The Cigarette Lighter

When we got back from Goa, we found a dead rat stuck in the A/C grill leading out to the terrace. Ok, maybe it was a mouse, but it would have had a decent size if it hadn’t already been well on its way to decomposition. We never got into the right mood to remove it, until Ksenia and the maid decided to take action. Well, more like Ksenia decided, and the maid took action. The same maid that only a few weeks ago complained about our neighbors throwing their food onto our terrace – although I think it seems to be dry food only now, no more wet French fries. So she fingers the thing out of the grill and without much looking throws it over the wall onto the driveway to the parking lot. Luckily, there was nobody walking around there, or maybe there was, but nobody seemed to mind.

Maybe it’s the same thing with the ongoing road construction saga. A few months ago, pretty much the entire stretch of 13km road between Bandra and Malad was reconstructed. Well, at least the sidewalks. Not there was much of a sidewalk to begin with, but in any event, they built nice new walkable lanes to the left and right of the road. It stayed sort of nice for a few weeks, so nice in fact that at least some of the pedestrians chose to walk on it, instead of on the road itself. That was over after a while, when cars started to park on it, the garbage and dust piled up, and it slowly turned into a public bathroom again.

So far so good, no news here. But what’s amazing is that last week or so they ripped open the entire stretch of sidewalk/bathroom again, the entire new stretch of 13km. Maybe they weren’t happy with the first results I thought, but in fact it turns out that apparently they had forgotten to put in the electric cable and sewage pipelines. No big deal, let’s just do it all over again and take care of it. I am willing to bet that they’ll do a third time in less than a couple of months, maybe for the telephone lines.

It is this sort of spectacular incompetence or corruption or maybe both that’s the most mindboggling about Mumbai. The fun part of it is that during the last almost two weeks, I had to make this trip in the auto rickshaw, because that’s how long it took the service station to do the regular 10,000km maintenance and a bit of a paint job on my car. Going in the rickshaw in Mumbai inevitably means being stuck between a hot stinking bus on the right side and a pre-war truck on the left, preferably with the truck’s diesel exhaust pipe sticking right into my face, which always makes for a good dose of black fumes anytime the traffic jam moves a meter or two.

I guess I could take a regular black cab or even a cool cab instead, but that only means four to six times the price of a rickshaw, plus the regular cab’s exhaust pipes quite often seem to end right in the passenger cabin themselves, and the cool cabs aren’t that cool, because the A/C typically doesn’t work as advertised.

I took the trains a couple of times, but watching grown up and relatively well-to-do men fighting for their lives in a desperate attempt to get a seat in the first class compartments is not my kind of fun early in the morning. Nevermind that the first class cars going uptown in the morning are actually not crowded at all, people nevertheless seem to think that unless they knock someone over while jumping onto the train as it enters the station they haven’t done a good job upholding the traditions of good train travelmanship.

Meanwhile, it took Ksenia and Deepak an hour or so to explain to the car service station what needs to get done to the car. After plenty of nodding and reassuring Yes, Madams, they said the car would be ready three days later, last Saturday, but then changed their mind to Monday. Monday turned into Tuesday, Tuesday turned into Wednesday, and then it turned out that they did the paint job, but forgot about doing the regular 10,000km maintenance. Instead, they seemed to be genuinely surprised that you would want to do the 10,000km maintenance when the car only has 9,761km on its clock.

The paint job was equally so-so – in fact, Deepak speculated that maybe they didn’t have enough light on the right side, which looked substantially less polished than the left side. Ok, so the maintenance job would take another two days, but unfortunately, they are out of stock on a number of spare parts needed – including suspension pads and petrol tank lock, both of which we needed, especially the lock, because it regularly takes half an hour at the gas station for the attendant to figure out how to lock the tank.

Anyways, to get those spare parts would take another month. Two days later, they hadn’t done much and the job obviously wasn’t finished. Deepak observed dryly that at least they seemed to have washed the car. But there was not much left of that when we went back again today. In fact, some of the interior was black with oil, and the brake pedal was squeaking and one door was rattling more than ever. Not to mention an entirely new big scratch they’ve added for extra convenience.

So, what have you done? we asked and the guy tried to convince us wholeheartedly that they’ve done everything, all painting, all maintenance services, and new lock for the gas tank. I tried to check out the new lock, but was immediately assured no, no, new lock, new key, but then we wondered, wait a minute, so where did you get the new lock from, we thought you were out of stock on those? Maybe not surprisingly, it turned out that there was no new lock and no new key after all, the guy was simply and completely talking out of his ass.

So we talked to the manager instead, who was reasonably straightforward, and we explained to him that we’d like to see the list of things they have done. Well, we’ve done everything as per the regular maintenance service (as per is always a good expression to impress with). Ok, we asked, what does that regular maintenance service include? As expected, just like the other guy, the manager also answered this question with the attempt to reach for our service handbook, so that he can read its contents to us.

Well, we were not in the mood for a little reading session, and the obnoxiously demanding foreigners that we are, we asked for their checklist, some work list that shows that some mechanic has checked of on his the oil change, and the transmission fluid, and maybe even the brake fluid. After some shuffling around someone comes back with that list – except it didn’t mention brake fluids or engine oil, it only listed the really essential parts of the regular service: side mirrors, backseat reading lamp, and most importantly, the cigarette lighter.

At that point, I almost lost it, but there it was: a signed and approved checklist for the cigarette lighter, but no such thing for brake fluid or engine oil – after eight months in Mumbai, some things still manage to shock me. The manager’s explanation was that the engine oil and brake fluid and such they have to do, but the cigarette lighter they do, because people complain, so they make a checklist to their customers’ satisfaction.

Anyways, so that was our Saturday afternoon. Three hours at the service station. The rest of the time there we spent waiting for them to fix the door rattling and the brake pedal squeaking. The door they managed, the brake pedal apparently was a lost cause, and we didn’t even bother with the steering wheel squeaking. After that, we took refuge at the mall, which, given our contempt for malls under any normal circumstances really says something. At least we passed on McDonald’s though – I think we’d rather drink that new brake fluid that our car may or may not have gotten than go there – but we did end up at an Italian restaurant, which wasn’t half bad.

Meanwhile, our little adventure in Mumbai is drawing to an end. We’ll go trekking in Sikkim for two weeks in April, and then we are out of here. Not that we regret having come here, not at all, it was definitely an experience, but maybe Central Park in May won’t be so bad either. We’ll ride our bicycles around Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan, in the middle of traffic on 2nd Avenue, and we’ll think: aahhh, New York City, fresh air, quiet roads, laid back people. But we’ll also search for the perfect Dosas and masala chai, we’ll miss Deepak and our maid, and if we ever find a dead rat in our A/C, we’ll know what to do with it, no problem.


Ahhh… Goa! The hippie paradise, the charter destination for potbellied middle aged Germans (and plenty of Russians, too), the weekend destination for Bollywood celebrities… Well, we had put off a trip to Goa for all these reasons, and also because it took me a while to convince Ksenia that we should be driving down there. As it turns out, it was a lovely drive and Goa is indeed quite lovely, especially if you make a big circle around the hippie, raver, and charter destinations.

Since the 9th this month was a holiday, we had five days to play with, taking off the Wednesday and Friday as well. We wanted to leave Mumbai at 6am, but as usual, we packed last minute and didn’t leave the house until 7am. Still, there was no traffic to get out of Mumbai to Panvel, where the NH17 starts. National Highway is of course a bit of a misnomer, because it’s a pretty narrow road, one lane each direction, no dividers, but plenty of pedestrians, bicycles, and cow carts for added entertainment and diversion during the 600km trip.

Nevertheless, I had been a bit worried that the road would be the standard pothole infested diet we’ve come to love to hate around here, so that it would indeed take 15-17 hours to get to Goa, as some websites had said, but in fact the road was for the most part quite good. Narrow, but smooth and curvy – apart from a few stretches up and down some mountains, it would have been fun to go on a motorbike. Plus, there were surprisingly few Horn Ok Please trucks on the way, and even fewer maniac bus drivers. The landscape is very nice all the way, and it changes quite often between lush green fields and dry yellow mountains, but I kind of forgot taking pictures, because I had two much fun driving.

We stopped over for lunch halfway at some posh hotel in Chiplun and reached North Goa at 6pm. It took another hour or two to find a place to stay that wasn’t booked, but then we ended up at the very nice River Cat Villa in Mandrem. The next morning, we walked to the beach, spotted the first topless tourist and were surprised to find that the water does indeed resemble the color blue, which is an enormous step up from the brown sewage at Juhu Beach in Mumbai.

Shocked by the sight of so much blue water and almost empty beaches, we left and drove down to Old Goa, the former capital of Portuguese India. There seem to be more churches then souvenir shops in Old Goa, and there’s not much else, but it was nice to walk around without much bother, and with vendors restricted to a small area around a main parking lot, which was almost empty. Goa is close to completely banning plastic bags, so it is probably the cleanest place we’ve been to in India so far. Of course, a lot of tourists seem to have an addiction to potato chips, so there’s still that, but ah well.

Our next stop was the Savoi Plantation, a tropical spices farm pretty far east in Goa. When we got there, there was an army of charter tourists being served some yummy organic food, a traditional Goan dance and music performance, and a very efficient spice sales show. Thankfully, they got bussed back to wherever they came from, while we stayed to sleep in a most quiet and lovely little farmhouse on the plantation. The owners were very nice and not too pushy or in our faces, so it was very relaxing.

Having gone so far east and away from the beach, we went to a nice little 13th century Hindu temple the next day, deep in the forest. There was a Brahmin family stopping by for some prayers and it was all very laid back. Then we drove to the south and made a lunch stop in a little restaurant. The owner was some local politician, and it was quite interesting as he told us that he’s first of all a Goan, then an Indian – he still speaks Portuguese and even has a little Portuguese flag in his car, much to the dismay of some people who consider such a display anti-national, he told us. He complained a bit about the foreign invaders in Goa, by which he meant Marathis from Maharashtra – apparently, there was a row about what the official language in Goa should be, and it almost became Marathi instead of Konkani. There’s also some discussion about whether the Roman Konkani script should be on equal footing with the Devanagari Konkani script.

Anyways, Goans, especially women, are by the way considered the lazy, laid back, catholic and fun loving people of India, with the loose morals to match, even though Christians are a minority here (nevermind that being catholic anywhere else doesn’t exactly signifies loose morals). And speaking of stereotypes, hippies are generally despised, while Israeli tourists are now even more loathed than Germans, the reason being that they are all fresh out of the Army and hence prefer drugs to sauerkraut with beer, and a good fight to lazily drunken roasting in the sun. All of this according to our Indian Goa travel book, which marveled about the story of a bunch of Israelis being kidnapped in Afghanistan, who then proceeded to close combat their kidnappers to death.

So we drove further south to Agonda, after we made a quick stop in Colva, which seemed packed with lobster red vodka infused Russians walking around town half naked. Agonda in contrast is a very laid back little strip of lovely beach, so we stayed there and actually went for a real swim the next day. Of course we had to also check out Palolem further south, which was predictably overcrowded, but the Oceanic Hotel, outside of Palolem, was one of the nicest little places we’ve been to in India so far.

The next day, it was back to Mumbai. We decided to take the NH4A from Goa to Belgaum in Karnataka, where we’d get onto the Bangalore – Mumbai express highway. Unfortunately, a large part of the 150km to Belgaum was on the most horrific stretch of road ever. There were literally thousands of trucks loaded with red dust from the Goan ore mines, and the road itself was totally destroyed; it basically didn’t exist anymore. The dust from the trucks and the road was so thick that we felt like we were in the middle of a heavy red London fog, so we chugged along in first or second gear for many many miles.

But eventually reached the express highway, the pride of Indian civil engineering connecting Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai, and Delhi, and from there it was a nice ride at 120km/hour all the way to Mumbai – then and again interrupted by trucks and cows going the wrong way on the fast lane, while we were passing some rickshaw or cows going the right direction on the slow lane. Quite obviously, after spending probably billions of dollars on the highway, there wasn’t enough money or thought left to also build underpasses or overpasses at the exit points, so instead the cows and the rickshaws and the trucks just cut over to the other lanes and go the last bit against the traffic. We had seen people parking their cars on the highway, preferably on a bridge or in a sharp curve and where the highway has no shoulder, just to say a prayer or to take some pictures, but these cows and rickshaws going the wrong way were a bit like the icing on the cake.

Anyways, we got home eventually, where we noticed that our building had yet another watchman (they kind of change like people change their underwear), who immediately rang our door and asked for money. We also noticed some bite marks on our couch that strongly suggested mice, and sure enough, we saw a mouse running around in our apartment, plus a dead one caught in the grill of our A/C. Well, maybe they eat the mosquitos, of which we have more than we can kill. On the plus side, it’s 35 degrees Celsius in Mumbai every day these days, and we don’t even really feel it anymore – we’ll be freezing during New York City summers when we come back.


Our trip to Kerala started at 3am in the morning with the riksha driver making a big detour via the international airport to get us to the domestic airport. I suppose he was assuming that we must be wanting to get out of India, even though we repeatedly told him domestic airport. Or maybe he just wanted to take us for a ride and a little early morning scam. Either way, we were passing hundreds of parked rikshas, most of them with the driver sleeping under a blanket on the back bench. Even Mumbai gets a bit cooler at night at this time of the year.

We landed in Kochi at 8am, and the air was noticeably nicer than Mumbai, even while walking from the aircraft to the terminal, which looked like a repurposed train station. Most men were wearing white lungis, which look very comfortable. It would be nice if one could wear those in NYC, but then again, seeing that all the men in Kerala are constantly playing with their lungi, tucking them in and out, lifting them up or down and adjusting them, maybe not.

The can ride to the ferry for Fort Kochi was a bit of a ride from hell. The roads are much better than in Mumbai, but the drivers are even more suicidal. There was a disturbingly large amount of huge advertising posters everywhere along the 20 miles road, but eventually, we got dropped off at the ferry. Of course it was the wrong ferry, the ones for the tourist, so we got immediately harassed left and right, as we must have been the day’s first prey. But we successfully dodged this second scam of the day and rather than paying Rs400 for the tourist boat, we walked a bit further down to catch the Rs2.5 regular ferry, which had the added bonus of watching the security guy lock up all the passengers behind a steel gate as they were waiting for the boat to come in. Which it did, 15mins late, with another ferry in tow, whose engine had apparently given up.

In Fort Kochi, we had our first of many encounters with riksha drivers who simply refused to turn on the meter. At first, we were rather annoyed, but over the days it dawned on us that maybe this is one of the features of Kerala’s long history of communist governments. Maybe you can’t have the highest literacy rate and lowest infant mortality rate in India, a noticeably more equitable distribution of wealth and a school in literally every village, and still expect the riksha drivers to use the meter. Of course, the rikshas were still pretty cheap, but at two or three times the going rate in Mumbai, one had to wonder whether this was the tourist rate or whether the locals really pay Rs2000 or so a month just for their daily commute.

Kochi is quite nice, but the some of the aggressive sales tactics got a bit on our nerves quite quickly, and almost every riksha driver made the same joke about wanting to give us a ride in his Ferrari, which also got a bit old. One driver tried to tell us that petrol is much more expensive in Kerala than in Mumbai (it is not, as the central government sets the price). A waiter ordered us to sit and relax. And we tried a ayurvedic massage, which Ksenia loved and I found a bit too up close and personal for comfort (I take a Thai massage any time over that).

Somehow the nicest part was to sit in a tea house just a bit away from the main drag. But in the evening we saw a Kathakali performance, and that was great. Yes, there were virtually no Indians in the audience, and it was more an exhibition than the real thing, but it was very interesting and beautiful. We finished the evening with a pretty bad dinner and the next day we had a cold shower and decidedly horrible breakfast in our overpriced hotel – white toast and jam consisting of 50% sugar and 50% gelatin. What the hell happened to idli, we wondered).

After that, we took a two hour bus ride to Alleppey. Ksenia got a seat and observed a very suave guy quietly and slowly slipping a piece of paper into a female passenger’s hands, who took it after fifteen minutes with a coy smile, while I was standing the whole time, watching the communist flags go by. In Alleppey, we got picked up by the cook for the houseboat that we had rented in Kochi, and then we argued with the riksha driver, who also refused to turn on the meter. The cook got quite annoyed with us and said come on, sit down, everything is ready to go, which of course it wasn’t. But eventually our houseboat got moving and we got some food, which was actually quite nice.

We spent 24 hours on the boat, which is about enough for our taste. It’s nice and relaxing at all, but looking at rice fields isn’t really all that thrilling, nevermind the fact that one basically takes the boat through other people’s back yards, where the women wash their clothes, bathe, and brush their teeth, and some children (much better dressed than in Mumbai) ask the tourists for money.

Ksenia and I entered a lengthy discussion about possible explanations for the size of the paddles that the locals use with their little wooden boats. These paddles are basically teaspoon size: they are very small and look almost fragile, with an undersized surface for effective paddling, and they are only one-sided, i.e. they have to change their grip, if they’d like to paddle on the other side of the boat. If they had better paddles, let alone contraptions for actually rowing instead of paddling, they’d be quite a bit faster. After pondering many theories ranging from lack of materials or engineering expertise or rowing muscles, to they aren’t in a rush to get anywhere, to maybe they had never thought about it, we settled on the explanation that maybe they used to use these little boats to go on tiny canals into the rice fields, where rowing would have been impossible and paddling with teaspoons offered the best balance of moving forward and protecting the rice fields.

Anyways, somehow the engine of our own boat gave up pretty much in time for sunset, so we got towed for a bit by another boat, and the next morning we woke up to the smell of diesel exhaust as the cook and the two other crew members tried to repair the engine. Eventually, we got back to Alleppey, where we found a number of touts who didn’t understand the meaning of the word no, but also a bus station attendant with badly deformed legs who pointed us very helpfully towards the right bus to Thiruvalla, our next stop.

Thiruvalla has the only temple in Kerala where Kathakali is performed daily as part of the religious ceremony, and it also has a number of temples in the surrounding villages, so that’s where we wanted to go. But first Ksenia needed another ayurvedic massage, so we went to a place that was listed in our Kerala travel book, but that place really looked more a hospital than anything else. They didn’t seem to have any patients, because the owner/doctor pretty much spent his whole afternoon with us, embarrassingly eager to please us, to make us want to come back tomorrow, and to tell all our fiends. He even reserved a room and drove us to a hotel that he insisted we stay in, even though we had told him a few times that we don’t know how long and where we want to stay and that we might actually leave town altogether.

So instead, we just had lunch at the hotel, pondered our options and called a place outside of town, which sounded much nicer than this hotel in the middle of Thiruvalla. Of course, the receptionist followed us onto the street wondering where we are going, but ah well. We took one of the many HM Ambassador taxi cabs, and even the cab drivers that were immediately surrounding us were laughing with me when I laughed about the price the driver wanted for the 2km ride.

But at least we got there, and we were quite happy with our choice this time, the Vanjipuzha Palace in Chengannur, where it was quiet and green, the food was great and the staff was very helpful. Maybe a bit too helpful, because, since it is more a homestay than a hotel, the staff had no problem asking us all kinds of private questions, insisted on watching us eat while they served us very yummy food, and tried to walk into our room for our wake up call at 7am. Like many in Kerala, they are also Christians, which got a bit annoying when they started preaching about it or acted as if that were a special accomplishment, and downright embarrassing when one of them gave us a tour to a number of Hindu temples while going on about how Christianity is the opposite of Hinduism’s idol worship, as he called it. Strangely, he also was a devout anti-communist, the main reason seemingly being that the communist government was to blame for labor costs being too high and so many rice fields were no longer economical.

Either way, he was quite knowledgeable about the area, and he showed us a lot of things that we wouldn’t have seen otherwise. In the evening, we went to the Kathakali temple and apparently he was able to tell us what the story was all about just from reading the hand gestures. Amazingly, the Kathakali performance is almost every night from 10pm to 5am. Not there were many people there apart from us, but it was quite impressive. Later on, there was a bit of a cat fight amongst the staff, because he hadn’t told the others where we were going or when we would come back, so they got all worried and showed up at 2am at the temple to find us and take us back to the hotel. Sadly, both staff members were strongly hinting that they would like to help us get themselves or their children a work visa for the US, again emphasizing that they are Christians.

Anyways, we left after three hours of sleep to catch a 6am train to Trivandrum. We only had time for a quick stop at the Sri Padmanabhaswamy temple, whose inner square was closed for non-Hindus anyways, as is the case in a number of temples, and then it was back to Mumbai, Ksenia’s backpack enriched with a number of fabrics and a hand-made metal mirror she had bought and me already looking where should we go onto our next little trip.

Ready To Strangle Someone

Well, I think we’ve about reached our all-time low in India these days. At least I have, but I think Ksenia is following suit at a life-threatening pace. Today we moved from the hotel back to our apartment. We are not sure yet whether that was a good idea, because the air in our apartment definitely has a certain aura of cancerous dust and disease about it. Then again, our almost three weeks in the Grand Hyatt cost us bloody $1200 just for food and laundry etc. alone. Not that the food had even been any good. In fact, we got pretty sick of their menu, really. Worse, their morning coffee was absolutely poisonous. When the waiter asked me the other morning whether I’d like some coffee, I just told him, “yes, I’d like some coffee, but your coffee is so atrocious that I’d rather decline”. I suppose it is a bit of sign of my current state of mind, because I don’t usually treat waiters like that.

Anyways, either our relocation guy is even more useless than I had thought, or maybe it’s the Grand Hyatt that’s to blame, but when it was time to check out of the hotel, nobody seemed to have any idea about the fact that my company will be paying for the room, while I pay for food and laundry, etc. A bit of name dropping and half an hour later they had sorted it out and presented my with my bill of fifty-two thousand Rupees. The price tag of Rs9000 a night didn’t even include their crappy breakfast. To top things off, the concierge made me sign my bill twice, because he wasn’t pleased with the way my signature looked like the first time around.

We stopped at Barista on our way home for some coffee and breakfast. How is it even possible that breakfast for two at Barista is 10% of what they charged us at the Grand Hyatt? Of course, at Barista they served us our coffee, but then they completely forgot about our food. Add to that the fact that some motorbike rider on crack drove into my car the other day, giving it a seriously nice big scratch. Oh, plus, every evening that I’d come back to the hotel from work, their security staff would stop every car, look underneath them, and peek into the trunk.

They didn’t actually really look into the trunk, but they did insist that I open it every single evening. Which, because it’s an HM Ambassador, meant that I’d have to switch off the engine, get out of the car, open the trunk, close the trunk, get back into the car, switch on the engine, and drive off. Why? Because I have yet to find a single person around here who is capable of closing, i.e. actually locking, the trunk. Granted, the locks don’t seem to be the strong points of my car – it regularly takes 10 minutes every time I get gas for the attendant to figure out how to properly lock the gas tank.

Anyways, so it wasn’t even 11am this morning and I was already fully in the mood to kill someone. Mumbai is bloody hot these days and the noise and dust and pollution just never stops. Coming back to our apartment didn’t exactly improve my mood. There was cement dust everywhere, there still is. It smells damp and poisonous. It took my an hour to clean my PC – obviously, my landlord’s brilliant construction crew had not even considered covering my PC. Our shoes they had managed to first cover in dust and then just throw onto the terrace. Last we spoke to our landlord he proudly announced that he had cleaned the apartment, whining about how much money he had spent, but of course wherever we touched, our hands got covered in dust. The furniture shows nice streaks of dust, because some genius had simply used a dirty wet cloth to smear the dirt around a bit. The couch now displays a cigarette burn, and a piece of wooden ceiling just in front of the terrace is now completely ruined and covered in cement.

So eventually we needed some food and we drove to this fairly decent vegetarian restaurant. Last time we were there they had valet parking. I always use valet parking, because there is zero regular parking to be found in Mumbai. Anyways, this time the guy in the restaurant tells me to just park over there, on the sidewalk. Ok, I park over there and some other guy comes running towards me and tells me to park over there, where there’s obviously not enough space for my car. So I go back to the restaurant guy and tell him what the story is, but he obviously doesn’t give a fuck, nor does he speak any English now. So I yell at him a bit and ask him why he doesn’t just tell me right away that he doesn’t have any valet parking. Then I get back into the car, trying to drive off and somehow manage to rip off some other car’s front license plate.

Of course, that car’s driver gets out, doesn’t speak a word of English either, but starts gesturing around. We are immediately surrounded by a dozen gawkers. I tell one of them that there’s nothing to fucking see here, why doesn’t he just move on? His very thoughtful reply was: “This is India. This is not your country.” So the driver can’t explain to me what he wants, or rather: how much he wants, but then this very important looking woman comes along, and she’s obviously the owner of the car. She has no idea what to do either, other than ordering her driver to write down my license plate number and than turning towards me and telling me all huffy and puffy that I should have seen her car. “Yes, I should have, but I didn’t.” – “Well, if you drive, you should look.” She quite clearly was the expert driver, which would explain why she needs to get driven around by her chauffeur, but I left it at that and drove off.

Our next stop was some other restaurant where the waiter insisted that he doesn’t have any cold bottled water, only mineral water that comes in a bottle that is cold. It’s one of those small language things. The food wasn’t bad, but unfortunately we were sitting outside, next to a main road, and one could just see and smell the dust and exhaust fumes settling onto our dishes. I haven’t had a cigarette in two weeks now, maybe that’s why I am in such a pissy mood these days, but clearly I am just about ready to strangle someone, or to get out of this shithole, because it’s giving me a serious headache these days. But I think we need to clean our apartment first.

Love Letters

Today we were walking around the Hanging Gardens in Malabar Hill, supposedly one of the poshest areas in Mumbai, wondering what it is that made someone decide they should be using metal penguins everywhere as trash cans in the garden. There were penguins everywhere. It was good to see that there were trash cans at all to begin with, but then again, judging from the trash people were throwing across the fences of the garden, we presumably weren’t the only ones who couldn’t quite understand the penguin thing. We also didn’t quite get to see what makes Malabar Hill so posh, so off we drove, further down to Colaba.

After a number of detours through tiny streets downtown, we gave up in the silly idea of finding a parking space downtown. This was after we have been having a coffee, when a bunch of kids came to us screaming very excitedly about something or other. It turned out that they were telling us that the cops were about to tow our car. I had never seen a tow truck in this town and had sort of dismissed rumors about the cops actually towing cars, so I have been getting into the habit of parking anywhere where I didn’t seem to obstruct traffic too much. But there they were, a bunch of guys in blue overalls, plus a smiling cop who actually spoke English, about to tow our car.

Of course, there was the usual back and forth and here and there and give and take that is the regular mode of communication for us. The cop wanted to see my driver’s license and I showed him my New York State license, as I had done in other occasions like these (there had been two of them, both times for being on my mobile while stuck in traffic). In this case, however, the cop didn’t simply look at the NYS license, only to decide that he can’t be bothered to deal with me, but instead he asked what country I am from. I didn’t want to confuse him too much, so I simply said, well, New York is in America. Somehow I came to understand that they wanted me to pay 100 rupees fine at the Dadar police station. I really wasn’t in the mood for that, so I asked him, ok, give me a receipt and I pay you. I don’t know which part of that simple suggestion did the trick, but somehow the cop then decided that he can’t be bothered after all, so he just told me to park elsewhere and left. So I parked the car right next to another No Parking sign, but this one was in a dead end street, and that was good enough, I suppose.

Of course, the kids who had warned me about my car being about to get towed were very eager to get their tip, and I thought, ah well, I really never give money to kids, but in this case, they did a good job, so I gave them two rupees each.

Anyways, so downtown there was no parking of course, except that there are a few official parking lots that cost something like four rupees an hour. By that time we were absolutely starving, so we went to Indigo, which has very good Italian food. Well, the salad and the wine and the quiche was great, the pasta was pretty bad. As a special treat we had the slightly doubtful pleasure of sitting right next to a big table of Westerners who were surrounding Gregory David Roberts, the author of Shantaram, which is currently one of the two must-reads about Mumbai (the other being Maximum City).

After that we went to the National Centre for the Performing Arts to see Love Letters, a play by A.R. Gurney. Their parking lot had a big sign about being full, but this being India, we knew that such things don’t mean anything, so when we asked the parking lot attendant whether we can park there he said but of course! We quite liked the play, actually. Well, first we didn’t but it got a lot better. But what absolutely boggled our minds was that at the end, during the very final monologue of the very good male actor, right in the middle of his quiet tender speech, there were not one, but two people from the audience who walked out. With loud steps, one shuffling her feet, the other clicking her high-heels. The poor actor’s eyes followed one of them as she was making her exit from the audience, and I don’t know what he was thinking, but we just couldn’t believe it, because, well, it was just un-fucking-believable that people would be so incredibly crass and rude to make that sort (or any sort) of exit during a final quiet scene of a pretty good play.

It was really quite amazing. I mean, this wasn’t some kind of improv theater in a garage, tickets were relatively expensive and people seemed definitely upper class. But with all the crotch scratching and spitting everywhere, the car honking from behind in standing traffic at a red light, the blatant staring and Hello foreigner! wherever we go on the one hand and the obedient Yes, Sir! Thank You, Madam! one the other hand, these two walk-outs really get the first prize in our Incredible India Awards.