Those were the days of “No dogs and no South Africans allowed” in India. We were NOT popular. Gandhi got kicked off a train in Durban by white racists and we were still all in trouble. Fortunately I was able to get a British passport through my dad. He took me on a walk to explain the two marriage certificates I had found. He had hidden his secret from us for so long. There was visible relief on his face after he told me but it took me a while to get over the shock. He still hadn’t told my brothers.
Our arrival in Bombay was easier than expected. The flight had been just long enough for Zoë who had been quite a live wire. We stood in the immigration queue for about an hour while everyone made a fuss of the little blonde foreign girls. We expected a major search of our bags but we walked straight through.
It was the 4 September 1991 and it was 3.30 a.m. “Pleasant- high humidity outside. Arrived in monsoon rains- lovely. Cools things down a bit.” I held tightly onto the girls while Tony haggled with taxi drivers for the best price. There were “hundreds” of men wanting to help with our bags. Such sweet people I thought; so helpful. I stood there watching Tony in his new role as expert bargainer. I was impressed. He packed our luggage into one of the little black and yellow taxis and we piled into the back seat. “Little taxi-man- thin gaunt face, eyes stuck open; Unblinking and mad looking.” His driving matched the look in his eyes. I kept asking Tony to tell him to slow down as we zoomed through the streets of Bombay. Tony just smiled and said, “Get used to it.” I squinted through the rain to see as much as I could. It was very much as I imagined it to be.
Jeffy and Deepa had never met us, but when we walked into their home at Pali Darshan, it was like being with family. We were tired but Ash and Zo were full of energy and wanted to dance and play. We took it in turns to catch up on sleep and it took us a few days to get over our jetlag.
“Night-life- always busy. Staying on the corner of a busy intersection. Noisy all the time. A hooter every 5 seconds. Side street-eat places. People everywhere, bells ringing; People shouting and selling things. Heavy rain for a few minutes then humid again.”
I was amazed at how westernized Bombay was. When we were inside the little flat, we could have been anywhere. It was simple and clean and the hospitality was incredible. People from the church popped in to meet us and we felt so at home.
Asha and Zoë loved their first bucket bath experience. They played for ages with the small jug and loved being able to mess water all over the bathroom.
We met a young English couple, James and Julie and their 3 children (they also had a little girl called Asha) who had arrived three months before us. It was good for me to be in their house and to see how they had settled in and made their home in Bombay. She also really helped me find my style of Indian clothing. Deepa took me out shopping and I didn’t see anything I liked. I wanted “appropriate clothing” but I also wanted clothing that was “me”. I got home so wound up and emotional from the whole experience. Julie helped me to find some more hippy-type Punjabi suits that looked nice and I enjoyed wearing them. It was difficult to really enjoy wearing ANY clothing in that heat, but the suits were cool and comfortable. My new friends were happy to see me wearing them.
“These streets are so NOISY!! Cars, little black and yellow three wheeler auto-rickshaws, taxis, motorbikes are all over the place not taking much notice of stop streets and the few traffic lights there are. Whoever gets there first goes first. They just toot their horns and off they go; biggest first. Nobody stops unless they have to. It’s all quite an experience. Asha and Zoë love going in the auto-rickshaws. They giggle and screech when we hit the potholes and speed bumps, which are totally ignored by the driver. Asha even managed to get one to stop for us. She was so proud of herself. Hooters dominate at the intersection just outside the window. It’s funny. It doesn’t seem to stop us from sleeping in the slightest. A busy day in Bombay makes it easy to sleep at night.
During my shopping expeditions, the only way to cope with the poverty was to avoid looking at faces. It was easier to look at the masses than at individuals. On our second day I made the mistake of doing that. I looked into the face of a very young mother who was pulling on me for money. I tried to ignore her for as long as I could. She had SUCH pain on her face. “Dirty, decorated and carrying the most pitiful little baby.” Something cracked inside and I knew I wasn’t ready for the individual. Their faces haunted me for a long time.
“Driving through Bombay I noticed two very thin, very poor ladies, feeding a huge fat cow on the pavement. The cow was almost too fat to move. Oh the irony.”
From now on I will be sharing excerpts from my journals in quotation marks and italics. That way I will stick to how I was really feeling at the time with no hindsight perspective.