Proper masala chai, man-love, and the maelstrom of Mumbai

24 Nov 2017

There are so many wonderful things about India: masala chai, boiled in the milk like it should be. Sugar cane juice. Poori. Young boys (and adolescent boys and teenage boys) walking down the street with their arms around each other, because affection is not a weakness.

 

It’s perfectly acceptable to ask after a stranger’s religion—and the sentiment behind the enquiry is only curiosity. “Tell me of your God so that we can add Him to our absolutely all-inclusive panoply.” Catholic nuns and fully-robed Muslim women walking down the street together with the Hindu ladies by their sides. We are all women, no?  

 

I spent yesterday in Mumbai (en route to Kannur via Cozikhode) and I’m still trying to get my head around the scale of the city. The slums are spilling across every margin like dingy, tattered rainbows. Like a handmade metropolis fashioned from rubbish and tarp.

 

The traffic was a monstrosity the likes of which I have never seen. I have been to Bangkok, and Shanghai, and Kuala Lumpur, and I remember Kathmandu surpassing all of them for its lawlessness. There is at least that much anarchy in Mumbai, but here’s the thing: Kathmandu is the size of San Antonio. Mumbai is home to more than twice the number of people in New York City. 

 

There are no rules. There are no lanes. Even when there are, the lanes are roundly ignored by all. The cars and the busses and the barefoot tuk tuk drivers and the mopeds all just horde into every obtainable nook and cranny and braid themselves around every turn like a living river. I have no idea how it works, and yet it does. People will turn right on red (and remember that they drive on the left like the British do) from three places left of where the right lane would be if it existed. 

 

There are tuk tuks on the highway. I mean, of course there are, but holy shit! There are tuk tuks on the highway. In Mumbai. The lawless, laneless, very rapidly moving highway in Mumbai. There are also mopeds on it, with entire families balanced across them. The women riding side-saddle behind their men. And holding babies. Saris flying all around them like silken fireworks.

 

As I marvel at the mayhem of it all, the driver tells me, “Traffic very light today.” 

 

“Really?” I must sound dubious. 

 

“Yes, yes!” He assures me. “Sunday!” 

 

Dear God. 

 

 

 

 

 

Here's what it looks like (not my video, I found it on YouTube):

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