Blasting horns. Bonnet-to-boot traffic. Cars weaving jaggedly along cramped highways like a stream of water rippling over pebbles. Haze in the sky so thick you can’t see the sea. Dust turning the streets a monochrome palette of sepia-grey. Dull. And yet, so rich.
Colour is found in discord.
The noise of horns is entertaining in its uselessness. There’s no aggression behind the wheel, just a benign desire to hurry up. Despite the apparent chaos, the traffic moves ahead and accidents are few. Driving skills are sharp and accurate.
The smog turns the rising and setting sun into a luminous orange ball. The dim backdrop of dirty pavement highlights the saris of bougainvillea pink and emerald green, peacock blue and marigold yellow. The range of fruit and vegetables for sale along the roads create a kaleidoscopic display: fat, red strawberries, pomegranates like cricket balls, maroon carrots and tens of different greens. The freshness beats anything I’ve seen. Flower garlands of burgundy, orange and white hang like curtains over matching sweets: offerings for the deities, an integral part of the culture.
The castes and religions knit together as one. People have their roles, traditions and beliefs and manage to get along. The language is soft, the head-wobble, endearing. The cows, dogs and crows mingle with traffic and people, and no harm is done.
I’ve come to India to do research for the writing of my novel. But of course, I’m getting so much more out of it than that. People are interested, generous and helpful. I’m learning from them and my life is enriched. They too wish to learn and enrich their own lives and being kind is good karma.
Mumbai is a city of contrasts: rich and poor, drab and bright, material and spiritual. And a great setting for a story.