Mumbai meetings in Shantaram's Colaba
On Monday 10th January, we flew the fairly long flight from Kolkata to Mumbai leaving at 09.40 and arriving at 12.45. I had not actually intended on going to Mumbai at all on this trip but I was very keen to meet the ladies from The Red Pen, an education agency placing students in British boarding schools as well as global universities and had set up a side trip to Mumbai just for this purpose.
After we had negotiated getting out of the airport by Uber (absolutely crazy pick up zone and would not recommend it!), we stayed at Hotel Harbour View in Colaba for £157 for 2 nights. We met up at 3pm with Kumar Kishore of Shantaram tour and spent the rest of the day with him (tour was 6,000 Rs, £60) visiting the harbour, the slum where Kumar had lived the first 27 of his 33 years but also saw some key places in Gregory David Roberts' incredible 'Shantaram' novel from Madame Zhou's Palace (burned out but the prostitution is still very much alive and well in the street), Khader Khan's apartment and Karla's house. I had wrongly thought that the love interest, Karla, was made up but she was real apparently as was 70% of the book based on fact, with the Afghanistan parts fictionalised.
On Tuesday 11th January, I had a bit of a strange feeling as I changed from my Indian clothes into my stripy suit for my meeting at the Oberoi Hotel with the lovely Namita Mehta. Through one of my babysitters in the UK, Deepa, I had been put in touch with a babysitter in Mumbai (Haseena) so thankfully Tiger was looked after by her for the duration which was a relief as she definitely would have been a huge distraction. I paid 200 Rs per hour (£2) and Tiger was looked after in the hotel room. Namita and I had agreed to meet in the Oberoi Hotel Coffee Shop in all its splendour, and it really was quite something given I had been in the slums the day before. I hope we will be able to start welcoming Indian students to my new school, Windermere School, in the near future.
With the meeting complete, I headed back to the hotel. Tiger told me she had been a little upset I had gone but had done lots of drawing and playing and we got ready to go out for 2pm. We walked along the harbour, in front of the famous Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, to Pizza Express for lunch, jumped on the open top bus tour (150 Rs each, £1.50) and had a little look around India Gate which is now surrounded by security, quite a contrast to the last time I was in Mumbai in 2008 when 10 terrorists simply came off boats and rampaged the city, ultimately killing 164, in the train station, hospital, the Taj, Oberoi, Leopold Cafe and at Nariman House (Jewish centre). Robin and I were actually on the beach in Gokana over 400 miles away but followed the attacks on the radio. We had also been staying in the Salvation Army's 'Red Shield House' from which you can see the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel and there would have been every chance I'd have badgered Robin to go for an 'expensive' (!) beer at Leopold Cafe, which featured in the Shantaram book, where on 27 November 2008, 10 people where killed. Very sobering.
Although a short trip to Mumbai, it was wonderful to see it again, a real pulsating, vibrant place. I hope to be back soon.