Location: Bombay, Maharashtra, India Date: April 2009
First things first. Before I get into my time in Bombay, I want to go into a little detail about its name. I don’t call it Mumbai. I call it Bombay. Why? Because the name got changed due to pressure from the Hindu fundamentalist group Shiv Sena. I’m not alone in refusing to use the new name, as many cosmopolitan Indians continue to call it Bombay. It’s Bollywood, right? Not Mollywood. Long story short, Shiv Sena pressured the government into naming it Mumbai in their attempt to go back to the good ‘ol days. Basically Shiv Sena wants all of society to return to the medieval period. On Valentine’s Day this year they were out in the street attacking lovers holding hands as they said Valentine’s Day was not Indian (read: Hindu). Physically assaulting them.
The membership of Shiv Sena tends to be young, male, unemployed, racist and, obviously, sexually frustrated. They also have a base of support among taxi drivers, which is why my friend Colin was always wary about talking about them when in taxis. Shiv Sena members were also the ones who decided to attack all taxi drivers not from the state of Maharashtra working in Bombay. Their hatred is so strong for difference that people from other states (but the SAME COUNTRY) are too much for them.
While I respected Colin’s wishes when he was in the cab, when I was alone I would always ask taxi drivers who they supported in the upcoming elections, as Shiv Sena is also a political party, in the same way that the Nazis were also the National Socialist Party. If they said Shiv Sena I wouldn’t tip them.
My previous experience with major cities in India had been limited to Delhi, which is a sad excuse for a city. Bombay has completely altered my view of Indian metropolises. The place has a soul, a heart to it, that any visitor can feel beating. It’s got arguably the best food in India, the largest slum in the world, and the world’s largest movie industry. It is also the second most populous city in the world, behind Tokyo. Bombay does everything to an extreme.
Whereas Delhi is like DC as the administrative hub of India, Bombay is most like New York. It never sleeps, has the best night life, and is the cultural capital of India. All the best music and movies come from Bombay. If I ever worked in India, I would certainly put Bombay atop my list.
My experience in Bombay was no doubt altered by the incredible time showed to me by my friend Colin who is there working for Credit Suisse. People in finance (at least those left) the world over live life large, and finance folks in Bombay are no different. Colin has a sweet apartment a stone’s throw away from the coast and (especially important for me) the best hospital in India, Breach Candy Hospital. Little did I know when I arrived that I would be spending many hours and many rupees seeing all manner of doctors there.
Just down the street from Colin’s apartment is the Breach Candy Club, to which he is a member. When you walk in, all the sounds, smells and annoyances of India melt away. Just past the entrance counter you enter into the pool area with a pool that could easily take 500 swimmers along with three diving boards and a water slide. I think it’s the only one of its kind in India. It’s also got to be the only club in India where a majority of the members are foreigners, mostly expats and their families. On one side of the pool the British and Americans sit. On the other, the French. Due to this strange seating arrangement the pool has earned the nickname “The English Channel.”
The club sits right along the coast and provides stunning sunset vistas. The banner photo atop this blog comes from a Breach Candy Club sunset. So does the one below. It is most certainly the best escape from India that I have ever experienced. Which is partially why I think Colin has the dream life.
He can experience India in digestible sizes. When he’s had enough of the dal and vegetables, endless polution and honking, he can walk down to the Breach Candy Club and order up an actual beef hamburger with fries and sunbathe by the pool until he’s ready to go back to the insanity of India.
I fell so much in love with the Bombay expat lifestyle, with the posh bars, private clubs and A/C rooms, that I failed to see much of the tourist trail. I never saw the hanging gardens or Elephanta Island. When I go back someday I’m sure I’ll see those places, but while I was there this time it was nice to experience something outside the backpacker lifestyle of bed-bug infested mattresses and squat toilets.