Friday, April 01, 2005

Getting reacquainted, and getting lost.

Today I actually had something I needed to do.

I had to pick Leah and Nick up from the airport at 16h30, but realised this permitted plenty of time to do what the bank required of me; supply an address in Bombay before it would forward a shiny new Mastercard replete with PIN. I decided that the Australian Consulate might be able to help in this instance, and with a scrawled address in my hand, I headed for the public buses.
Numbering on the transport in Mumbai is a little confusing. The front of the vehicle displays the bus number in Marathi, the local lingo, but the numerals are deceptively like those we use. So after one bus took me no-where, I was kindly escorted to a second bus that took me somewhere. Specifically, a depressingly and hideously banal architectural monstrosity which would have been quicker to reach on foot (but where would the fun be in that, I ask you?). Only a building this devoid of personality could house public servants, so I assumed more or less rightly that I was at the correct place.

As the elevator spewed me onto the sixteenth floor, the faded and very shut wooden doors sporting a faded Australian coat of arms and an even more faded and yellowing piece of paper hanging off the entire ensemble informed me thus: the Consulate had moved. Bugger. I descended the staircase on foot with the newer address in hand, back out into the street and boarded another public vehicle. An hour later I was lost again but soon a very kind bunch of men in uniform, holding rifles, was laughing at me - so I thought I'd ask for some assistance. They were of no use whatsoever, but the chai-wallah next to him listened in, and gestured for me to try the next street on the right.

Got there, and after being limpidly searched and laughed at again by the four guards in the Consulate, I was admitted and finally face to face with a full time permanent employee of the Australian government. She was nice and sensible and offered lots of advice about not trusting anyone and keeping my personal belongings safe. You've just gotta love the maternal instinct, or perhaps she privodes this information gratis to every sad, pathetic traveller who can't manage to keep hold of his gear.

Joyce was happy to collect my mail for me. I liked her. And she looked great in a green and gold sari.

Next on the agenda (already four hours had elapsed: meeting my cousin et al from the International airport. Now that I held a vague impression of getting somewhere, it had to be public transport all the way. Caught the 123 to Churchgate station - think depressingly and hideously banal architectural monstrosity, this time without government offices but perhaps a hundred thousand Indians moving in every direction - and to the queue for a ticket to Andheri station.

The concept of a queueing in the subcontinent deserves an entry all of it's own, so I'll skip over the enjoyment of pushing and shoving, and in brief, throwing my rupees at a man who needed to re-dye his hair. Ticket in hand, I slotted in with several hundred passengers in a wagon that, according to the painted sign at one end, was custom built to hold 98 of us. There were a lot more, and many were staring at me. At least no-one was laughing.

Andheri platform was the end of my train journey. The next bus ride would have taken me directly to the airport, but since I boarded a bus on the opposite side of the street, I went in the wrong direction for some time. Spewin'. I managed to board the 308 in the other direction, and chanted a little mantra to Ganesh, Hanuman, Krishna, and the other one wearing the skull necklace with the blackened face - I had but thirty minutes to arrive. The Hindu deities looked down favourably ... and I greeted a couple of rather shellshocked passengers from the Qantas flight a few moments later.

I love the look on the face of a person who arrives in India for the very first time.

This time I was the one laughing. Well, chuckling really.

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