After a smooth 25 hours in the air, exit-rows the whole way, with a good bit of cat napping, I, and my checked bag, made it to Mumbai, India. In a new book, called Arrival City: How the Largest Migration in History Is Reshaping Our World (one of the books I’ve brought on my Kindle), Doug Saunders reconceives of the giant slum-filled cities of the world less as catastrophes and instead as places of tremendous resiliance, vitality, and creativity. Mumbai is of course high on the list, one of the world’s great Arrival Cities, the fifth largest city in the world.
I met some interesting characters along the way. On the flight from Seattle to Amsterdam, I sat beside a smart, gregarious, Brit who’s recently a US citizen. After college, in England, he started computer game company with three friends and they later sold it to Microsoft. Microsoft moved the four of them to Seattle where he has now lived for 16 years, now owning a consulting business.
From Amsterdam to Mumbai, I sat next to “Joe” from Detroit, whose company makes filters of some kind for factories for Ford and other companies. Like me, he’ll be in India for 30 days. He’ll be working in Chennai (formerly, Madras) at a new Ford plant. He’s not happy about having to go to India, and his boss, whom I met at the baggage claim, and who’s been here before, couldn’t understand why anyone would come to India for a vacation. (They evidently don’t know that the guide books say that “no one” goes to Chennai, as it’s become just an industrial town these days. Though my friend Florence told me of a spiritual teacher who is there).
Joe knew nothing about India, except that there was “nothing to see except the Taj Mahal.” When the flight-progress-map was in front of us, he asked what that big land mass to the south of our plane was. “South America?” “No, that’s Africa.” Well, I’m sure he knows boatloads of stuff about factories and automobiles and sports statistics that I’m wholly ignorant of. In my sleep deprived mental state, I tried to tell him some of the wonders of India. I hope I made an impression.
De-boarding, I met a mother and daughter from Pune, where I’ll be staying, who gave me a tip about an inexpensive agency where I can arrange a shared car ride to Pune from Mumbai for a fraction of what I had anticipated.
When I left the terminal, ready to be rushed by begging children and scam artists, I encountered instead a small plaza surrounded by palm trees, to the left of which was a throng of white-clad men behind a velvet covered rope, all drivers holding signs for incoming passengers. I found my man, from the Kohinoor Hotel, and the two of us walked with the others to the parking deck. He spoke very little English.
On the short drive through chaotic streets crowded by towering buildings and construction everywhere, men and machines working through the midnight, I caught site of the moon among the palm trees, my welcome sign from Mother India, from my guru, Indira Devi, from this fabled land I have longed to visit for so long.