Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Travel and Day One in India

I have been privileged to travel with and visit several of the students that I met while living in Bowling Green, Ohio. This month I am in Mumbai, India with Devika and her brother, Vikram. The airplane trip was almost an entire day and with time changes a day and a half. It was uneventful, which is good.
My friends met me at the airport. Vikram was a surprise because I thought he was in the states, so it was great to get my first hug from him and rejoice that we will all three spend time together before he goes back at the end of this week to teach in North Carolina. Seeing Mumbai at night was a blur of roads, lights and the sea link. It joins the north side to the south side of Mumbai over the bay. Upon arriving at their flat in an apartment complex, I was met by two of the night citizens who scare away the cats who are met to chase them.
We all had a short time of reunion and chatting with Rajkumari, which means Princess in Hindi. She is the mother of the house and has visited me in the U.S., so we were not strangers. My plane landed at 11:30 at night, so bedtime came at around 2:30 in the morning. Waking to the bells from the temple next door and the dogs of the neighborhood singing their own chorus of barks and yelps started a full day for me.
We did a y tour of south Mumbai to include the area where the terrorist attacks were two years ago. Everything is back to normal with buildings repaired and re-opened and some added security. We walked this famous area which includes the Taj hotel, portside view of the navy base and a shadowy view of the Indian Ocean. It was shadowy because the smog and fog had not risen before we took our boat ride around the bay.
The architecture in this area, including the Taj, is remarkable. While the Taj hotel was a private enterprise in response to an Indian man who was refused entry to another hotel during the British occupation, the other government buildings we viewed were a testament to the beauty of Victorian architecture and the sweat equity of the Indian people.
We had lunch at an authentic Indian buffet featuring food from the western area, state of Gujarat; the area where the Patels hail from. Think of all the hotels and motels you have entered staffed and run by Indians and they were likely immigrants named Patel from Gujarat. The food was tasty, spicy with rich texture and plenty of bread choice to sop it up with and it was all vegetarian. And, in keeping with excellent hospitality, it was all you could eat. They even serve you, so, no getting up and searching the buffet line. Gluttony is the rule of day.
Devika and I headed off to see a different area of south Mumbai and ended our excursion at Crawford market which has been in existence for 146 years. We were met outside by a gentleman who tried to endear himself to us as a ploy to take us around the market and earn a little cash. Devika was having none of that and knew exactly where we wanted to go and what she thought we needed to see that day. It is an area she likes to shop in and frequents it often. The market covers several blocks with lanes devoted to certain products, fabric, spices, household goods, candies, fruit, jewelry, gold; the list could go on and on. If it is made or grown, it is sold in Crawford market.
We were looking for scarfs and fabrics made from silk or high grade cotton in traditional designs. We did lots of touching. She did lots of questioning and much fabric was spread out in countless stalls for us to examine. After an hour and a half we decided not to buy until we figured out whether our gifts of fabric would be used to make clothes, curtains, etc.
We ended our day with a special meal made by a neighbor that included a traditional dish called pavbhaji, which means vegetables and bread. Its original intent was to be made of leftovers with the bread right in the mix. Now it is made as a specialty dish. It has the texture of a thick pumpkin soup mingled with garlic, spicy heat, tomato gravy and garnished with raw diced onions on top. As Rachael Ray would say, “Delish.”
Jet lag is catching up, so enough for now.

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