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Around the World in 80 Days Revisited

Mumbai 14 October 2008

Michael Palin - Around the World in 80 Days RevisitedWe alight from the train at Mahalaxmi station, beside which is the largest of the city's open-air, soap and stone laundries. Built in British times, it is worked by five hundred dhobis laundrymen all from the same 'fourth caste', the working class. They collect laundry, wash it in pens of water, then beat the dirt out on a stumpy granite stone.

I road-test their service with a pair of chinos, terminally oil-stained from my brief sojourn on the Iranian dhow. I was on the point of giving up on them, but after a good thrashing my dhobi hands them back to me without a stain to be seen. I'm raving about this new, natural, chemical-free approach to laundry when Roger brings me down to earth. 'So you'll be buying Helen a stone for Christmas, then?'

The offices of Damodar Dharamshi and Co, formerly Dewkaran Moorjee and Sons, are in an infernally busy street in the Dockyard area of Mumbai. A constant stream of men and goods passes by; handcarts piled high with plastic piping, enormous cardboard boxes balanced on tiny heads. Digant Joshi is a shortish, well-built man, mid-forties I'd guess, with thick black hair and neatly trimmed moustache. From him I learn the sad news that Al Shama is no more. She sank to the bottom of the Arabian Sea, quite peacefully and with no loss of life, whilst being towed by her new owners along the coast of Gujarat. Digant has better news of the crew, some of whom, including the captain, are, he thinks, living up in the town of Mandvi in Kutch, the northernmost part of Gujarat. He has information that the captain lives in the Sulaiya district of the town.

'Everyone will know him', he says confidently.

Which is why we find ourselves at Bandra Terminus to catch the overnight Kutch Express. It sounds romantic but sadly isn't. The windows are tiny and dirty and the heavy metal light covers and roof fans give the odd impression of being in a submarine. Obligingly, they leave the doors at the end of each coach open and I fight off incipient claustrophobia by standing at the doorway as we rumble northwards. An hour out of Mumbai the countryside looks timeless and serene, bathed in the dusty pink glow of the setting sun. Only thirteen more hours to go.
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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: 236

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