The first thing I did after I arrived home in Johannesburg was to eat a steak, and I have had three since then. As much as I got used to it (and even enjoyed it at times), it’s nice to steer clear from curry for a while.
It’s an understatement to say it’s great be back home. This blog inscription is not going to elaborate too much on that, but rather on some of the things that happened before I got on a plane from Delhi back to Johannesburg (via Dubai) on the 1st of September.
I travelled from Goa to Mumbai (better known as Bombay) by train just over a week ago. Unlike the trains I was on earlier in August, the 13-hour journey on the train from Goa to Mumbai took forever and seemed to stop every five minutes. It almost felt like being stuck in the London tube for 13 hours, minus the hard plastic seats, averaging a speed of around 50 km/h. A colony of cockroaches in my 3AC wagon (a third class, AC carriage with fold-down triple-deck beds) made it an even more memorable experience and I am particularly proud of the fact that I did not let any of the six-legged annoyances deter me from consuming copious amounts of tea, coffee and (pretty delicious) chicken biryani offered on the train. In hindsight eating the biryani sold on the train might have been like playing a form of Russian roulette, but I did not get sick of any of it.
I stayed in Mumbai for three nights, before flying out Delhi for one night (only because I could not change my return ticket to Johannesburg to depart from Mumbai).
I enjoyed Mumbai almost as much as Kolkata thanks to its impressive colonial architecture, charming cafés, eateries (average food though), markets and the beautiful Marine Drive, which transforms into the “Queen’s Necklace” at night and will give the Sea Point Promenade in Cape Town a serious run for its money in terms of night-time visual splendour and safety. Judging by the amount of people being chauffeured to and from work in the mornings in German luxury cars, it’s easy to tell that Mumbai is the economic powerhouse of India. The economic divide between rich and poor is also more obvious, as I could tell when I got lost one evening walking between the Queen’s Necklace and the YWCA in Kolaba (where I stayed), ending up in a slum surrounded by fancy apartment blocks.
The most interesting thing I experienced in Mumbai was not anything I saw, but rather what I taxi driver told me as he drove me around town to show me some of the sights. He started telling me about the Parsi religion as we drove past the somewhat mysterious and secretive Tower of Silence in Malabar Hills, where Parsi followers take the bodies of recently deceased loved ones to be fed to vultures. All of this forms part of an elaborate death ritual, something I have never heard of before before Mumbai. Once upon a time it involved wild vultures, but urbanisation apparently forced the Parsi community to resort to the use of captive vultures. The amount of drugs and medication given to the dying apparently poses a problem to this ritual with the vultures becoming affected by this, so Parsi’s nowadays also have the option of normal burials. I initially was both fascinated and appalled by the thought of the Parsi death ritual, until I came to the conclusion that there is no pleasant way to approach death – regardless of the rituals that follow, death and what is done to corpses afterwards will always be grim in my books. Being fed to vultures though, especially captive ones, does take the level of grimness up a notch for me.
And now I am back in South Africa. It’s frustrating to share my experience of India with people who also were there and seem to have enjoyed every second of it. The latest of these conversations was with my grandmother, who seems to be puzzled and concerned about the fact that I did not enjoy India as much as she did when she visited it with a friend in an arranged tour over twenty years ago.
“But did you go to…”
“I think it’s because you…”
“What did you think of…”
“Next time you should definitely…”
“When I was there…”
And the one everyone seems to overemphasise:
“You either love India, or you hate it…”
The more I reflect on the experience, the more I believe I really did not love India, but I definitely did not hate it either. There were moments that really took my breath away, like the real life theatre of the Ganga Aarti on the banks of the Ganges in Varanasi and epic scooter rides through the green landscapes of Goa. And then there were moments where I showered India and its people with four-letter English and three-letter Afrikaans words, like the final 8am taxi ride to Indira Ghandi Airport in Delhi in a dilapidated Ambassador taxi with broken windows, my clothes drenched in sweat thanks to the 90% humidity and 30 degree Celsius temperature, street children trying to climb through the windows to touch me whenever the taxi came to a standstill.
Shortly after I arrived in India a friend commented on one of my Facebook updates that India is “extremely rewarding”, and I wholeheartedly agree with him. I just feel differently about South Africa and my fellow South-Africans after being exposed to everything I saw in India – differently in a good way. I feel positive and more certain that ever before that the country of my birth truly is a beautiful, amazing place to live in. This makes me truly, truly happy and grateful that I got to experience everything I experienced during the five weeks in India.
* Next local destination: Cape Town (8 September 2012).
* Next foreign destination: Buenos Aires (3 October 2012).