After only a few hours of sleep, I had a rude awakening. The Indian cuisine from the flight over wanted to be repatriated. I rushed to the bathroom to purge the contents of my stomach. Ironically, I’d been marveling of the cleanliness of Singapore only a few hours earlier to now be clutching the commode in the filthiest hotel ever. How is it I get sick from food on an Singapore Airlines when it hails from the cleanest country on the planet?
I still felt sick to my stomach when I woke up in the morning to what sounded like we were perched up above the noisy streets of New York City voices carrying and horns honking.
“Alex, can you close the window?” Alex walked over to the window, “Keren it IS closed!” Once I looked out, it was far from the hustle and bustle of NYC the voices were coming from men just chilling on the side of the ride dirt road drinking chai.
Alex was feeling fine. His meal obviously had not been tainted. He called the front desk to inquire about breakfast. Two seconds later, there was a knock on the plywood door. An Indian man was on the other side with a menu and large smile. Alex ordered a large American style breakfast. I ordered a plain lassi.
When the meals were delivered, the lassi looked watery. When I asked the man what was in it he replied, “It is lassi, made of lassi. Lassi. Lassi’. I was trying to inquire if it had sugar or anything else like water. Apparently not. I paired the lassi with tangerines I smuggled in which I failed to report as we went through customs. My stomach was too angry to eat much more but at least I had enough fuel to explore.
Our hotel was only a few steps down from the train station. Alex & I passed 3 cows standing outside and staring at the entrance gates as though they were waiting for some of their friends to arrive. Alex & I joined 1 of 4 overflowing and surprisingly orderly queues extending from the ticket counter. People patiently waiting without pushing or shoving. I assume this was one of the legacies left by the British. The ticket guy who we had watched throw back change everyone else in front of us in line, smiled as he handed Alex our tickets and change without fanfare, “Platform 4.”
As Alex & I made our way to the platform, passing several children begging and men shining shoes. As we waited for our train to arrive, we watched others slowly pass on the other tracks. Hoards of men overflowing from the cars and hanging out the sides of the train. The only cars not bursting at the seams were the 1st class and women only trains. Alex & I squeezed into a 2nd class car which was extremely cozy with all seats and free space occupied but not packed to the extent any world records broken during our ride. I noticed bars that ran across the windows to prevent the crawl ins I had read about.
The signs on the platforms looked just like the signs in the London Underground but the scenery was nothing like what you would see in London. The train passed slum after large slum. Along the stops, children would pop on and off trying to perform for money. One boy attempted to make music by beating 2 rocks together. I was impressed with the boy’s resourcefulness and entrepreneurial drive that was lacking in Laos.
Alex & I took the train to the Churchgate station and began our exploration on foot heading in the direction of the Gateway of India, a monument built by the British Raj to commemorate the landing of the King and Queen in 1911. Alex & I felt it was fitting to visit the monument to commemorate our first day landing in India.
The Gateway of India wasn’t the only reminder of the British occupancy. The train station, streets and buildings all served as physical evidence in addition to the ability to queue. The sidewalks were in good condition and ready for business lined with street stands selling anything you could imagine atop of a patchwork of spread out blankets: books, clothing, tools and a guy even had a scale.
Walking in the heat did not help with my nausea. Feeling sick, I asked Alex to buy me a Sprite from a nearby stand. He approached the stand and returned empty handed. “Did they not have any?” Alex replied matter-of-factly, “They did but it cost too much, 40 rupees.” Fucking asshole! I cannot count the number of times he was having heatstroke and bought a Coke or Pepsi for twice or triple the value. My desired drink cost less than a dollar. I was seeing red again, “I don’t fucking care if it costs 40 rupees or 400. I feel like shit. I need a drink. Please get me a goddam Sprite!”
Despite the tension I was feeling internally regarding my relationship, the external atmosphere was relaxed. After a taking a peek and obligatory picture of the Gateway of India, we walked along the harbor feeling a welcome breeze blowing inshore from the Arabian Sea. The waterfront eventually gave way to a maze of dusty side roads. Alex found a small hole in the wall for lunch. Seriously, it was a small restaurant which instead of a doorway it was just a gaping hole in the concrete. Alex had no problem blissfully devouring his rice plate. Watching him eat, I hated him. I was jealous of his large tin plate filled with rice and assortment of curries. My mouth watered but my stomach still grumbled. It sucked I finally made it to a country I’d been filled with anticipation about eating amazing curries only to not be able to eat anything on day one.
After lunch, Alex & I wandered the markets along the Colaba Causeway. There we were discovered among the markets filled with tourist trinkets. A man approached me & Alex asking us if we would interested in being extras in a Bollywood film. Alex scoffed at the idea and replied no to the man before I had a chance to say anything.
On the way back, Alex & I accidentally hopped on an express train. The signs indicated the stops they DO NOT stop at instead of the ones they DO. Alex & I overshot our stop. We had to get off and catch a local southbound train. After a few tries, we arrived at our final destination. As we waited for the last train, I made the mistake of giving one street kid a banana to only get swarmed by other kids and relieved of all my bananas. It reminded me of the days on the beach, feed one seagull only to be introduced to the rest of the flock.
Once we made it back to Khar Road station, the 3 cows were still waiting outside. Alex was hungry and wanted dinner. I was exhausted and wanted to crawl into bed. Not in the mood to watch Alex eat another delicious meal, I left him to fend for himself and returned to our shabby chic hotel. On the way back, I bought another bunch of bananas and a water bottle.
Having the room to myself, I wrote down a reminder in my journal: “**REMINDER: I was feeling sick today. Alex showed little patience or sympathy. He was more concerned with the daily budget than your well-being. His refusal to buy you a Sprite due to cost is now another exhibit in the mounting evidence that he does not care.”
Alex & my relationship might not make it much longer but I was glad to make it through the 1st day in India & Bombay. I mean Mumbai. Bombay. Mumbai. Whatever. We are here!