Mumbai, India Day 2

                                                                           Dhobi Ghat

March 29, 2012

For our second day in Mumbai we were scheduled to do an excursion called ‘A Day in the Life: Mumbai on the Move’.  The trip looked at a couple of services that cater to the upper class people, gave us an overview of the city, and took us to visit the so-called Ghandi House.  The guide for this tour was excellent and spoke easily understandable English.

The first part of the tour took us for photo stops to the Gateway to India and Victoria Station.  (The name of the station has been changed to Chhatrapati Shivaji, but locals still refer to it as Victoria Station.)

Following this we went to the Ghandi Museum.  The museum is located in what used to be a private home, and even though it is usually referred to as the Ghandi House, the house actually belonged to a friend of Ghandi’s. Ghandi had a room there that he always stayed in when he was in town.  The combined photos (numbers 5 & 6 in the album) pretty much show what the room looked like - a bed, a writing desk, three books, and a lot of spinning wheels.  For Ghandi the spinning wheel symbolized the simplicity of what life should be like.  The spinning wheel was also one of the most significant unifying elements in the nationalist movement in India; spinning was seen as an activity that could bring together the diverse population of India, and include the broader population in the nationalist movement.  Ghandi was assassinated by a fanatic Hindu who did not like the idea of peace and unity between Muslims and Hindus.  But Ghandi’s life was dedicated to peace, and he was the one who started the movement to remove untouchability, back in 1933.

On the first floor the museum has a huge library (about 50,000 books), and a small store where you can buy books by Ghandi.  One the second floor you find the room Ghandi used, as well as a set of 28 tableaus (example here), which are miniature depictions of events in his life.  There is also a picture gallery on this floor, which includes posters, photos and articles by and about Ghandi.  Ghandi was such a significant figure in modern India, that it is nice to be able to go to a central location to learn about him.  Our tour spent about an hour in the museum, but one could spend a lot more time there and still not take it all in.

From the Ghandi Museum we headed over to the Churchgate train station, where we would be able to observe the dabba-wallahs at work.  They are the carriers of tiffin boxes (what we call lunch boxes).  Their job is to pick up the homemade lunches wives prepare for their husbands from locations all over the city.  They meet at Churchgate Station, sort through the tiffin boxes, and pick up the ones they are to deliver to the husband’s offices.  After lunch the dabba-wallahs pick up the lunch boxes from the offices, exchange them again, and return them to the homes they originally picked them up from.  Each man delivers about 25 lunches a day.  The clients pay the Mumbai Tiffin Box Suppliers Association, which divides the revenues equally between all the members.  This is an amazing process, and the most amazing part of it is that extremely few of the tiffin boxes ever go astray.  This is clearly a service geared to the wealthy.

After a time of watching the dabba-wallahs we crossed the street, walked into the Churchgate station, and caught a train that took us to the Mahalaxmi station, about five stops down the line, where we got off and walked up to the street where we could view the Dhobi Ghat - a very large laundry - in action.  

We don’t know about you, but seeing the jeans laid out to dry on what appears to be a rather dirty roof, we’re not sure we would want to get our laundry done here…  But apparently it works very well for those Indians who prefer to have their laundry done for them.  If you look at how the sheets are hung on the lines, you will notice that instead of clothespins, they use twisted lines so they can put a bit of the sheet up into a twist and have it held that way.  This is really an amazing place, worth seeing if you have the chance.

Once we left Dhobi Ghat, we drove through several areas of the city, including along the Queen’s Necklace, the road that runs along Chowpatty Beach, and so named for how the street lights look at night.  Some areas were familiar from prior visits, while others were completely new.  We did have a shopping stop, but a few of us just stayed on the bus.  The remaining photos in the album show a little bit of the city.

For those who have heard that there are cows wandering around everywhere, the fact is that they are no longer allowed to roam freely within the city.  The only place you will generally see them is tied up outside of temples.  The people who come to worship also take time to feed the cow.  But that cow goes home with its owner every night.  Mumbai is a city of contrasts, between the very rich and the very poor, the old and the new, the buildings in disrepair and the buildings restored.  Even though we have seen changes here, Mumbai remains a timeless city.

As the tour bus turned onto the short street that leads to the dock, the traffic was suddenly blocked completly by a demonstration.  As we sat there more protesters kept showing up.  Fortunately for us it was only a short time later that the police showed up and cleared the way for the buses to go through.  We found out from the protestors’ signs that they were asking the company they were in front of to hire local workers.  That episode added an interesting note to an already noteworthy excursion.

Mumbai is a port that is always a stop on the world cruises.  Although many people don’t like India, we have found Mumbai to be an interesting and vital city.

As we got ready to leave Mumbai, we were aware that the crew had been practicing pirate drills, knowing that we were headed into the territory frequented by the Somali Pirates.  We had seen the usual precautions - fire hoses and sonic canons, along with patrolling security guards.  But we found a precaution that was a surprise to us:  the vulnerable areas of the promenade deck (the areas with open railings) were lined with razor wire!  That plus the information that we would be arriving in Safaga the afternoon before our planned arrival told us that the pirate threat was serious, but there was a definite plan in place to deal with them.

                                                                    Victoria Station

© Susan L. Stone 2015