talk or discussion afterwards, but given that censorship is still alive and kicking around here, this movie won’t make it to the theaters any time soon.

Tuesday was another long evening in traffic, and when I got home and the next day I felt kind of sick. It wasn’t anything serious, and I am actually surprised that I’ve been here for three months now and still haven’t been really sick. Judging from the doctor in NYC, who had given me all my shots, I would have thought that I’d be guaranteed to catch a life threatening disease just by looking at the food here. So I guess he was just full of crap. Another expat at work did actually end up in hospital for a few days a while ago, but that was because he went to get food at the local Subways, and, well, you kind of deserve to get hospitalized for going to Subway in India, or anywhere else, for that matter.

In other news, yesterday I read in the paper that India ranks way behind Iraq in terms of doing business, as measured by number of forms to produce and red tape to consume in order to open a business. It doesn’t really surprise me, because bureaucracy really is spelled in all caps here. There is a pervasive culture of rules and regulations that don’t seem to make any sense whatsoever and for which no-one seems to know or care about what’s the reason. My simple standard question Why? is regularly met either with blank stares or with excuses and explanations that are incredibly surreal and mostly represent a very tight circular loop.

But I’ll stop my rant there and move on to the Western Express Highway, which I have basically stopped using. After the sewage of the big floods had receded (final number is 944mm in one day), they had fixed up the highway pretty well and traffic was moving swiftly. A week or so ago, everything was great. Then there was another day or two of heavy rain last week, and the surface developed potholes the size of the Grand Canyon again, and the road looked like someone had set off thousands of little landmines. It was truly ridiculous. The funny thing is, there’s only a few long stretches like that. Other parts of the highway are perfectly fine. So it is obviously not incompetence or lack of construction materials or engineering skills. It is simply criminal corruption and big business. Well, if they fixed it up properly, they wouldn’t make any money, I was told. Is anyone going to try to throw the construction companies and the politicians that give them the contracts into jail? I guess not – after all, everybody seems to agree that law enforcement and the judicial system are pretty much non-existent. So I guess the Haliburton business model is alive and kicking here as well.

OK, enough of my rants, I will go get some sleep so that I will be fully rested and prepared for tomorrow’s final Ganesh extravaganza.

A Downtown Stroll

So today we actually got up at a decent time and took the car downtown at 11am. On weekends, traffic isn’t all that bad really, so it only took 90 minutes or so. We’ve given up on trying to remind our driver to keep the A/C low, so we sit in the car with long sleeves or jacket. We let him drop us off where he had picked us up yesterday, which is right by The Prince of Wales Museum, now called the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastusangrahalaya (just like the Churchgate and Victoria terminals, the airport, and all the roads have been renamed a few years ago, but everyone still seems to call them by their colonial names).

First we needed a coffee. Even though that’s probably the most touristy area there is in Mumbai and even though (or maybe because) Ksenia is wearing a saree, she definitely gets stared at. Not in a hostile way, it’s more like a big what the fuck? Some women seem to appreciate it and talk about her smilingly (or maybe they make fun of that stupid blonde Westerner trying to look Indian). Anyways, the coffee is great, as always. Walking from there along the Gateway of India is not so great. It’s a bit of a circus there and the hawkers are a little overeager.

Somehow I imagined walking down to Cuffe Parade, which is an office/business area around the World Trade Center might be nice, but it turned out to be boring highrises. On the way back we saw a number of sadly deteriorating villas, which seem to have seen better days and would look fantastic, if they got renovated. Some of them are actually locked up and seem to real estate speculation objects. Still, there were a few quite nice ones as well. Then we hit Colaba Causeway, which is pretty lively, and since we had heard of the Leopold Cafe, we went there to get some lunch. I guess we weren’t the only ones who had heard of it, because the place was packed with Westerners, and even the Indian looking people had an American accent. Besides, we waited 15 minuts without anyone coming to our table, and by that time we had read the menu up and down and sideways and were still unable to find much else other than Italian, Chinese, and only the odd Indian item.

Well, that was that then, so we just left and went to a place across the street, which turned out to be the real deal and had great food and fantastic fruit juices. Our doctor had told us to keep our hands off any drinks with ice in them, but we figure in small doses it’s got to be just like vaccination, so we didn’t worry about it too much. It’s late evening now, and it seems we were right. We are still trying to get the hang of eating the bread with just the right hand and apparently we are making progress, because our forks remained untouched. For all the apparent inequalities that women face around here, one thing appears to be no problem, which is breast-feeding your child in a restaurant. Try that in the United States, and you might get arrested, here it’s thankfully all good.

Finally, we went to the museum, which was actually quite nice although sorely missing some benches and air conditioners. Foreigners pay 300Rs instead of the regular 50Rs, which seems fair enough and includes an audio tour. Unlike a lot of museums in say Germany, which appear to get no visitors whatsoever, this one was bustling with Indians. So bustling in fact that Ksenia got her legs grabbed by some guy, but he really was just trying to get hold of his little kid, and it was actually quite funny.

So after all that walking, we were ready for a drink. We had walked by The Sports Bar and T.G.I. Fridays, but those were pretty much the last places on earth we had in mind. The TimeOut Mumbai Nightlife section came up empty, but today’s Times of India had a brief mention of a place called The Myst in the suburbs (they are really not suburbs, but just streched out extensions of the city). Finding that place was a bit of a challenge, but it turned out to be near the mall that Ksenia had spent most of Friday afternoon. It was a kind of lounge bar/restaurant, playing Eminem followed by Enigma. That would be ok, but the CD unfortunately kept skipping on both songs and noone seemed to notice or care, so we ended up having to listen to each one for about half an hour, which was a bit too much, even though the cocktails were quite good and sitting outside was almost pleasant.