Take it from a Mumbaikar: There's a lot that first-time visitors need to keep in mind as they find their way about this city and its people
No one really cares about first-time visitors to Bombay. This is awful, because the millions who keep arriving each year — mostly in the hope of becoming the next Salman Khan or, if that seems too ambitious, the next Sanjay Nirupam — need to be warned about a large number of things before stepping off their trains.
To begin with, most of them will step off at a railway station that continues to be called VT, despite the government's 20-year old effort to get us to call it something else. As a public service to visitors, I propose this as a first lesson: Always ask a local about getting to a place; never bother with a map. Visitors need to be informed that places their relatives recommended a year ago have probably been renamed by now, to honour the relative of some BMC corporator or someone equally obscure, about whom no information will ever leak into any history textbook ever. Don't ask for directions to Mahatma Jyotirao Phule Market, for instance, because Crawford Market is all most of us know.
Don't do this: Hanging outside the train is another bad idea. It can be a great introduction to Bombay, possibly, but it may also be the last introduction to any city if a pole happens to get in the way. Pic/Sayed Sameer Abedi
Visitors should also be given lessons on travelling by train, which millions of us take for granted every morning. How is a first-timer supposed to figure out the unwritten rules that help us get from point A to B without a little help? How is one to know, for example, that you never attempt entering a Virar Fast if your destination is Andheri or Borivali? Or that a Dadar Fast is a horrible idea if you have to get to Bandra? Or that a Virar Fast is actually a horrible choice irrespective of anywhere you have to go? Or that ticket checkers don't give a damn about how it's your first day in the city if they find you in the first class compartment without a ticket?
They should also be informed about why hanging outside the train is another bad idea. It can be a great introduction to Bombay, possibly, but it may also be their last introduction to any city if a pole happens to get in the way. And, sadly, they will find a lot of poles in the way.
Other things to avoid include medicines that promise to solve all sexual problems within 24 hours, manufactured by Baba Samrat Bangali from Vasai. If you choose to wear slippers or a kurta while trying to get into a fast train, know that this gives the 26 people behind you much leverage, and will compel you to travel barefoot within seconds. Don't get into an argument with the guy who saves a seat for his friend by putting down a sheet of newspaper; these sheets are authorised stand-ins for absentees. And please don't ask the group of bhajan singers in your compartment to tone it down a bit so you can read your book. It's illegal, of course, but when did legality have anything to do with religious sentiment in India?
Don't step into a bus without change. The conductor will refuse to give you a ticket in exchange for a 100-rupee note, because he probably sells his change to retail stores for a cut. If you're walking, always keep your eye on the road, not because you will get lost if you don't, but because the BMC doesn't always think it important enough to warn pedestrians about silly things like open manholes.
Don't let the beggars on our streets fool you into giving them your money. Some of them have tough lives, of course, but a majority of them may have a better one than yours, as well as a better apartment than the one you're renting for an astronomical price. This applies to cabbies with hard luck stories too. There are a lot of people who genuinely need help, but most of them don't drive their own cabs.
If you feel a heart attack coming on, avoid stepping into a government hospital even if you collapse right outside one. You may have to bribe a peon for a stretcher, and fumbling for your wallet during a heart attack is not recommended. And if a government employee asks for 'chai-paani' to facilitate a service he is supposed to offer you as part of his job, don't offer to buy him a cup of tea.
There are other rules you will come to recognise in your own time. I was born here, but figured a lot of them out the hard way, so you don't have to. Welcome to Bombay.
When he isn't ranting about all things Mumbai, Lindsay Pereira can be almost sweet. He tweets @lindsaypereira
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