Diary – Mumbai – 3/19/2010

We came to Mumbai on the 15th of March and we quickly realized what Indian Summer truly is.. The heat is on! We’ve been here a few days now and I gotta tell you, the blistering daytime heat just drains you of all your energy. You are constantly bathed in sweat (not a pretty picture) and feeling exhaustion. Fortunately for us, my cousin in Mumbai has an amazing house with Air conditioning and the works.. Thank god for my dear Ravi!

When we are at Ravi’s house, we are truly home.. all the conveniences of home, plus all the love and affection that anyone could want. At times, we just don’t even want to leave the house in Mahim. His building is centrally located in Mumbai with easy access to both downtown and uptown parts of Mumbai..

We had planned to do some sightseeing, but due to the heat, we have just spent the last few days Shopping!

My younger daughter is really suffering from the heat. She just refuses to go outside, unless she gets bribed.. oh well nothing new here.

From the last time I visited Mumbai ( 2 years ago), you can see the infrastructure changes that have taken place. Similar to Delhi, there are many more flyovers (bridges) in place to alleviate the traffic congestion. These flyovers do this purpose, but the traffic getting to these flyover’s is just unbearable. Especially if you are sitting in an non air conditioned Fiat taxi..

FYI: The rule of driving in Mumbai: There are none! Do not look sideways or backwards, only look forwards.. I have to commend the drivers of Mumbai, they certainly would feel at home driving in Manhattan.  Blaring horns and heavy traffic at every turn. Even with the price of gas hovering at about $5 a gallon, it has not discouraged the mubaiites from buying cars.. Cars are smaller of course, but they are quite comfortabe.

Due the enormous influx of money..many families are living the good life, with cars, drivers to drive their car, and over 200 channels of satellite TV!

As a passenger in a car the front, try not to look anywhere but straight forward as this alleviates the anxiety that you will feel when you are in the car. Fortunately, the speed of the cars is only about 25 to 30 mph on the roads. The number of cars, taxis, buses, trucks, pedestrians all sharing the road in unbelievable. Rush hour is 24 hours. You may get better results if you try to travel in Mumbai during early morning hours or after 9:00 PM, otherwise, good luck.

Mumbai is a tale of two cities. The “Haves” and the “Have Not’s.”

In order to survive in this city you have to have Money and lots of it. If you don’t have the lots of the Rupee you will be in serious jeopardy of survival.  Fortunately for me, I’m here spending in converted $ and let me tell you something, the value that you get for the $ here  is excellent due to the 1 to 45 conversion ratio.

If I were to earn in Rupee, it would be difficult for me to spend 2 to 3 Thousand (yes I said thousand)  the way I am right now. Of course this amount only includes the taxi’s, food and miscellenous expenses that you incur on a day to day basis.

If you are coming to India, I recommend you pad your bank account and bring an ATM card… You will hit the bank over and over again. Remember that you will get the highest rate when you do your conversions at the ATM machine and face fees from both the local and your bank. Be careful and don’t take small amounts out.. take larger amounts out?

For the past few days we have been seeing a few of my cousins in Mumbai and doing quite a bit of clothes shopping for the girls. Best thing about shopping in India is that when they know you are spending money, you will be offered soft drinks as soon as you sit down. You are treated like royalty at the mega malls. Of course we are flagged as “foreigners” as we are wearing shorts and have our famous “American Accent”.

The city on the whole is huge bustling metropolis with business and residential towers being built everywhere. The roads are under construction which contributes to the traffic jams!

The construction of tall towers, residential (unaffordable) towers, is just unbelievable. The common man (middle class) will be priced out of most of the housing that’s being built.. In one of my prior blogs, I talked about the slums… Well from what I’m seeing, these slums are being torn down one by one and being replaced with high rise buildings… The rules have gotten stricter so the lower class slum dwellers are now getting new housing and are being forced to utilize them for a period of 5 years. In the past I heard that these slum dwellers, took the money and just relocated. Now these slum dwellers are actually living in the government towers being built. This is great progress.

Don’t misunderstand me, the poverty is still here.. It just seems to be more controlled. I look around and I see a lot less beggers. Perhaps I’m not looking close enough? When I was in the upscale part of Mumbai (by the Taj and the Gateway of  India), the beggers were out in full force.

Everyone here tells me that the difference between lower to middle to upper class has gotten wider.. I do tend to agree, but opportunities abound everywhere. If you want a job, a job is there in the multiple mega malls that continue to spring up all across Mumbai. I went to one yesterday in Mumbai. The Phoenix is a mega mall with food court, Staples, Supermarket, restaurants, Best Buy Type electronic store, Movie Theaters. As you will quickly see, the trend to having a super mall is all over Mumbai. The security and the choice of one-stop-shop is exemplified in these Malls. Every suburb in Mumbai has at least one mall! Oh goodie, more places for me to spend.

These super malls are not driving the local markets out of business. The malls provide an upscale shopping environment. The local markets are a sight to see as well. Fruit stalls, vegetable vendors, small stores.. it is a crazy sight that you have to see to believe!

High Street Phoenix is spread across three zones — Skyzone, Courtyard and Main Street Boulevard. While the leading national and international retail outlets feature in Sky zone, Courtyard represents various eating joints, The Bowling Co and Big Bazaar outlet. MainStreet Boulevard houses formal and casual clothes, premium accessories and jewellery brands.

These types of malls are seen all over Mumbai and they are truly a joy to shop in with every possible product you may want to purchase. Some of the prices do compare to the US, yet others (electronics) are easily double.

Tip: Make sure you bring along a calculator to convert from Rupees to Dolllars. You could easily destroy any resembence of a budget by not doing the proper conversions.

Today we just came back from the Colaba Causeway. We did quite a bit of shopping from the street vendors and the exclusive boutiques.. Negotiating with the street vendors is an art..

Tip: Walking away is the best way to get a best price.. Never ever pay the asking price. The boutiques are all fixed price..

Tomorrow we are off to Goa! It is one of the vacation paradises in India.. Beaches and sun! To me Goa is my ancestral home. I have quite a bit of family in this seaside city which is South of  Mumbai.. More heat, yeah!

Leaving Mumbai with this thought: Within the next few years, Mumbai will become wealthier than any city in the US. Technology, wealth, infrastructure and the business’s that call Mumbai home will grow exponentially. I am really overwhelmed by what I see here and hope to come back and spend more time in the city where I was born the next time I visit.

PS: I forgot.. the food.. the food is to die for. You can get any type of food within any locale. Where we stay in Mahim, you only have to about 500 yards  and you have a choice of  vegetarian, non-veg, chinese, goanese and South Indian cuisine.. Oh yeah.. I forgot the pizza joint!  The quality of food is amazing! I can easily gain 10 to 15 pounds if I stay here for more than a few days..

There is so much more I can write about this city.. I am just totally overwhelmed by my visit this time.. I’m not only proud to call myself an ex-pat from this great city, but an admirer of the abilities of the residents of this great metropolis.. You know how they say about NY: “If I can make it here, I can make it anywhere..”, Mumbai can easily step into NY’s shoes and say the same thing..

If someone can make it with success in this city, they can succeed any where!

Ok folks.. will write some more when I get to Goa!