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Culture Shock in Bombay

Leaving the Galileo

View Sydney to London 1964 on Ozac's travel map.

Thursday 10-9-64

We came into Bombay at 4 am this morning, so when I awoke we had already berthed.

T.V. Galileo, Berthed at Apollo Pier Bombay

T.V. Galileo, Berthed at Apollo Pier Bombay

It was very strange to go to sleep at sea and to wake up with the city of Bombay sprawled around. From the deck I immediately noted the Gateway of India away to the left. The sight from the ship was not how I imagined Bombay to be, it was more like I imagined an Arab port to be. We left the ship once again with the gang, though I felt somewhat reluctant, but it was our last day with them so I persevered. We took a horse drawn vehicle into the city, eight of us, and paid 10 rupees - highway robbery! We found the American Express office, collected our mail, and wanted to leave our rucksacks there, but to no avail. They told us the best place to leave them was in the baggage room at Victoria Terminus (V.T.). We walked a mile in searing heat to do this, but were rather worried after we had booked them in, as the security did not seem very strict. With the load off our backs, we then wandered up and down the streets experiencing this foreign place. At this time I was feeling a little apprehensive about the future. We made our way back to the Gateway of India and the nearby Taj Hotel, a fantastically elaborate building. The Gateway seemed an impressive waste of money. It must have cost a fortune, and to what purpose - so the King and Queen could walk beneath it. At present, hundreds of homeless people sleep under its arches.

The Gateway of India

The Gateway of India

We went for a ride in a felucca and checked into the nearby Salvation Army Hostel for the night. There we met an Australian family by the name of Bell who had come across on the Marconi the month before, and they walked down to the docks with us to see the Galileo sail. The mob on board threw us down dozens of pieces of fruit and lowered two bottles of beer. I did not feel any heaving of the heart as the ship sailed, but the last mouthful of beer went down the wrong way, and I threw up all over the wharf. We caught a taxi back to the Salvo’s and had a drink before going in. Mr. Bell was most helpful and friendly, and gave us many hints on how to avoid being ripped off in the cities.

Bombay seems to me to be one of the worst places on God’s earth. It is huge, crowded, chaotic, old and filthy. To feel alone there is a terrible feeling, and this is how I felt on that first night, as I fell asleep in that barren god-forsaken hole the Salvo’s call a hostel. Outside was a teeming city of four million, and not one of them did I know or trust. For the most part they seem to live in the worst poverty imaginable, and one million of them sleep in the gutter. Beggars followed me everywhere on the street, and I was frightened of them, and embarrassed, when I refused them and they persisted. I feel it will take some time to overcome these feelings. Although I feel very insecure at the moment, I know there is no going back, and that I must accept and face up to the reality of my present position and make the best of it.

===Ozac 2011===

“Although I feel very insecure at the moment” was something of an understatement! This first day in Bombay I remember as being the worst of the whole trip. For a start, we were sweltering in jeans, boots and army surplus long sleeved shirts, carrying heavy rucksacks on our backs, cameras round our necks, water bottles on our belts, and trudging miles in scorching heat looking for somewhere safe and cheap to park the luggage and spend the night. We were fending off persistent hordes of beggars, hawkers, rickshaw drivers and black marketeers all day. Many of the beggars were horribly deformed. We were stepping around corpse like sleeping bodies covered in flies, on every filthy pavement and public place. We were appalled by the odours, the poverty and the disease, and could see only endless days of such surroundings stretching in front of us. Insecure? I think I was probably terrified. Where I wanted to be was back on board the Galileo, and if I could have sailed away from this bad dream I would have thought boredom at sea was bliss. But I knew that wasn't going to happen.

In a pool of light on an almost deserted Apollo Pier that night, trying to catch the fruit raining down before it split open on the concrete, feeling a bit like the target in a sideshow, and putting on a brave Aussie face for our smiling Mediterranean bound compatriots at the rail above, my stomach was turning over, but that icy beer on a string, like bait on a hook, was too much of a temptation, and I quaffed it back with abandon to show them how confident I was. No wonder I then had to lurch into the half shadows and bring it all up.

Back in our dismal cubicle at the Salvation Army Hostel, which I see is still in business a stone’s throw from the Taj Hotel, we stretched out on hard narrow cots listening to a hacking cough from the other side of the low partition wall and watched the fan revolve slowly on the ceiling. We didn't say much. All our years of dreaming and months of planning had led us to this moment of utter despondency, as we finally comprehended the reality of the challenge ahead.

We needed a lifeline, and fortunately we had two, in Poona, not far to the south. Ram Kale, a recently married dentist who had studied in the United States, was Ade’s pen friend, and I had been corresponding with Nuruddin Khambata, a university student. With them there was the promise of sanctuary until we could acclimatize, and so it proved to be.

* * *

Posted by Ozac 22:37 Archived in India Tagged mumbai bombay gateway_of_india

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