First Impressions of Bombay

As we prepared for Bombay, we read some books about the city and talked to friends that had been or lived there. Most of the comments and feedback we heard were in the following form:

  • “It’s the most exciting, dynamic place on the planet right now. Like New York City in the early 1900’s, it’s the financial and entertainment capital of a rapidly developing nation. You’ll be able to get into growing businesses on a ground level.”
  • “It’s got challenging weather. It’s humid, hot, and watch out in the monsoon season. Prepare for the weather!”
  • “It’s so crowded! You’re going to find yourself lost in masses of Indian people everywhere. There’s no escaping the crowds! There’s no privacy anywhere in a major city in India.”
  • “Prepare for the beggars! People mutilate themselves so they could beg more money from tourists. Beggars are everywhere!”
  • “Bugs! Bugs everywhere! You won’t be able to escape the bugs in India.”
  • “There’s bureaucracy and corruption everywhere! Everything takes so long in India. Nothing in your apartment will work. Maintenance people will intentionally do a bad job of fixing things so there’s a reason for them to come back and charge you more money.”
  • “Bombay has the worst traffic in the universe. No one follows any traffic laws, and it takes three hours to get from one side of the city to another. You’ll have a heart attack as soon as you get in a rickshaw due to how crazily they drive.”

I feel privileged to be here. Bombay has a very dynamic vibe. There is a ton of construction going on everywhere, and every shop delivers. You can tell there is a lot going on here.

My personal experience with regard to things that were supposed to be inconveniences is a lot tamer. That largely has to do with the circumstances of my being here. Daya and I are here under the auspices of the American School of Bombay. We were picked up at the airport when we arrived, and taken to our apartment building by Daya’s principal. There was food waiting for us in the apartment.

Our experience is very different from arriving at the central train station, fighting our way through the crowds, and figuring out how to take a rickshaw to our hotel.

Instead, we are living in one of Bombay’s nicest residential neighborhoods – Bandra West, in a flat rented out by the American School of Bombay. Daya and I are in a perfectly nice apartment. Other teachers have even larger places. Some even have balconies and views of the Arabian Sea.

Our apartment is a two bedroom, two bathroom apartment with a washer/drier, new refrigerator, water filter, hot water, and western toilets. The building is clean. The only bugs in our apartment are those that fly in when we have the windows open. We wake up to the sounds of birds in the morning and get direct sunlight in our windows. There are trees on our street, no beggars, and it’s not at all crowded.

The school has its own staff of maintenance people for overseas hires (Daya is an overseas hire), so we don’t have to worry about finding people to maintain our apartment, and most things were already in good working order by the time we got here. So we don’t have to worry about things working in our apartment.

Our apartment in San Francisco was smaller, with a crappy refrigerator and lukewarm water. Additionally, our street was host to a vocally gifted homeless person who dressed like a scary leprechaun and harassed passing residents until 3 am. The water never ended up working well. Our apartment in Bandra is a huge step up!

The weather suits us. Daya and I spent a week in New York visiting friends and family before flying to Bombay. The weather here is nicer than the weather was in New York, so a step up there also. We are in the middle of monsoon season. So far as I can tell so far, that means it rains for 10 – 40 minutes, several times/ day. Quite pleasant actually.

Everything takes so long in India! – The school handles things for us. We got a cellphone within three days of being here. And we have internet in our apartment also. Couldn’t be easier. But this is probably not the typical Mumbai experience.

The traffic is indeed crazier, but it moves pretty slowly, so it’s not nearly as bad as being in a cab on the West Side Highway in New York. That said, I wouldn’t want to drive here.

To put the above in proper perspective, recognize that I’ve not yet ventured to central Bombay. That’s where the train station is and all the crowds are supposed to be. I am making a point of heading there this week.

Thus far I’ve been around Bandra West, Bandra East, and Juhu. Our third night here, Daya, W (Daya’s coworker, who used to live in New York), K (good friend who lives in Bombay), and I went to a bar in Bandra and then a night club in Juhu that was right on the Arabian Sea.

The bar, Elbo Room, was mostly populated by locals. Daya, W, and I were the only non-Indian foreigners there. The music was top 40 hip hop, and too loud. To the dj’s defense, the dj was an employee of the bar who also handling the receipts, and he was using windows media player. The drinks were cheap.

The club, whose name I forgot, was mostly locals, with a few white people. The music was cheesy-ish club electronica. The music was played at a reasonable volume and people were dancing. Our drinks came out to around 18 USD for a double gin and tonic. So similar to New York nightclub prices, but with a view of crashing waves at high tide on the Arabian Sea.

So thus far, a surprisingly positive impression of Bombay.

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