As we selected which Thai dishes to order off iPads placed in front of us at the trendy Thai restaurant called Koh, on Marine Drive, Kumud pointed out the bizarreness of life in Mumbai. Here we were tapping and swiping away on an iPad, while not 30 minutes ago we had been enjoying the hospitality of Cuffe Parade Police Station, trying to get Mira’s passport application moved one inch further, seated among ladies of the night and local ruffians.
Applying for a passport extension had already involved two visits to the CID office opposite Crawford Market, with Kumud carrying stacks of meticulously completed forms and attempting to counter balance my impatience with officialdom.
Post the 2009 terrorist attacks on Mumbai Indian authorities have become very serious about background checks, which means that everything from applying for a bank account, a phone connection or in this case, a new passport for a thirteen - year old, requires an extensive “KYC” (Know Your Customer) procedure.
The plain clothes policemen had already visited the apartment to check up on us, but what was needed now was an additional visit with husband and daughter in tow. More forms were signed, then off to meet his superior officer, in uniform -who appeared to have come fresh from an interrogation - his signature, then another of ours, and then we were out on to the chaotic streets surrounding the police station.
Cuffe Parade houses some of Mumbai’s wealthiest residents in swanky apartments built on reclaimed land, the Taj President Hotel , customer friendly shopping arcades, a base of the Indian Navy and ... a few thousand people who appear to spend the evenings sitting on pavements, as their dwellings wedged in between all the swankiness don’t exactly encourage lounging.
Hence Kumud’s comment about the bizarreness and extremes of life, as we squinted our eyes in the very loungy and husky surroundings of Koh, at the Intercontinental on Marine Drive.
It’s blazing hot during the day, in the run up to the monsoons which will start early June, and which the Met office says with 97% certainty are likely to be ‘normal’.
We know it and the birds and the bees know it, which is why the parrots, crows andkoyals (Eudynamys Scolopacea Iheres for short) get all their chattering done early morning. It’s what we wake up to, with this massive feathered conversation taking place right outside our living room window. No magpies yet, save for the ones referenced by Radiohead.
Life has its moments, such as Saturday brunch at Le Pain Quotidien, a Belgian brasserie that has opened up around the corner from the Taj Hotel, and which has been quickly dubbed as ‘LPQ’, to avoid linguistic embarrassment in high society.
Kumud found out about a creperie called Suzette (what else?) that opened up at Nariman Point. Let’s just say that Mira got her daily Nutella fix...
And then there is the mind-numbing disorganization of Indian bureaucracy to help ensure that life has its share of lowlights as well. Yang to the Crepe Suzette’s Ying, or the other way round.
The story goes something like, “Sanjay finally gets his Indian driving license, Sanjay loses Indian driving license a day later for ostensibly taking a wrong right turn (how do you notice) and for getting angry at the policeman, Sanjay regains driving license.
1.Sanjay actually finds the RTO
2.Sanjay finally finds the prisoners’ block where the head of the RTO sits. Takes 5 min to insult him, when asked to provide evidence of what a “Class D” Illinois license stands for. Many words starting with the letter D start coming to mind.
3.Sanjay sees merit in the cottage industry outside the RTO, where proof of medical fitness are issued for 50 Rupees, copies are made, etc.
4.Sanjay scales new heights, climbing a ladder to an ‘internet cafe’ on left. Sends definition of “Class D” driving license from iPhone to super computer.
5.Two genuinely helpful guys make printout, which doesn’t so much as merit a glance by the warden when it is finally submitted to him.
The application for Mira’s passport renewal, though no less messy and inconsistent, proceeded much more successfully, as Kumud, raised in the ways of Indian bureaucracy, and therefore much more respectful and prepared, took charge.
But who are we kidding?
The wining about highlights and lowlights for the like of us reminds me of a joke by an African American comedian. “I love it when white guys sing the blues” he said. “What on earth are you blue about, did Banana Republic run out of khakis?
Do Gooders. So click here for a list of charities who focus on homeless children in Mumbai.
Btw, the banner photo was taken from our holiday home outside of San Gimignano at 6.20 am. What light! It lasted all of five minutes.