Mumbai Express I: Letters from a Semester in India

Dear Family,

Things happen much quicker than I can write which is way I am very behind in being the family scribe from afar. Bombay is so incredible and so indescribable that I don’t know where to begin.

Dad:

The Pontiac is better than any of the 20 taxies I have yet ridden. Christopher Hamilton (our backdoor neighbor to whom we gave the car) would be the king of the streets in Bombay. The taxies are numerous, constituting the better part of 50% of the vehicle fleet on the average street. They are licensed to fit five people and fit 2 Americans and I would say they are kind of like glorified go carts built out of tin cans (I exaggerate only slightly). From my investigations, it appears that an Indian manufacturer purchased the dies from Fiat—my best guess is that the model originally appeared in the 1950s. Some taxies, which look the same to my eyes, are Latas (the crappiest cars ever made) from Russia. The wheels are maybe a foot in diameter including everything. Driving here is like being a passenger at the Indy 500, only there are no rules, lanes are meaningless and horns are for use every 10 feet to tell the other people on the road to move out of the way quickly. Oh, taxies don’t have seatbelts or rearview mirrors either. The main private cars I have seen on the road are small Hyundai which dominate the market. I have yet to see an American car or anything resembling a SUV. Buses are common but not everywhere like in Quito. Getting from school to the hostel is a great adventure since there are no street names and every road has the same gray moldy concrete and stucco buildings that all look the same on each side. It’s ghetto Quito style but with a damp decaying smell of the once upon a time jungle and underlying garbage which is present everywhere.

Mom:

I’m taking all my medicine. I have never felt safer in any city I have traveled to. I walk around with my mini-disc recorder and don’t every feel like anyone is going to grab it out of my hand. I have been successfully hustled twice so far and will write more on that later but it seems that all people really do here is try to con you out of your money and they think if they’ve conned you out of five dollars they’ve ruined your day. Five dollars for a good story; I’d pay that any day! My hostel is very comfortable. Kevin Zvargulis from Jenkintown and I are sharing a room. We have an air conditioner, a 36-inch TV, a beer frig and will have an internet connection within the week. The hostel was actually used as the main university campus until last year. It is reminiscent of the language schools that dot South America where you can pay $5 for an hour of Spanish lessons. The neighborhood where the hostel is located is an average middle class Indian neighborhood, meaning it’s kind of scummy. Actually, I have yet to see a neighborhood that is not scummy. We have two kinds of eateries around our place. Two five star hotel sort of places where you can have 3 courses for about $5 or there is the take your pick of the barely-stuff-it-down variety watering holes for less than 50 cents a meal. We’ve been eating breakfast at the hole in the walls (omelet sandwiches hit the spot) and had mostly fine dining every evening around 8pm at the 5 spots.

Katherine:

The school’s new campus is very nice reflecting the recent investment of 5-7 million dollars. Little Sis, you will be happy to know that I now understand the agony of wearing a uniform. I hate it. We’ve have managed to weasel out of wearing a tie but must have a dress shirt and dress pants on everyday. Us Americans are planning to cause a scandal by wearing polo shirts on Monday, but I’m afraid that we might chicken out. Apparently, such rebellion would not go well with the fashion Nazi and they’ve don’t know what to make of us independent Americans. As students of the approximately 300-student university, we are also subject to mandatory yoga classes. Okay, I can handle that—but why do they have to be on Mondays and Fridays at 8:30 am in the morning and then I’m supposed to go straight to class. What about a shower? What if we have no classes otherwise on Friday? When we ask why, they tell us that in India people don’t ask way, they say why not? It gets worse. We have classes on weekends!!! Horrors of horrors, I’m beyond scarred by this treatment, surely worse than any American kid has ever received.

Everyone:

On a few other interesting notes, I can’t say that India is quite as cheap as I expected it to be. Well, it’s hard to resist when if you go wild on $15 a day, you get two five star meals of incredible Masala or Afghani Chicken, Uppata Tomato or Uldi. I can get a Polyester suit tailored to me for $40 and a nice suit for $100. A nice dress shirt is $10 and pants are $15. The three classes I have had thus far are excellent with good professors. I will have about 10-13 days off starting October 21st. One of my India classmates in getting married on November 2nd and we will probably go to his wedding in Bangalore. It does look like I will confine my travels to India during my stay here.

I will write soon,
Mike

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~ by Admin on September 1, 2003.

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