8am, up and out. By 10am, down to our frillies and socks under the bedroom fan. M has cruelly nicknamed me swampy- barely 2 hours outside and I had to peel off my clothes for a nap. It seems the heat will take some getting used to…
And now we’re back on the inch thick mattress after eight hours in an office that veered from arctic to sauna temperatures depending on who was willing to brave the boss’ wrath for wasting energy on the aircon. Sweltering and exhausted, I finally have a wee moment to recount our first, glorious 24hours in Mumbai.
Following instructions we got a prepaid cab from the airport- highly recommended.I have now also been informed never to accept help from a stranger, whether to show me the way or help with something heavy- it’s expensive.
Mumbai is vast, and unlike the cities I’ve experienced so far there seems no rhyme or reason to it. There’s no gradual build of wealth or construction towards a discernible centre, merely pockets where glass towers, crumbling colonial buildings, half finished skyscrapers and squat apartment blocks happily coexist in the chaos.
We headed to the Fort district, a part of the city which houses the Indian Stock Exchange and a huge naval base. Only a short walk away stands the infamous Gateway to India. After 45minutes of car horn symphony- it seems indicators, traffic lights and lanes are optional- we stop to ask a middle aged gentleman, at the time engaged in a heated game of street cricket (can cricket be heated??), where the Hotel might be. He points and we trundle over to a set of marble steps leading up between a Xerox shop and a Barber’s.
Hot and sweaty we are delivered to a spacious, yet windowless room, and as we drop the bags a cockroach scuttles by. Welcome to the Benazeer hotel.
A shower and change- luckily nicked toilet paper from airport bathroom, unluckily forgot to pack towels- and we head out. Three friendly barbers step out to point us in three different directions. We dive into the chilled reception of the next hotel where a young man hands us a map and gives us a new destination, the Gateway, where he assures us we’ll find food. After admiring old buildings, rushing passed street stalls, and resisting the urge to return for photos when we realised the last dozen were selling vibrators amongst the umbrellas and batteries, we find the Gateway to India. We do a quick tour of the impressive carved stone structure, and decide to return once we’ve found a guide book.
We see street stands everywhere but heed warnings of their effects on ones’ innards and (I hang my head in shame) nipped into a Pain Quotidian for dinner. Interesting take on a quiche…
Exhausted we returned to the Benazeer, and promptly folded away furry bedsheets stained with the remnants of the last guests. We were left to curl up beneath our biggest T-shirts.
Sleep never came, but the fans kept us fresh and in the morning the shower was hot. We stop for tea then make our way to our new office for the next six weeks. It’s a cramped set of rooms in a dilapidated building by the stock exchange. It’s locked, bolted even, and we discover our meeting with our supervisor, K, has been delayed from 930, to 1030.
We rushed home to squeeze in a nap, but overslept. Having hurried back through a wall of heat and humidity we discover there’s still no sign of K. Two hours later he arrives, having given us time to get acquainted with two local students doing work experience as part of the social policy degrees. They have been waiting since ten. The two give us an overview of the judicial system, grin at the mention of corruption and inform us of the average 5 year wait on many criminal cases. Those charged with even the most minor offenses usually end up languishing in prisons for years. Apparently this accounts for some 60% of prison populations (we will have to investigate).
Our tasks are eventually set. M and I will be spending the next wee while researching disability discrimination. Until February last year deaf people were denied driving licenses in India. I think of all the horns on the way in. Surely bad road etiquette couldn’t have been reason enough to deny people with hearing impairments such a crucial form of independence… Though only a recent arrival I feel a degree of pride in discovering it was this very organization that represented the National Association for the Deaf in the groundbreaking case that has changed these laws for some 50million deaf Indians.
As anywhere else however, there was no instant justice. Wach state will have to be confronted with the challenge of implementing the ruling. So, on thursday we head to Pune where we will assist local people with hearing impairments apply for driving permits. The train ride is some 5 hours or so, and apparently we’re there to be ‘white faces’, which reads as foreign pressure on the licence office. We might even get a journalist.
We’re still not entirely sure exactly what K wants from us in terms of research, but we’re giving it a go. I’m hoping the reproductive rights unit will need some work done.
In the meantime we’ve made a friend, we’ll call her A, who was born in Bombay and is studying law in Delhi. She gave us the breakdown on food and custom- dish names, where to get Indian clothes (so we get harassed a little less), and what areas to avoid and when. Apparently after ten, everyone in the street is drunk… Worried we might not get fed A even took us to dinner at a local Parsi bakery called Yazdani’s- FANTASTIC bread. The owner, a 76 year old man with Parkinson’s, walked the Mumbai Marathon last year. He gave us oatmeal cookies that are positively heavenly.
Its hot, and wet, and the room is foosty. But I can’t help but feel this is the start of something extraordinary. I can’t wait for tomorrow.
For good measure I’ll be attaching a little video of two new friends discovered in the shower, we have yet to name the little climbers (one made its way to the ceiling while I brushed my teeth) but if they haven’t disappeared down the drain by tomorrow we may have to have a christening…