The city was alive. Truly alive. Thats the best way I can describe Bombay (Also called Mumbai) when people ask. Alive and bustling with people, a ton of people, 26 Million to be exact. At least thats thats officially “On the books”. By no means am I pretending to be good at math, but I can tell you that there were a lot more then that. Four days in Bombay…Go!
Locals call it Planet Bombay because its just that - a little mini world working in harmony. The Rich, the poor, the goats, and vast landscape of language and religion and culture, all live in and working together as part of one city and one heart beat. Slums lay in front of newly developed towers, and luxury hotels gated abut small shops and factories seemingly stuck together with tarps, sticks and hard work.
Major roads and Intersections were a frenzy, a complete may lay but all accounts. My driver assured me that it was business as usual and that there was a “system” in place. We breezed through red lights and passed aggressively through intersections, bing sure not to hit a passing person, Rickshaw, laundry cart, goat, or anything else that may have made its way int to the road.
I traveled to India on an invitation to explore a business opportunity. A local, and multigenerational development family brought me in, on behalf of our company, to assess a new project. A beautiful new development that is sure to be the new gold standard in western style mixed use development. A piece of land that had been in the family for generations and once held the largest drive up movie theater in the Country.
The new development already houses the most expensive office space in the country, housing the likes of google and diplomatic embassies. The next two phases were to include a new indoor mall with a redeveloped drive up movie theater on the roof, a sports club, and 3 new international hotel towers. Our project would anchor the new Mall, take up a large portion of the top floor and be adjacent to the new slew of movie theaters across the way. I soon came to realize that all of this new development is a nod to the new, or soon to be new, Bombay. One that had been, and by all accounts still is, rapidly developing since its economy was opened to European and American markets over 30 years ago.
I arrived at Mumbai international airport just before the sun came up and will never, I mean never, forget the smell as I stepped out of the airport for the first time. The air was dense, thick, and musky - the kind of musky that you can almost taste. Needless to say not something you want to taste. I spent the first night in the southern tip of the city at one of the oldest and most iconic hotels in the world - the Taj Majal. As a student of hospitality design and history, this place was a masterpiece. Old school colonial dapper with timeless palate and finishes.
I didn't yet fully understand this concept of wealth and privilege living so closely and intimately with poverty. As I always do in a new city, my first measure was to throw on my running sneakers and go explore. Two minutes into my run, down the street from the best hotel in the country, I ran by a man squatting on the sidewalk (where other people were walking) taking the most casual and leisurely dump one could take. Literally cigarette in hand, taking in the view, letting one loose, not giving a, well, you know. I was startled, to say the least. Im actually laughing out loud as I write this today.
On my first day, I was taken on a tour of the city. What a incredible, and very very sweaty day. We visited old colonial posts, Ghandis home, played Cricket, and toured some of the slums of the country. Equally as vibrant as that intersection were the narrow streets and allay ways of the slums. Bustling with locals slinging fried food and treats, children playing cricket, and elders deep in conversation, as they have probably bene doing for decades. Many of these slums sat at the bottom of newly developed towers. Residents of the clubs now have to collect water in huge blue jugs because the towers had used up all the water pressure.
What stuck me most was an incredibly well knit, layered, and rich cultural intersection. India is made up of over 30 states, and Bombay is the New York of the country, if you will. Like NYC, many of the most hard working, progressive, and passionate people make their way to the city to work and live and earn a better lives for themselves and their families. There is an incredibly rich cultural history, one that dates to precolonial times.
Speaking of which, it is hard to ignore the deep and longstanding imperial English roots. The British colonizers exerted tremendous influence for many years, a lot of which is still evident via throughout many aspects of society. Cricket is the national sport and played on fields, slums, and stadiums through out the country. During a city tour, I jumped into a cricket game and took a few swings. It was a blast! Not being abel to comment with these kids, we used sport, and a few smiles to connect and share commonality together.