5 March 2012
I want to scream, but nobody would hear me.
I was in my element today wandering around streets of antiques and curios. Street upon street of antiques from the Raj, Europe, India – and ‘antiques’ that the paint is still drying on. I had my heart set on an antique “Tiffin” container. I’m sure you’ve heard about the amazing system of delivering home-cooked meals to work. Dubbawallahs are the name given to the men who pick up “Tiffin” containers (a tiered collection of round metal tins) that are collected from the suburban homes of office workers. Curries, rice and dhal, all hot and straight from the kitchen. They then take them to a collection point in the city, redistribute them and deliver them across the city, still hot and always to the right owner. Harvard did a study on the efficiency of the Dubbawallahs, and the system they have of delivering the 20,000 lunches every day. Most postal systems around the world could learn a thing or two from them!
The street perfume of Mumbai. I need to record the amazing range of street fragrances the city has to offer. Imagine walking down the street and each step reveals another odour. The first step is standard petrol exhaust fumes, the next step is jasmine incense from a shop stall, the next step is that toilet smell of curry that’s gone wrong in your stomach (don’t be a prude, you’ve smelt it before) and its wafting up from an open drain, the next step is frankincense perfume from a women walking past, the next step is the odour of rotting tropical fruit (I mean really rotting, sweet but wrong), and the next step is frying food from a street vender. Now try and smell them all at once. Wow, it’s a fragrance Dior could never copy and probably shouldn’t even try. Sickly sweet, severally sour, grossly unpleasant but it matches the streets your stepping through.
But I digress. The “Tiffin” transaction resulted in Mike disappearing on a motorbike with the shop owner to find an ATM, a mixed look of panic and excitement on his face! He returned safely, however, and I am now the owner of an antique brass tiffin set. Yep, yet another dust collector from my travels.
Following this we decided to just wander the busy market suburb. We got lost, not a panicky “we are never going to be heard of again” lost, but a “we had no idea where we are” lost. The streets were beginning to become more and more crowded, the traffic more aggressive, the heat more vicious, the smells more hideous. The concert of truck horns, car horns, scooter horns, music from every little street stall blaring Hindi pop songs, crows, loud and all around me. The pavement disappeared underneath footpath stalls, into drains (some with dead rats next to them, not a good sign), under parked vehicles, or just plain disappeared. It was at that point I just wanted to scream. However, I realised nobody would hear me, not even Mike. But in a way that cacophony of sound, the smells and the flash of vividly coloured saris was a sensory overload, but breath taking, and even beautiful.