Mumbai – Sensory Overload in India’s “Maximum City”

Mumbai (Bombay) Gateway of India

Mumbai (Bombay) Gateway of India (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m now in Mumbai for a little while. I enjoy coming here. Mumbai is different, it has a buzz, and energy all of it’s own. It reminds me of Hong Kong which also seems to run on some indefinable electricity.
People are here from all over India creating a melting pot of many different cultures. The Hindi is different, mixing Marathi, English and Gujarati words together with Mumbaiker slang. You can speak to everyone in English, they will understand, however you may not understand the reply as it will often come back in their native tongue. I have had long conversations with people in this way, me speaking English and them replying in Hindi. Hand gestures filling the gaps in comprehension.
Food is available from all over the world as well as the famous Mumbai street food. Vada Pao, a spicy potato fritter sandwiched between two slices of Pao, an unsweetened bun, being my favourite. ( see here for a recipe )
I will never forget the first time I came to India. I flew into Mumbai or Bombay as it was then (and still is to many) late at night. I remember stepping out of the plane into the thick humid warm air filled with an amazing array of different smells. People everywhere even late at night.
On the drive from the airport in the dim light I could see numerous mounds on the footpaths and the central road divider. It was only after about 20 mins that I realized these were people sleeping, in front of shops, under flyovers and in the patches of earth that separate the road lanes. People who come in their droves from the interiors of India to seek fame and fortune in this huge city already bursting at it’s seams. Leaving their villages and sometimes their families behind they come in their hundreds of thousands in the search for a better life and maybe catch a glimpse of the god like figure that is their favourite Bollywood star. Some succeed, there are many rags to riches stories, but most don’t, and end up living on footpaths and in the ever expanding slums.
Early the next morning upon leaving the house, I wandered into a living Merchant Ivory film set. Colours and activity everywhere. The whole city seemed to be on the move, women in beautifully coloured saris flitted across the street like multi coloured butterflies. Mustachioed men in suit pants and long shirts, dhotis and kurtas, lungis and vests. Conveyances of all descriptions filling the roads, horns blaring, arms gesticulating out the windows. The footpaths obstructed by street vendors, selling fish, fruits and vegetables in carefully stacked pyramids, or sharpening knives and cleaning ears with sticks.
It was like nothing I had ever experienced before, a massed assault on all my senses, so many things to look at; a multitude of sounds attacking my eardrums, exotic smells filling my lungs with every breath. For someone used to the quiet streets of New Zealand it was overwhelming but at the same time fascinating.
The constant buzz, activity and sensory stimulation has now become an addiction and when I return back to visit New Zealand, before long I get withdrawal symptoms as my senses demand another fix!

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2 thoughts on “Mumbai – Sensory Overload in India’s “Maximum City”

  1. Thanks for following my blog. I can see that we share common interests, i don’t know Mumbai at all, i fear a little big indian cities and like better stay hidden in my tropical, quiet, piece of postal card. Yet, you bring one more piece to the puzzle that will convince me someday to climb up to Mumbai. All the best, Benjamin

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