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.