This is the third in a four-part series on India
The Slums of Mumbai by Gerry Feehan
It was in the rooftop restaurant of the Intercontinental Hotel in Mumbai, that we first encountered Joe Tourist. He was at the other end of the open-air bistro, ordering sushi. “Hey,” he shouted across the floor at the flustered waiter, “make that four tuna belly and throw in an extra order of unagi.”
Ordering sushi in India is ill-advised – for a couple of reasons. First, there is a near-zero probability that you will actually receive what you ordered and second, in the days following, you will almost certainly regret your decision to consume raw fish netted from the Bay of Bengal.
While events unfolded on the far side of the restaurant, we sat quietly enjoying a soft Indian evening and a delicious appetizer of aloo gobi and paneer fried in onion gravy. On the street far below the honking traffic crawled while pedestrians strolled Mumbai’s broad malecon, which serpentines along Marine Drive.
We overheard Joe Tourist ask for the bill, “La cuenta por favor.” (He must have mistaken Mumbai for the Mayan Riviera.) The waiter, barely able to comprehend English, stared blankly, mystified by Joe T.’s garbled Spanish.
Minutes later, as if on cue, a tsunami arose from Mr. Tourist’s table over the fishy tab. Ignoring the commotion, we dug into our delightful entree of tandoori chicken and bhindi masala, served with a side of steaming garlic naan. But serendipity had a cruel fate in store for us. This was not to be the last time we would cross paths with Joe Tourist during our adventure in India. (Part IV next month).
Mumbai (formerly Bombay) is the fourth largest city in the world. India’s business capital is undergoing the greatest construction boom in the country’s history. Everywhere huge apartment buildings are being erected, scraping the sky. Yet just meters from these multi-million-dollar luxury condominiums lie Mumbai’s vast slums. Eighty percent of Mumbai’s twenty million residents live in these jumbled shantytowns.
In the movie Slumdog Millionaire the protagonist, an 18-year-old orphan from the Dharavi slum, relies on his street smarts to answer a series of obscure questions – and collects the grand prize of 20,000,000 rupees. In true Bollywood fashion there is also an elaborate dance scene – and of course in the end he gets the girl. 22 year-old Nic is also from Dharavi. He picked us up at the hotel for a tour through the slum he calls home. But first he showed us the sights of colonial Mumbai: Shivaji Terminus (formerly Victoria Railway Station), the iconic Gateway of India in Mumbai Harbour and, across the street, the opulent Taj Mahal Palace Hotel.
On November 26, 2008 Pakistani militants stormed the hotel, setting off explosives and killing 31 guests. Nic was in the plaza across from the Taj when the terrorists began strafing the crowd with automatic rifle fire. “When the firing started, I broke away on my own,” he told us matter-of-factly. “Shooters are more likely to fire at a group than one person.” Duly noted.
We weren’t permitted to take pictures in the Dharavi slum. But what I saw is forever seared into my memory: a group of women crouched on haunches in a dimly-lit room, separating an endless mountain of used plastic utensils; two young lads – without the benefit of eye, ear or lung protection – shoving broken toys into a gas-powered chipper. I stuck my head in that forsaken room for a few seconds before the deafening noise and smell of churning plastic drove me out.
From the ‘plastic’ district, Nic led us past open sewers, under precariously dangling electrical wires and through narrow twisting passages to a quarter where the planet’s discarded leather coats are re-tanned. The gutter ran ochre with chemical sludge. Then, holding our breath, we entered a smoky neighbourhood where bricks are re-kilned. Finally we toured an area where dirty paint cans from around the globe are emptied, cleaned and banged back into shape. The gutter here ran all colours of the rainbow.
And every Dharavi rooftop billowed to overflowing with stuff the world has long-since discarded.
Amidst all this commotion folks lived, cooked, cleaned, ate. Children played, old men smoked, teenagers flirted, mothers nursed, babies slept. In this single square kilometre of squalid, stifling slum, a million people go about the daily business of survival. But to street-smart Nic, Dharavi is just home, the place where he rests his head each night.
If you visit India, you may wish to bring an attractive blonde along. Your group will be popular. We couldn’t walk down the street without someone requesting a selfie with our cute friend from Saskatoon. In Mumbai’s main square locals surrounded her like paparazzi hounding a celebrity. Thus began our symbiotic photo relationship with India. Locals took shots of our ‘BB Ji’ while we, demanding a reciprocal favour, photographed them photographing her.
Last evening in Mumbai. Returning to the Intercontinental from a late-night stroll along the Malecon, I was pooped, ready for bed. A motorcycle pulled up to the curb. “Jump on.” It was Nic. Fueled by a couple of Kingfisher beers and disregarding all common sense rules mother may have laid down, I climbed aboard for a death-defying, adrenaline-stoked roar down Marine Drive. Nic laughed and joked as we weaved at break-neck speed through cars, trucks, rickshaws, pedestrians – and other insane motorcyclists. I hung on for dear life. Eventually he returned me, unscathed, to the hotel door. “That was fun,” I said, shaking. He waved, shouted “Alvida,” and sped off into the bedlam.
I didn’t sleep a wink that night. Despite utter exhaustion, I lay awake listening to the incessant, unrelenting, honking traffic – and thinking of the millions of souls eking out an existence in the slums of Mumbai.
In the morning we left chaotic Mumbai for the relative calm of Kerala, on India’s extreme southwestern tip. The ‘land of coconuts’ is a tropical paradise dense with rain forest, wild elephants, monkeys, tea plantations – and spices. Kerala is home to a wonder of zesty flavours: pepper, cinnamon, licorice, chili, cardamom, ginger, nutmeg, coriander, cumin, turmeric. For centuries the colonial powers fought, won and lost wars over the exotic spice trade.
And from these amazing seeds and roots comes India’s great contribution to world cuisine: curry.
Next time: the spices of Kerala.
Thanks to Rod Kennedy and Kennedy Wealth Management and Ing and McKee Insurance for helping to make this series possible. Please support them.
If you go: Explore India from Vancouver B.C. (www.exploreindia.ca) capably and professionally handled all aspects of our private month-long tour – air and land travel, hotels, meals, guides, drivers, entrance fees and activities – for one all-inclusive price.
8 miles off the coast of Ireland Gerry Feehan’s “Buddy-Hike” discovers the Skellig Islands
Skellig Islands, Ireland (part 3 of a 3 part series)
Click to read Part 1, Gerry’s buddy trip to Ireland
Click to read Part 2, Hiking in Ireland
The remains of Skellig Michael’s 6th century monastery
Although the fine details of our trip to the Emerald Isle had been neatly settled months before leaving Canada, the folks at www.irelandwalkhikebike.com contacted me shortly before our departure to suggest a change in the itinerary. We could skip a day of hiking Ireland’s west coast and instead visit the Skellig Islands, a craggy set of rocks poking forlornly out of the Celtic Sea, eight rough miles off the Kerry coast. Initially I was reluctant to dedicate an entire day to seasickness. But there was something in the tone of the email that suggested this was an opportunity not to be missed. And so, foregoing my own health and thinking first of others—as I am wont to do—the boat trip for our group of six was booked.
We arrived in the sleepy seaside town of Cahersiveen on the fourth day of our weeklong Irish trekking adventure. Elaine, our hiking guide, drove us to the boat and cheerily waved goodbye. She doesn’t fare well at sea either and was happy to keep her feet dry for the day. When we arrived at the pier the sky was grey and the sea looked rough. There were a lot of anxious-looking people milling about the wharf. I wandered over to a fellow who was tying knots or scaling barnacles or some such other salty-dog task that identified him as a mariner. He was in fact the first mate. I inquired as to how the boat ride might be.
He turned to me, squinted, looked up at the sky and said, “It’s going to be terrible.”
“How terrible?” I asked.
“Miserable terrible” he said, with conviction.
“Can things get worse than miserable terrible,” I asked.
“Aye,” said he, “there’s awful terrible. That’s when, as you leave the pub, you hold your hand over your face so the wind don’t blow your teeth out.”
Reassured, I stepped around the back of the boat, practiced my vomiting stance, then returned to the gangplank, stepped aboard and prepared myself for a truly awful experience.
The 90-minute motor out was windy, choppy and exposed. The small boat rolled and rocked in the constant swell. But I’ve learned from vast seafaring experience that the best method to prevent seasickness is to stand up, hang on and concentrate unfailingly on the horizon. This I did for an hour and a half and landed with a full stomach—which is more than I can say for the pretty young Irish lass who, by the time the Skelligs came into sight, was tossing her breakfast of rashers and black pudding over the stern.
We weren’t sure what to expect of the Skelligs—other than the rough boat ride, a lot of nesting seabirds and a steep set of steps up a cliff to some ancient Gaelic ruins. As we neared the tight landing at Skellig Michael, birds were soaring and diving in a feeding frenzy. “What are they?” I asked the first mate.
“The big ones, those are gannets,” he answered, “And the little colourful fellars, them are puffins.”
My wife Florence looked up from her knitting. (Yes, she can knit onboard a dinghy in a gale.) “Puffins? Did you say puffins?” “Aye, Atlantic puffins ma’am, in breeding plumage.”
Florence was so excited she nearly dropped a stitch. She has yearned to see puffins for years. I thought we’d need to visit Greenland or Labrador or some other remote, inaccessible place to view these remarkable birds. And lo, here, on a last-minute Irish hiking side-trip, the cute little cliff dwellers appeared in unexpected, colourful brilliance—magnificent mating feathers on full display.
The small boat rocked into the landing. The first mate quickly tied off as the captain helped us hop-step onto the pier. Within seconds the boat was gone, back into the rough offshore sea, where she would wait, bobbing like a cork, for the two hours of our Skellig visit. We stumbled off the landing, regained our land legs and looked up. A narrow, exposed staircase, carved into the uneven rock face rose steeply upward, beyond the ken of craned necks.
Access to the islands is forbidden without a local guide. Our escort, Sinead explained that Skellig Michael was inhabited by Gaelic monks starting in the sixth century and then abandoned a few centuries later. It was these early voyagers who had carved the sheer staircase directly into the rock. At the precarious summit 180 meters up, they had built a few lonely stone structures. Here they lived a life of cold, isolated austerity, living off fish and bird’s eggs—scraping a meagre sustenance from the infertile rock.
The guide told us the steps were steep and uneven, with no handrails – and that those with even an ounce of acrophobia in their veins should not attempt the climb. Properly forewarned and with eyes cast downward to avert the consequences of a misstep, we began our ascent up the 880 steps to the monastery on the stony peak.
It’s 880 precarious stone steps to the summit
As we climbed nesting puffins, mere feet away, went about their business, oblivious to our presence. These birds evolved in an environment lacking predators. With its magnificent ruins and endemic unworried birds, Skellig Michael is a perfect mix between Machu Pichu and the Galapagos Islands.
Atlantic puffins in full breeding plumage
When we reached the top, the summit flattened into a small walled compound of beehive structures made entirely of stacked stone. And despite the absence of masonry, these lonely dwellings have withstood a thousand battering years of Irish rain and wind.
The Skellig Islands poke forlornly out of the Celtic Sea
The opening scene in the newest Star Wars movie was filmed at Skellig Michael. An unfortunate bi-product of this Hollywood notoriety will be a “Star Wars” chaser industry, where tourists converge on the island, not to observe the stark beauty of a 6th century monastery or the glorious plumage of horny puffins, but to see where Luke Skywalker eerily pronounced, “It is time for the Jedi to end.” Even without the boat ride, it makes one want to puke.
When we returned to the wharf, the weather had softened. The return boat trip was reasonably benign. Elaine awaited us when we docked, looking refreshed after a quiet stroll in the green fens above Cahersiveen. “Well, how was it?” she asked. The others gushed on about the stone stairs, the view, the ruins and the Darwinian fauna experience. I looked at her, holding my hand over my mouth in feigned illness, and said, “Wow”.
If you go: www.irelandwalkhikebike.com
Gerry Feehan is an award-winning travel writer and photographer. He and his wife Florence now live in Kimberley, BC!
Thanks to Kennedy Wealth Management and Ing and McKee Insurance for sponsoring this series. Click on their ads and learn more about these long-term local businesses.
Because it’s Friday – Here’s WAFFLE NYC – Unbelievable video shot in a moving train
Happy Friday from Todayville!
Here’s a short pick me up that you’ll want to be watching and sharing all weekend. This incredibly talented group is WAFFLE. Their bio is below. You may want to hit up their Facebook page if you just can’t get enough. Get ready for the best subway ride of your life!
Tag a friend 👥👀 || #Wafflenyc #Dance #viral #viralvideo #AGT2020 #GoldenBuzzerFollow our Socials 📱⬇️IG: WaffleNYC TikTok: WaffleNYC 🧇🍽‼️
Posted by WAFFLE NYC on Friday, July 10, 2020
WAFFLE (We Are Family For Life Entertainment) is an innovative New York City-Based artist collective from almost all 5 boroughs. The group was founded by Andrew Saunders (Goofy), Yushon Stroughn (Sonic), and Joel Leitch (Aero Ace) in 2011. The inspiration behind the name came from hearing “We Are Family” by Sister Sledge.
Many of the members knew each other in their mid teens through weekly LiteFeet battle events but were in different crews at the time. On their way downtown to these events, they would perform on the subway to be able to pay the entrance fee. You wouldn’t win anything but it was a way to gain exposure in the neighborhood/NYC boroughs. After a while it became very repetitive and the exposure wasn’t enough. Select members from other crews came together with the common goal to branch out and reach a bigger, more diverse audience. What better way to achieve this? Continuing to perform on the NYC subway was just the thing to do and this was the beginning of WAFFLE.
Learning how to work together and taking commuter’s advice built their character as young entrepreneurs and helped save their parents’ money. After a while, other LiteFeet dancers caught on to what WAFFLE was doing routinely. Many were afraid of judgment so they didn’t perform. Other dancers started catching on and non-dancers started copying their daily routines. Many didn’t know how to make the transition from just dancing to actually entertaining. At first people enjoyed the performances but due to the rapid growth, there were more complaints.
Luckily the crew’s mindset was on reaching above ground before this all occurred. The money earned was invested into growing the crew. Buying uniforms & business cards helped separate them from others around this time. The crew would randomly hand out business cards without knowing whom exactly they were given to until people started to reach out. Social media also played a big role in their success.
WAFFLE has also had the opportunity to do work outside of New York City. They’ve traveled to Los Angeles, Atlanta, Paris, Argentina, London, and Turkey. People weren’t exactly familiar with LiteFeet so they would label them as break-dancers and call them “Showtime Dancers,” which is the popular catch phrase for subway performances. Most people had some knowledge of what LiteFeet was but for those who didn’t, a brief explanation was given to them.
LiteFeet is an underground dance style that originated in Harlem in 2005 and ventured into all five boroughs of NYC. Its creativity began once it hit the Bronx. It has even expanded to countries such as Japan, Paris, Argentina, Russia, etc. The term means being light on your feet while dancing. Some of the basic moves of LiteFeet consists of dance trends blended together such as the “Chicken Noodle Soup,” the “Harlem Shake,” “Tone Wop,” and the “Bad One.” There are many more. You can also blend any type of dance style with LiteFeet as long as you use some of the basic moves and lock in. “Lockin’ in” is the term used to describe the finishing move just as a period would end a sentence. What differentiates LiteFeet from any other dance style is the use of props such as sneakers and baseball caps. Using any type of sneakers doesn’t work so Adidas Superstars are favored when doing shoe tricks. Many believe LiteFeet is the rebirth of hip-hop culture not only from dance, but also from the music aspect of it. It has a boom bap feel with an extra kick to it. The thumping beat box tunes is called LiteFeet Music, which mixes hip-hop, funk, electro beat & any other genres with a hip-hop structured sound.
WAFFLE Members Kid The Wiz, Chris Designs, & Lil Live serve as producers to help create the unique sound for the LiteFeet community. People don’t realize that the culture is still growing. WAFFLE’s ultimate goal is to expand the knowledge of LiteFeet and to be a positive influence to everyone around the world
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