23 April 2013

Mango kulfi

Mumbai Airport is madness and it is bedlam. There is a maelstrom of crushing and chaotic and haphazard movement. 

There are people everywhere. 

They move in all directions and line up in twisting and disorderly queues that zig and zag for hundreds of metres. Many of these Indian and international travelers are towing unimaginable amounts of suitcases and packages. Bundles of all shapes and sizes balance high on wobbly carts and they teeter and totter and weave unsteadily.

They occasionally collapse and fall.

From landing through immigration and onto the luggage collection and customs areas of the Mumbai Airport - every step of the way is scrutinized by heavily mustached and very serious Indian officialdom. They look dashing in their starched white and khaki uniforms and their peaked caps and epaulets and most too have magnificently fashioned mustaches. They are the checker and stampers of documents. 

They are the Authority. 

There is a stamping frenzy one must go through when entering India as a foreigner. Visas and Passports and an arrival card that is more than fourteen inches long are stamped and stamped and then stamped again. Against the background of the sometimes deafeningly loud chatter of the thronging crowds at the airport is the constant thud and thump of the stamping. It is an almost industrial sound that reverberates and it echoes throughout the Arrival Halls.  

One must go through a long and loud process upon arriving in Mumbai. It is even longer and louder on the way out.

Mumbai was once Bombay. I have mentioned this before but everyone should know it anyway. The airport is a microcosm of the city itself. 

It is mayhem and bedlam. 

The word 'bombastic' has nothing to do with Bombay. Being bombastic is just being theatrical and dramatic - perhaps with a dash of arrogance. There are two theories on it's origins. Bombast was a type of padding or stuffing used by the French in furniture in the sixteenth century so being bombastic may have been being "stuffy'. 

The theory that I much prefer is that it was named after a very colorful and argumentative fifteenth century Swiss German alchemist named Phillipus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenhelm. He was said to have been very outspoken and his name is excellent. If I ever got myself a dachshund sausage dog for a pet I would name him Phillipus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenhelm. - the Second. 

I would call him Phil for short.

The Star of Bombay sapphire surprisingly also has no direct connection to the city. It is an enormous one hundred and eighty two carat sapphire stone that was found in Sri Lanka. It is a very big rock and it is worth tens of millions of dollars.  The Star of Bombay sapphire is on display at the Smithsonian Institute. It was donated by a Hollywood Film Star.

The Alcoholic drink Bombay Sapphire gin is named after this stone and also has no connection with the city. Bombay Sapphire gin is made by the Bacardi Company. They made their name in the Rum business. I have always assumed that Bacardi was Italian but I was wrong - Bacardi originated in Havana. 

It is Cuban. 

The Chhatrapati International is the primary airport in Mumbai and it is where I landed last night. It was formerly called the Sahar International Airport. Sahar is the name of the district of north Mumbai where the airport is situated. The airport was renamed after the 17th century Maratha Ruler Chhatrapati Shivai Bhosle in 1998.

Chhatrapati is a title and t is similar to a King or an Emperor. Shivai Bhosle was a great warrior leader. He was the ruler of the Maratha Empire and he fought heroic and bloody battles for the liberation of his Territory and to expand their land holdings. The Maratha Empire dominated most of India in the Sixteenth Century. Shivai Bhosle is said to have innovated battle tactics that surprised and overwhelmed his enemies. He had numerous and glorious victories over the English invaders. He kicked their asses. 

He died unconquered.

Delhi is a much bigger and busier airport than Mumbai and it is also much less shambolic. As far as busy goes Mumbai does not rank in world's top fifty busiest airports. The busiest by passenger numbers is the Atlanta international airport in the United States of America. Last year more than ninety five million passengers passed through the Atlanta international airport. Beijing was the second busiest airport with eighty five million passengers and Singapore was only fifteenth with fifty one million. Delhi was the busiest Indian airport with a bit under forty million passengers. 

That's still a lot of people.

The city of Mumbai invades quite a few of one's senses - all at once. It is very noisy. With so many people around and the roads jammed with cars and trucks and rickshaws the sound of horns honking is a constant. Every driver does it. 

Honks their horn. 

It is incessant. 

Rickshaws are the most common vehicle on the roads of Bombay. They used to be hand - and then bicycle driven but nowadays they are mostly motorized. They are very cheap to hire and are able to weave in and out of heavy traffic. Riding in them is sometimes terrifying but it is always exhilarating. I catch them everywhere I go in Bombay.

Motorized Rickshaws are all over Asia. In Thailand they are called Tuk Tuks. 

There are still  bicycle versions in Singapore - the type that you pedal. They are purely for tourists though and are generally driven by quite elderly Chinese guys. I have never ridden on one of these in Singapore. 

I never will. 

The origin of the word Rickshaw is Japanese and it is a shortened version of the word 'Jinrikisha". "Jin" means a "Man", "Riki" means "Power" and "Sha" translates to "Carriage".  The English writer and Noble Laureate Rudyard Kipling is said to have coined the anglicised version of the word.  

Interestingly, Rudyard Kipling was actually born in Bombay - in 1865. Kipling was born of British parents. I remember when I was little reading "The Jungle Book" and all the "Just So" stories and I desperately wanted to be the Jungle boy Mowgli. I wanted to hunt tigers in the steamy jungles of India with my faithful friend Baloo the bear.

I still do.

I wonder if children still read these stories or their parents read "Jungle Book" to them? They should because they are wonderful tales of adventure and excitement. 

They are timeless. 

The smells of Bombay are also powerful and they are not all unpleasant either. At lunchtime the odor of the cooking of the Bombay street food vendors temporarily overcomes the fumes of exhaust and diesel. It permeates the air and makes my tummy rumble and my mouth salivate. The best local foods in any country are always street foods. I learned this a long time ago. I am aware that Guide Books warn travelers of the potential perils of eating street foods but I have rarely had any problems. I eat it all the time and everywhere. It is delicious. Hygiene and health issues involving the quality of drinking water are much more of a problem. 

Vada paav are potato fritters that are particular to Bombay. They are wickedly scrumptious. Panipuri's are little round crispy pastry balls that can be filled with chickpeas or onions or chutneys mixed with chilies and spices and they are also wicked. Dosas are gorgeous little pancakes made out of rice batter and lentils and can be filled with anything and everything. I ate all of these for my lunch today - from a busy little street vendor near my office in Worli. 

This is it:

When I left the hotel this morning and was getting into a rickshaw to go my office the hotel concierge Mr. Rashid saw me and he rushed over to shake my hand. He was grinning – he was beaming actually. Mr. Rashid was resplendent in his starched black livery and his snow white gloves. 

As I was departing Mr. Rashid gave me the grandest of salutes and told me: 

"It is being wonderful to be having you back here in Bombay and I am being wishing you the most happiest of happy days in your workful endeavors today Mr. Peter Sir."

I wanted to salute back at Mr. Rashid but I could only manage a slight wave as gravity pinned me to the seat of the rickshaw as it tore down the hotel driveway. I yelled to him that I was very happy to be back in Bombay again and that I would be wishing him the happiest of happy days also. My Rickshaw driver was smiling too. Bombay people are very friendly and hospitable. Mumbians are delightful. 

They really are.

The sun has set and I am off now to eat my mango kulfi. This is a rich and creamy Indian ice-cream. I am going to stroll out and sit on the shore of the Arabian Sea. I will walk and sit in the moonlight out the front of my hotel at Lands End in Bandra. I will perch myself on the big sea wall that wraps around the remnants of the old fort and I will immerse myself in the hustle and bustle that will be going on all around me. There is a kulfi stand there and I will eat my mango flavored ice cream and take in and soak up all the sounds and sights and tastes and smells of Bombay.

I will delight in them. 

The sensory bombardment of Bombay is delicious and like the mango kulfi it is moorish and delectable

I am very glad to be back.

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