Home > Ethnography, International, Travel > John: In India.

John: In India.

The rhythm of Mumbai

Landing in Mumbai three days ago, I walked off the plane after a 15-hour
flight into a sweaty oven of an airport terminal. Now to the baggage claim.
After waiting in the wrong carousel for 20 minutes in a sleepy daze, I asked
a local for suggestions. All red bags became potential targets. This one?
No. That one? No. Joy shot through my body as I saw my bag circled around
the corner. Checking the tag. Yes!

Though customs in a mass of people, down a long corridor, the volume of
voices increasing with each step.

Now to find a taxi.

I exchanged money for rupees, and scampered to the prepaid taxi line,
waiting, explaining. Here’s the money. Thank you. Taxi this way? Okay.

Opening the door, the oven temperature turned up, and the volume increased
by two notches–shouting, honking, bright colors, exhaust fumes, days of
sweat, an array of blue, yellow and white cars, and . . .there it is!

Into the taxi and now through the city. Honking, braking, acceleration.
Honking, braking, acceleration. Mumbai traffic. A continuous mass of metal
twisting through the city in this wondrous rhythm of communication, all
minds working together.

Traffic rules seem to cease, or become mere guides. Cars moving forward like
creeping, colorful snake, my driver part of the heartbeat, looking all
directions at once. Four cars wide in a three-lane road, side mirrors folded
in for increased road space, speckles of paint and dent on cars corners.
Red. Blue. Yellow. Can a motorcycle slip by? Yes, there he goes. Handle bar
missing side mirror by a centimeter.

At one point yesterday, an auto rickshaw behind us hit our car slightly,
enough to trade paint, but probably no dents. The driver got out, inspected
the damage, yelled at the culprit, and we moved forward at the flash of
green light. At one thirty am two nights ago, I watched us run one red light
after another, in a blaze of speed–throttle opened up in pure joy, then
braking, honking.

Mumbai traffic. An exquisite example of collective thinking, communication,
and the beauty of human interaction. Four cars wide in a three-lane road.
Braking, honking, braking, honking.

Horns are their voices. Steaming tires are their shoes.

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