As I am completing the SMWMumbai series with this seventh post, I am watching David Copperfield, the world’s most well-known magician, on CNN (4:30 am Mumbai time, on 29 September) talking about how he made the Taj Mahal vanish some time back. Coincidence? Maybe just a magic (^_-)
In this last post, I reflect on my 7 memories about Mumbai.
The visit to the Mahatma Gandhi at the Mani Bhavan House was the best way to begin my visit in Mumbai. The respect with which this global figure is held in his native country of India reminded me of the old and sickly Nelson Mandela back in South Africa. In addition, and as I pointed out in Day 1 post of this SMWMumbai series, these two countries share a lot of history dating back to middle of 19th century.
Abundance of talent and skill
SMWMumbai 2013 was a platform for display of talent and skill that was showcased by no less than 20, mostly young entrepreneur-driven companies, which have made names for themselves in the digital marketing world. This was an indication of how much talent and skill is available in India, and it reminded me of fact that this country has become the global capital of the call centre business, and continues to gain reputation as the primary source of IT-qualified personnel for the likes of Silicon Valley.
I wrote about traditional Indian food that I enjoyed in the Day 5 post of this series, but I did not do justice to the vast menu of this massive nation of over 1,2 billion people, the second largest in the wold. This pointed to the richness of Indian culture that is proudly weaved into the variety of culinary that can be bought in high-end restaurants and on many streets of Mumbai.
Mumbai’s peak traffic times are long compared to Johannesburg. Morning peak is 8-11am, while afternoon is 5-8pm. This does not mean traffic dies down at off-peak hours. I had the unfortunate experience of having booked accommodation on the east of Mumbai, when most of SMWMumbai’s activities were located in the South. This is only 18 km away, but it took up to 2 hours in each direction. However, morning trips gave me time to read daily newspapers. It’s only afternoon trips that were dreaded.
The rickshaws, a.k.a. tuk-tuks or cockroaches as other Mumbaikars choose to refer to them, etched my memories of this buzzing city. I found them most affordable and a great choice of public transport that also for experiencing the buzz on the streets of Mumbai at the same time. You can read more about my experience with rickshaws in the Day 2 post of this series. Some piece of advice, though: (1) As a first time visitor, preferably do not look ahead when been driven in a rickshaw, given how it zips through traffic and drives too close to other vehicles in front of it. (2) You must rather avoid taking a rickshaw after a heavy dinner, otherwise you run the risk of an upset stomach brought about by the way these 3-wheelers drive on uneven roads and fly over humps and potholes :)
As I indicated in Day 1 of this series, Durban city has the largest Indian community outside of India. In addition, the Indian community is found throughout South Africa, and they are over-represented in the retail sector. Thus, I have had many instances of bargaining for lower prices in Indian shops for well over 30 years now. However, Mumbai made me appreciate how much this practice is part of Indian culture. My first experience was with a taxi driver with fitted meter in his car, but who bargained for a higher price than recorded on his meter – his reason was that there was too much traffic. What caused this bargaining session was that I had a 500 rupee note and the fair was 400 rupees, and the taxi driver did everything to avoid giving me my change. In addition, many taxi drivers quoted the price upfront and refused to use the meter, and you can guess why. Am I generalising by saying bargaining is part of Indian culture? Hard to avoid arriving at my conclusion, unfortunately.
Stark contrasts between the rich and the poor
I am decidedly ending my memories with this social ill. Like all countries of the world where there is unequal distribution of resources, India has a combination of rich and poor people. However, the extent of poverty I witnessed on the streets of Mumbai, contrasted with the opulence that was displayed on the same streets, just saddened me. South Africa has its fair share of poverty, and its major cities are not immune. However, when I saw whole families with meager possessions sleeping on the side of the many roads I used while in Mumbai, my conscience was pricked.
Despite ending on a damper, I am grateful for all the experiences and the memories associated with SMWMumbai 2013. Hoping that I can make the next Social Media Week in February 2014 in a different city.