Avaes Mohammad

India: SALAAM BOMBAY 2 (250509)

In Uncategorized on June 20, 2009 at 1:12 pm

Salaam Bombay 2  

 

The cash machine in the Indian airport doesn’t want to be my friend either.  So I walk away and change my fourteen dollars into rupees.  Even the money exchanger looks disappointed at the amount I have.  Our hands cross and I’m left with just over five hundred rupees. 

 

I’ve been to Bombay once before: with my family in 1990.  We stayed on Mohammad Ali Rd, I remember as it’s named after my father’s favourite poet and my favourite boxer.  Okay…Mohammad Ali Rd.  With three bags and a drum I walk out of the airport towards the bus stop.  The airport is the same as any other airport.  Beautifully clean, polished and trolley-friendly flooring that provide a deceptive introduction to the city.   Beautifully moustached and dominating Armed Guards that don’t.  I make my way to the bus stop and after jumping on and then being thrown off a few buses, I finally figure out which bus I’m to get and board successfully. 

 

 

[Following in Hindhi]

 

Avaes:             I wanna go Mohammad Ali Rd 

 

Conductor:      10 rupees.

 

Passenger:      Give him twenty rupees day pass…you can go round all Bombay, all day with that!

 

Avaes:             Er..yeah…twenty rupees day pass please

 

Passenger:      [with a huge smile]  See…I just saved you money!

 

 

Mohammad Ali Rd is filthy but glistening.  Harsh but friendly.  Cut-throat but life affirming.  Very damn quickly I discover this is true for most of Bombay. 

 

 

[following in Hindhi]

 

‘Salaam.  Uhm…I’m from England!  I’ve been travelling across East Africa for a couple of months now and I arrived in Bombay this morning.  You see I have an English bank account but it’s been frozen. Now there’s no problem. I have money!  The ATM even showed my balance.  I reckon they just think it’s got stolen so all I have to do is call them.  Today’s Sunday though right, so I can’t today, but tomorrow.  Tomorrow I will and when they free my account I’ll have money again.  I can pay you then I promise.  Tomorrow or the day after.   But I can’t pay up front.  I can’t pay today.  500 rupees is all I have in my pocket and I’ll need it for food and the phonecall tomorrow.

 

…No!

 

…500 rupees. Pay up front only!

 

…Pay half up front!

 

…I’m sorry…we can’t help…No-one will.

 

 

One fella just purses his lips together, looks down as though reading an imaginary book and flicks his hand at me like he’s shooing a mosquito.  I tried all the guest houses in Mohammad Ali Rd, but Bombay demands you pay up front.  I even managed to get myself in and then out of a minor scuffle and so thought it best to leave this area full of merciless Indian Film Villains.  As I try to figure out my next move I walk past a guy with one eye sat by the side of the road who gave me directions to a guest house earlier. 

 

 

[Following in Hindi]

 

Did you find the guest house?

 

Yeah.  None of them’ll take me

 

Why?

 

 

I explain.

 

 

Oh.  But you have the money?

 

Yeah.  I do.  I reckon I’ll get it by tomorrow even but no-one here wants to know.  [Beat]  Maybe I’ll just have to stay out tonight.

 

Hey!…Look!!  Sleeping on Bombay streets is no easy thing.  The city’s teeming with street kids.  They’ll rob you of all your stuff and there’ll be nothing you can do about it!  Listen to me and get yourself inside somewhere!     

 

 

[pause]

 

 

Where you from?

 

England.

 

England!  You have a British Passport?

 

Yeah.  I was born there.

 

So you have a green card then?  You can work there?

 

Er…yeah.

 

Can I see?  Your passport?

 

 

He looks at me like a child wanting sweets and although I know it’s the stupidest thing to do, I still find myself taking my passport out of my pocket to present to a one-eyed stranger on the edge of a rat infested Bombay street.  He stretches his hand out.  I stretch my passport out.  Holding firmly.

 

 

I won’t run away with it.

 

 

And I choose to trust him.  Because trust is currency between strangers.  So I let my grip go and his eyes light up as he delicately caresses through the pages in my passport.  He returns it.

 

 

Look!  You need to stop carrying that around with you, d’you hear?!  Someone’ll run away with it and get 10, 000 rupees for it on the street. 

 

 

He gives me directions for Colaba, the area where most tourists stay.  Maybe the hotel owners there’ll be more understanding.

 

 

Take the 124 or the 125 from that bus stop opposite.  And if you need anything, I’m here.  My name’s Kader.  I’m here everyday, I look after this parking lot.

 

 

I arrive at Colaba and the sun has started to blare.  With all my luggage and not having eaten yet, I’m tired and desperate to find a place to put my stuff down in.  I search for a private agent I’ve been told can give me some money, provided I show him my bankcard.  Sounds dodge I know.  As I’m looking and asking for him, a hawker walks over to me. 

 

 

You okay?  Want hotel?…I’ll take!

 

 

I ask about this agent after explaining my situation.  He’s never heard of it, thinks it sounds dodge too but helps me find it nonetheless.  We don’t find it.  Luckily I think.  So he takes me to the local cheap hotels. 

 

This hawker:  He’s called Raju.  He’s 32, though he looks 25, married and with two kids.  The eldest is 15.  He’s skinnier than me even and lives in the slums nearby making his living as a guide for tourists.  Raju, is the informal version of the name Raja.  Raja means prince. 

 

Raju takes me to a hotel explaining my situation. 

 

 

[in Hindhi]  ‘He’s in trouble man…sort him out…he’ll pay you later for sure innit…do him a favour man.’

 

 

The lad at the counter says the manager’s asleep and he’s afraid to wake him in case he gets a beating.  We move on.  Raju’s helping me with my bags now.  He runs off ahead through a crowded narrow bazaar, with a bag that has my laptop, camera and documents in.  But I trust him.  As I turn around the corner he’s waiting for me, ushering me up a steep, dark stairway. 

 

 

 

[Following in Hindhi]

 

‘Help him out man.  He’s in trouble…he’ll pay you…when he gets the money he’ll pay you for sure but he has nowhere to stay for now…look he’s been running around all Bombay all morning man!…do him a favour.’

 

[The lad at reception stretches himself, thereby appearing as cool as possible]:

‘Go on then…what the fuck?…even if he eats a couple of thousand, what the fuck?!  I’ll pay for it out of my own pocket… the guy can stay.’

 

 

Fuck it!…Who’s seen what tomorrow looks like?…If I help you today, maybe someone’ll help me tomorrow…Life’s a bitch enough…No tension!:  This!  This is the spirit, the huge, throbbing, pulsating heart of India that I know.  That I love…Salaam Bombay!   

 

He shows me around a room.  It has my own bathroom, a working TV, AC and a fan. 

 

 

[Following in Hindhi]

 

Will it walk? 

 

It’ll run.

 

 

I drop my bags in and a security guard follows me.  He wants to check my bags. 

 

 

‘I’m sorry…we have to do this now.  Since you know…what happened.’

 

 

He’s talking about the 4 day siege last year in Bombay, where allegedly Pakistani terrorists had been implicated. 

 

 

Yeah course you do.  No problem man.  Look.

 

 

I help him through my stuff.

 

 

Thanks.

 

 

I walk back up to reception to sit with the lad at reception (also called Raju) and Raju the guide.  An Indian film is playing in a corner and traffic screams its eternal presence three floors below us.  As we’re sat, chatting, Raju the receptionist goes through my passport to record details in his book.  Suddenly, his face changes.  It’s all screwed up like a little boy just been slapped.  I hear a Duh! Duh! Duh! from somewhere: maybe the film on TV, maybe the film in my head.  He calls Raju the guide over and whispers stuff…I hear:  Take him and Pakistan

 

 

Is there a problem?

 

Just take him.

 

But what’s the problem?

 

I can’t do it…not now…just take him back…somewhere else…I want nothing to do with this.  Nothing!  I want fuck all to do with it.

 

What’s the problem man?!

 

 

Raju the receptionist takes my passport and flashes one of the visas at me…

 

 

Pakistan!

 

 

[Beat]

 

 

And?  And what? 

 

 

[Beat]

 

 

Look its not as though I’ve been…check…there’re no entry or exit stamps…I’m gonna go to Pakistan after India!  It’s not like I’ve just come from there.

 

I want nothing to do with Pakistan or Pakistani’s…not after what happened.  Now it’s best if you just take your stuff and find someplace else.

 

 

I shrug my shoulders and take my passport back.  I have no desire to waste time upon bullshit prejudice.  ‘But then…where the fuck you gonna go fool?!’, a foul-mouthed voice in my head shouts out.  ‘Nobody else even wants to give you a room and that’s before they’ve seen your Pakistani Visa!’

 

 

I ain’t gonna do anything am I?…. 

 

Look man…he’s not even been to Pakistan…He’s British isn’ he? 

 

But his next trip’s Pakistan!  It’s got nothing to do with you doing anything…every night a copper comes here to check the passports and the books…if he sees anything to do with Pakistan he’ll rape my arse!  Fuck that!  It’s better you just go…I want fuck all to do with it!

 

Look…You’ve trusted me this far…so what’s wrong now? And what the fuck’s wrong with going to Pakistan anyway?  Indians go too.

 

 

[Pause]

 

 

Where do you think I can go from here anyway?

 

 

[Beat]

 

 

Look…The only way I can let you stay is if you get a letter of no objection from the Cops.  I don’t want my arse raped…Simple!  If you get that we can talk…But if there’s no letter, find some place else!

 

 

Raju the guide offers to walk me to the police station, so I pack my bags again and put them back on my shoulders.  As we walk to the station, only five minutes away, I recognise the streets suddenly.  I look to the left of me…I recognise that building, that red tiled dome…those small towers…that architecture…I’m in the shadow of the Taj Hotel!  That’s exactly where the gunmen were based last year, where they wreaked their bloody four day havoc from.  I walk on and that’s Leopold Café…another scene of murder and wreckage during the siege.  No wonder.  This is the centre of where it all actually happened!  Where the allegedly Pakistani gunmen were based and distributed death from.  No wonder they’re uptight. 

 

Raju won’t come into the station but wishes me luck.  From the films I’ve seen I walk in expecting to find torture scenes, coppers with their feet up drinking tea and power hungry mini-dictators.  But disappointingly there are no torture scenes and the copper I speak to is actually rather helpful.  Although cops sitting around drinking tea are to be expected globally I think.  I’m speaking to the big boss man…I don’t know his rank but he’s the only one with no uniform and walks like he own the place.  He was on TV during the siege too, I recognise him…he spoke no English then and he speaks no English now.  After explaining my situation and what happened at the hotel, I say the hotel staff are scared of the cops and what they might do if they let me stay.  He smiles from under a bushy moustache but says he can’t issue a letter of no objection as he knows nothing about me.  I badger him a bit more… ‘My only option might be the street for a night!’…

 

 

‘Oi!  Come here!!’

 

 

He beckons a cop away from his tea and orders him to personally escort me to the hotel and then assure the hotel staff into letting me stay.  No sooner has he given the order than he walks away abruptly, utterly confident in the power of his command. Suddenly I’ve gone from being a broke backpacking bum to having a personal Police Escort to handle mine very own affairs.  Rather!  The hotel staff make a point of saying they’re letting me stay purely on the Police’s instruction and then order tea for me and the Cop.  This, ladies and gentlemen, the tale of my first cup of sweet, sweet, Indian tea…Salaam Bombay.

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