Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Silence in the City

My flight to Mumbai, apart from an absurdly complicated transfer in Dehli, was wonderful. On the second leg, they served Subway sandwiches and Lays potato chips. Instead of the chai wallahs that walk up and down the railway cars bellowing "CHAAAAI CHAAAAI CHAAAI" every two seconds, the Sahara air stewards with bright white teeth asked, "Madam, would you prefer tea or coffee?" I preferred everything since it was for free.

We descended into the city formerly known as Bombay just after sunset. The orangey red stripe on the horizon melted away and the city lights turned on. It looked like a Lite Brite set. I was grinning from ear to ear to be back in civilization, even before I saw the white-suited chaffeur waiting for me at the arrival gate. The Mitres, my Mumbai host family, are good to me. They phoned on the driver's mobile the instant I sat down in the cool, cushioned backseat, to apologize for not meeting me. They were at a party, it being Friday night and all.

A/c cranking, we zoomed across flyovers--overpasses that divert traffic over train tracks or poor slum areas--past bigger-than-life billboards for mobile phone plans and DNA, short for Daily News Anaysis, a new paper. One ad featured a well-groomed young women saying, "I think George Bush should be sent back to school."

Back at the Mitres' spacious Dadar flat, the maid had prepared me dal, rice and curd. I ate a third dinner and crashed, ecstatic to be sleeping somewhere clean, quiet and safe.

My last night in Varanasi had been interrupted by a viscious dog fight happening under my second story window at Reva Guest House, where I paid Rs. 100 a night (just over $2). There were snarls, barks and high pitched screams that only stopped briefly when I dumped water on the pack. Reva's owners say the dogs see ghosts. Maybe Varanasi is haunted, but I'd wager it's rabies, or at least starvation, that makes them crazy.

The Mitres' flat is on the tenth floor, and air conditioned, so if there were dog fights below I didn't hear a thing.


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