The Indian Visit

June 15th, 2014, 6am

A sudden jolt woke me up from my slumber and I found myself on a pedestrian way inside a taxi struck because the driver chose to take the foot path for an easier access to get out of the mad early morning traffic in Mumbai. Perhaps the only person who saw the taxi bang against another was my 12 year old son sitting on the front seat wearing a seat belt. The verbal spat followed between the drivers and unable to understand what they were conversing, my son glued on to his iPad. Better sense prevailed and our journey entered the second part.

When I put this taxi into service from Mumbai international airport, all I could ask my son was to stop asking the driver to wear his seat belt. But he still insisted showing the driver by carrying it on himself. But the driver did not budge saying this is Mumbai and here we rule the road. To his horror, a cop signaled him to stop and asked why he was not wearing a seat belt. The driver in his mid forties, glanced at my son as if he made a 911 call through his iPad to the cops to catch him because it was my son who gave him the advisory to follow the rules. The driver got out of the car and came back in a whimper and carried on. He later told me he bribed the cop. But he still refused to wear the seat belt.

Two cows squatting on the road stood like rocks refusing to move as if they were on a protest. Even the high decibel honking could not deter the cows. If they were humans, I could have gone out on the road and request them to move. Being revered in India, anything that I could do to these two cows could trigger into a controversy. So I made it a point to sit calm and take a nap instead. But the continuous honking made all the jet lag of 27 hours vanish into thin air.

As I gazed out of the glass terminal towards the sun at Mumbai International airport after a 27 hour journey from Michigan, the morning that I usually see at Midland looked a bit lazier than here. Life has started in full swing and jet lagged passengers with heavy load of baggage on the trolleys zoomed past me towards the exit. Some looked relaxed while a few were not as happy. May be they failed to declare goods to the customs and walked through green channel only to be intercepted by customs officials. I was determined to catch a Black and Yellow taxi, an iconic Mumbai feast that I used frequently when I was here more than a decade back.

But outside, I could not find the icon of Mumbai. Instead it was all Blue and almost all of them by Maruti – the car Indians dreamt to own two decades back and still going strong as the largest car manufacturer in India.

I could not believe that so early in the morning Sion could give us jitters. We were struck for almost 10 minutes and suddenly I could hear an ambulance horn. Normally I am habituated to see ambulance being given freeway in the US but here neither my driver nor the people around him were least bothered. The first brawl that my son had with the driver was to make way for ambulance. The driver could not understand a dime of what my son was saying and so I translated it to him in Hindi. But he was helpless. After almost 10 minutes the ambulance got through and then the rush for every driver was to chase the ambulance to get a clutter free traffic.

Both my kids were excited to be part of their first visit to India. We painted to them a picture of India as a developed and prosperous country with a lot of good people. The first entry point – the Mumbai international airport – impressed us. I thought the first part is taken care of in our rosy picture to the kids. But by the time we took the return flight, everything that we tutored watered down and they started questioning the rationale behind the rosy picture painted to them.

Shifting from a sub zero temperature to hot and humid Mumbai is not an easy transition. But I had my in-laws ready with an air conditioner. As we reached home on this rickety ride, I realized air conditioner doesn’t work without electricity. Not that I didn’t knew it but perhaps I realized it now.

But yes, the next day, we had a great experience. The taxi that we summoned had a lady driver to my astonishment. Both my kids were impressed. This is a major change I noticed during my trip. I dont know, like other moves, this is merely symbolic or not. The normal picture in the US about India portrayed by CNN alike is that of poverty and snake charming. Other than this they know Taj Mahal. For them Taj is India and India is Taj. Me and my wife were trying to potray to the children the real Indian talent that India hardly recognize because of the poor infrastructure, poor education and lack of innovation platforms. On the way, I could show my how kids on the traffic signals sold pirated but plastic sealed books, helmets and toys instead of begging. I presume they must be going to school as well.

Photo Courtesy : Tim Mossholder

Sanna, Vosco and Christine said thanks.

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Biju Alex

A pharmaceutical Scientist trying to make sense of Science

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