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Around the World in 80 Days Revisited

Mumbai 14 October 2008

Looking for comfort 
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Trying to remember how I ever got comfortable on a cargo, as the Shahin (Falcon) pulls away from Dubai, heading for Iran.
Michael Palin - Around the World in 80 Days RevisitedSuperficially it seems that Dubai reeks of opulence and Mumbai reeks of poverty. In fact both are illusions. There are armies of Asian construction workers living in Dubai on less than two hundred dollars a month, and, as well as the street beggars and the huge slums of Mumbai there are more millionaires here than in any other Indian city. Dubai is an indoor, air-conditioned world. In Mumbai life is out on the streets: noisy, demanding, relentless and inescapable. We've not been long in a traffic jam from the airport when I hear a persistent tap-tapping on the side of our minibus and a moment later the stumps of two arms appear at the window and a face, teeth bared and eyes wide, peers up beseechingly. Then the traffic moves on. Near the hotel women with babes in arms hold out cupped hands. Nothing seems to be very different from when I walked in through the Gate Of India twenty years ago, except of course for the name of the place. Since 1995, at the instigation of the Shiv Sena political party, strong Maharashtrian nationalists, Bombay has become Mumbai and Victoria Station, from which I left for Madras, the Chhatrapati Shiva Terminus. Not everyone approves of these changes, just as not everyone approves of the hard-line policies of Shiv Sena, whose leaders have whipped up sectarian hatred against anyone they see as outsiders, including fellow Indians, if they happen to be Moslem or born outside Maharashtra state.

The Taj Hotel is still here and thriving, and their welcome is friendly and congenial. Garlanded with marigolds, I'm for a moment tempted into thinking I'm to be given the Rajput Suite, the most luxurious accommodation in an already luxurious hotel, but it turns out they're just showing me where John Lennon, Yoko Ono and, later, George Harrison stayed. I'm in Room 276.
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  • Series: Around the World in 80 Days Revisited
  • Chapter: Mumbai 14 October 2008
  • Country/sea: India
  • Place: Mumbai
  • Book page no: 235

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