Home > English, Hindu, India, Travel > Goo Canons and Hinglish in Mumbai

Goo Canons and Hinglish in Mumbai

We arrived at a station on the outskirts of Mumbai bleary eyed and with no guest house booked. One last leg of the journey took us to the UNESCO listed Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, or CST to us foreigners. The building itself was constructed under British rule and originally named Victoria Terminus, in celebration of the Queen’s Golden Jubilee in 1887. We were in no mood for patriotic reflection, our attention instead drawn to a golden arched haven across the road. McDonald’s in India is a strange affair; no beef, a clientele of bourgeois aristocrats, and a menu which includes the McAloo Tiki (NB. Avoid like the plague, it‘s foul). Furthermore, the straws are kept under lock and key behind the counter, presumably to prevent the proletariat from stealing them and profiting from resale. I could hear Karl Marx turning in his Highgate grave.

 

Hazell relived her youth and dipped soggy chips in a chocolate milkshake, while I wondered the streets searching for a room, due mainly to the fact someone had ripped the Mumbai pages out of our second hand Lonely Planet guidebook. We ended up in Colaba, the traveller area of the city, in a room which is best described as an office cubicle with a bed in it. Privacy was nowhere to be found and we practically shared our room with the excitable Koreans next door.

 

Mumbai is emblematic of the extremes and paradoxes embedded within Indian society. The architecture tells the tale of British rule, but within this framework the full range of Indian life pours forth. We were struck by the lack of cows or rickshaws in the southern part of town; replaced by metered taxis and an eerie, contrived calm. Modern, brand name stores line the roadside, frequented by youngsters communicating in a dizzying flurry of ‘Hinglish’. Often the preferred local dialect, this amalgamation of Hindi and English can be heard from the street to the cinema screen, projected with blistering speed by the resident artisans. Mumbai is the home of India’s creative industry and it swaggers with arrogance in the face of outsiders.

 

During our visit, Anish Kapoor had returned to his home town to display his modern artwork. The Mehboob Film Studios in Bandra form a large, warehouse space, not dissimilar to the Tate Modern’s ‘Turbine Hall’, and upon entry we felt as though we had arrived back in London. Thankfully the staff were all Indian and welcomed us to a room full of Kapoor’s mirror sculptures, which in all honesty, are just an over intellectualisation of the ’Hall of Mirrors’ at the funfair. The star of the show was the Goo Canon, (official name Shooting into the Corner)a pressure gun which shoots soft red wax at a wall every fifteen minutes, operated by team of lucky attendants. All artistic critique went out of the window, to be replaced by a mental commentary of ’Cooooooool’.

 

We spent the evening strolling along the promenade in Bandra and watched an unsettling display of ’Western Emulation’. Young couples sipped Lattes in franchise coffee shops, air conditioned saloon cars entered condo garages, and overweight professionals undertook evening power walks. At the local, import heavy supermarket, once can purchase a box of British Weetabix for £5. We strolled back to the centre of Bandra, entering the zone around the train station where worlds collide. Corrugated slums line the streets, bursting out of the gutters, reaching for the sun. Formally a temporary means of accommodation, permanent shacks fill every nook and cranny, creating a warren of human activity. Electricity is supplied to many of these ’colonies’, as the Indian government labels them, yet outside children play in moats of raw sewage and refuse, splashing in the pervasive, oily blue liquid. My mind wrestled with the juxtapositions present in such a small area; I couldn’t reconcile my conflicting emotions. Conceptual, disposable, modern art resides next to human beings also treated as disposable. All the while local neighbours spend excessive disposable income on British breakfast cereals. There is a walkway in Bandra which is an apt metaphor of the situation. As the slums writhe in the dirt below, the luckier members of the population cross the chaos via a network of walkways, arriving at the station hearts and minds unscathed. As the press report of India’s ’booming economy’, the children below continue to splash in the sewage with the dogs and the rats. The most painful thing about the experience was that we were part of it too. 

 

We were both feeling emotionally drained as we caught the metro back to the ’sterilised’ end of town. In the environment of Colaba, one can choose to ignore the obvious difficulties, stroll along the waterfront to India Gate, eat some ice cream, and then enjoy a lavish dinner. We enjoyed these privileges ourselves, though on a traveller budget, the dinner was a modest salad rather than a five course meal! At a local restaurant, a young group of Indians had left a large amount of food after paying the bill. Outside families begged for food, and as the waiter began to clear the table, I asked, ’what are you going to do with the food?’ He smiled knowingly at me and said, ’we throw it away sir.’ ‘But I could give it to someone outside’, I replied. ‘Well actually sir, it is company policy not to give away food; we dispose of everything.’ My head span as a look of incredulity crossed my face. The waiter grinned on, his look implying the line, ’you’re Western, you understand. You guys created this type of bureaucracy.’ An American guy on the next table said, ’infuriating isn’t it? In the states they even spray paint on all leftover food so it can’t be touched. But hey, what can you do?’ But of course there is something we can do, and my mind free-wheeled with ideas of reducing waste by feeding those who need it most. Certain companies are working towards this, but the simple fact still remains the same. An enormous amount of food is wasted while a huge amount of the World’s population starve.

 

These extremes and the difficulty I had with processing them, were my lasting impression of Mumbai. It is an intriguing place, but there was a sense of relief in leaving. Being in a city which exemplifies the inequalities of Indian society was very difficult, and in a way I felt guilty for having the option to move on when many don’t. Poor infrastructure is a big problem in India; living conditions can change from excessive comfort to extreme poverty in a couple of streets. Hazell and I interpreted much of what we saw in Mumbai as apathy towards fellow citizens, but in reality the majority of the population are just living out their lives. No individual has an obligation to help the poor or feel guilty for the obvious inequality, but we certainly learnt in Mumbai never to take for granted the basic welfare services which we enjoy.

 

 

 

 

 

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  1. mumtwo
    June 5, 2011 at 5:34 pm

    Have you read “Waste” by Tristram Stuart? Silly name, good book!

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