Reza's Travel Blog

Travels to Bombay and beyond...

February 17, 2009

Mumbai 2008-09

Mumbai 2008 Family

Mumbai 2008 Street

Our trip to Mumbai late last year was shadowed by the terrorist attacks on the city. Naghmeh went a few weeks before I did and landed the night of the attacks. In fact, she landed half an hour before they began and for a while I could not get through her on the phone since the networks were busy. She got home safely: the airport is on the north side of the city; the attacks were concentrated at the southern tip of the island. The rest of our family thank goodness was safe too.

More than anything else, the terrorist attacks were scarily effective in generating public fear and destabilizing relations between India and Pakistan. The terrorists did not have specific demands; they were spreading their nihilistic brand through 24/7 cable news coverage.

The city seemed subdued when I arrived two weeks after the attacks in early December. There were more police around the city, check-points at some major junctions and metal detectors around major sites and buildings. But life continued as it always does after any attack: we pick ourselves up. And Mumbaikars were back in the thick of the frenetic functioning chaos that is emblematic of this island city of 20 million.

Mumbai, like the other major metropolitan cities in India, is booming. India is in the news. The movie Slumdog Millionaire has become a sleeper hit. It reflects the paradox of economic success in India. A boy from the slums of Mumbai succeeds in the face of privilege and corruption. For all the press generated by the economic boom, India’s economy still continues on two tracks. One like the golden quadrilateral highway connecting the four major cities: growth at the speed of a developed nation. The second unfortunately is like the unpaved rutted roads of the majority of rural India: still challenged with poverty and underdevelopment. India's economic success has been a boon to many, but large portions of the nation still have not received the benefit of this boom. Besides this patchy development, India still has challenges with governance and patronage politics. (For a cogent analysis of modern India and it challenges, read In Spite of the Gods by Edward Luce.)

This trip to Mumbai was low-key, a time to recharge and prepare for a major life transition: the arrival of our baby girl in May. Almost everything I did was accompanied by the thought that the next time we are here, we will be with Aliyah. I have always wanted to have children, but underneath the excitement is anxiety. Nothing I am doing now – reading, getting advice from friends, etc. – can truly prepare me for what parenthood will be like. Knowledge is not understanding; only the experience of being a parent will help me understand what parenthood is and is not. A reassuring line from a Matthew Barney film comes to mind: “From the moment of commitment, nature conspires to help you.”

Since this will be the first grandchild for my parents, my mother had a big party to celebrate. It was part Godh Bharai, part baby shower, part birthday party for my mom. It was a wonderful way to share the happiness with my mom and all her friends. Naghmeh’s mom will come to Austin in about a month for a baby’s arrival. My parents will come later in the summer.

I spent time with my brother Mimo and Naz at a recently renovated bungalow they are leasing in Madwa across the bay from Mumbai. The pictures I have in my slide show do not do it justice – it has been impeccably redesigned by them – a retreat from the crush of Mumbai.

I walked each morning with my parents and had south Indian breakfasts at our favorite udipi, Mysore Café. I swam each day at Breach Candy – one of my favorite places in the world. (The other two are Deep Eddy pool and Barton Springs in Austin.) Naghmeh and I spent time with some of our friends and family. It is always a challenge to get enough time to see everyone on a short trip. Time rushes in the company of friends and stalls in the crawl through traffic.

All in all, it was a wonderful trip. Mumbai is dear to us and we look forward to returning there with Aliyah at the end of the year.