It was on our third day in Mumbai that Alice and I got a proper glimpse into life in Mumbai. After being picked up by Baboo, Dilip's old friend and driver, from our hostel, we were taken on a tour of the … city.
This first entailed a trip to the laundrette where in the place of machines stood a group of men who simply beat clothes clean in large trenches of water, all day, every day. The most surprising aspect of the launderette was that it was responsible for cleaning a third of the clothes in Mumbai, with the rest being handled by similar methods in other areas of the city. As we looked around we noticed endless rows of shirts, trousers and dresses hung, but not pegged, on washing lines that hung over the complex. Each item had a label and would be returned to its rightful owner, whether they be situated in a grand hotel or elsewhere in the city.
After the launderette we were taken to Harbour Drive which Dilip explained served a much more important, practical purpose than simply offering a pleasant view of the sea. Due to the conservative social codes of India it was the only spot in Mumbai where vcouples could freely indulge in a bit of what Dilip called ‘kissing bissing'. Though, he quickly added, it was not be followed by any type of ‘hunky junky’. sex to you and me.
Then it was a quick stop for some masala chai and a walk around the park where we were met with some more shy requests for photos from large groups of boys, all of whom insisted on shaking my hand afterwards. Following our stroll we went on to a Jain temple where many Jainists were in the middle of their prayers. It had been fairly uncomfortable looking around and taking pictures in the launderette but this was a different level. Generally speaking we had felt it wrong or disrespectful to take photos of indian religious sculptures, artefacts or ceremonies, though we would have no problem taking a picture of a church back in England. The disparity might be due to some prior (MIS)conception of the sacredness of God and religion in India compared to England or simply because it really does appear to have much more of a role in everyday Indian life.
Our final stop was the Mahatmah Gandhi Museum. This is basically a simple but sincere gesture of remberance as visitors are shown the outline of Gandhi's life through pictures that are situated throughout his house. It was not particularly exciting but it felt as if any trip to Mumbai would be incomplete without having visited the home of India’s most revered son.
By this point, only half the day was done. As well as the city tour, Dilip had also organised a trip to the Elephanta Caves. In retrospect, this trip was not worth the hour and half boat journey and 20 minute uphill walk it took to get there. Whilst the caves contained some very old sculptures, many were understandably worn down and we had finished looking around within the hour.
On our return to the harbour, we again decided to take Dilip and Baboo for a couple of drinks to say thank you for the day. Baboo could speak very little English but we managed to bond over a mutual fondness of rum and the random exchange of footballer names: ‘Neymar’...‘yes, good player’ *thumbs up*. He also explained through Dilip that he was a catholic which to him simply meant Dilip, as a Hindu, had many gods and he had one. i liked Baboo a lot as he came across as a happy, shy and sincere man and was enjoying our conversation. Alice however was less keen to be in his and Dilip's company. Evident the day before but more obvious now,the two men would only ever direct conversation towards me, even asking me how Alice was despite her sitting right there. This form of what we felt was a deeply entrenched cultural sexism was visibly frustrating for a feminist who is normally out spoken and sociable and resulted in a strained relationship with Dilip in particular.
We paid for the drinks and made our way home having agreed to go on a tour of India's largest slum, …, the next day.