India Uncut

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Monday, January 30, 2006

The exotic and the ordinary

A few months ago a friend came from out of town to visit me in Mumbai. “Show me Bombay,” he demanded. “I want to see everything: Gateway of India, Yada, Bladda, Gadda. [Those are filler words for places I don’t remember: don’t come to Mumbai and ask to see the Bladda.]”

Now, I hadn’t heard of some of these places, and hadn’t been to many of them. In almost every city I’ve lived in, I’ve been rather unfamiliar with the tourist sites. I lived in Delhi for a while, but have never seen the Qutab Minar or the Red Fort or Chandi Chowk or suchlike. So I suggested to my friend that he come to the In Orbit mall in Malad and hang out there, and other such things that I normally do. He was taken aback. He wanted the sites, not the normal stuff; the exotic, not the ordinary.

Yet, to soak in a city, I think one must eschew the exotic and revel in the everyday (though admittedly that means different things to different people, but you get what I mean). A travel writer who does not do that can mislead his readers about what a city is really like. For example, I could title the picture below “Karachi Streets” and you’d think Karachi was this quaint city full of charming vehicles like this one. But the city roads are strikingly modern, with the latest cars and SUVs and suchlike. A typical picture like that may not interest you, though.

I’ve done a bit of the exotic in Karachi – some charming Pakistani friends took me crabbing, which involves taking a boat ride from the port, going far enough into the sea so that the shore is just a tapestry of distant lights, and catching crabs, and then cooking and eating them in the boat. Utterly serene. Sadly, one is not allowed to take photographs at the port, so some striking portscapes remain in my mind’s eye.

The rest of the time, though, I’ve done ordinary things. I’ve checked out loads of shopping places, been to a rather nice mall called Park Towers (it’s Mumbai to In Orbit’s Karachi, for that sprawls a bit more) and eaten at this superb restaurant called Bar-B-Q Tonight, a massive multi-storey place where rockacious food is available. Lambiness was enjoyed.

One thing I’ve learnt, of course, is that you can’t come to a city for a week and come even close to really getting a sense of it. More time must be spent, more ordinary things done (ideally with an unjaded and keen eye). So maybe one day, when the cricket is done with, I shall come back and do just that. It’s back to the cricket now, and a run-up that goes on and on and on and … down the leg side. Jeez.
amit varma, 2:57 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage

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