When you arrive at the swanky new Mumbai International Airport at 3.30 am it’s a bit of a challenge to know what to do next. Just outside the airport precinct lies the chaos of this tumultous city.
Choices are – ask your friends to pick you up – which means a long 6 hour turn around journey for them – check into a hotel for a few hours – expensive – or bite the bullet and go to the bus stop for the bus.
Now in Australia that’s probably not much of a big deal, but here in Mumbai at 3.30 am there are some challenges. Some might say that’s courageous, some may think stupid, and others might simply throw up their hands in horror. But there you are – Neeta Bus is the easiest choice for all concerned. Nobody has to be up half the night to get me and it’s a short autorickshaw ride from the airport to the bus station and the website did say the first bus was 5 am.
Challenge No 1. Finding the autorickshaw stand to get to the bus station. Actually the solution was quite easy and the rickshaw driver even put on his meter instead of haggling for a price. However as we were setting off, another man jumped into the driver’s seat with the driver. Now I could have become alarmed – but I didn’t. He was simply to there try his luck and see if he could sell me a private taxi to my destination for only 5 times the price of the bus! After a little discussion I politely declined .. he got off the rickshaw.. and as a parting gesture asked for a tip! You gotta hand to them.. they try!
And on we hurtled through the night. Past a large intersection under a flyover where at least 100 people were sleeping half on the road in the full glare of the lights will little or no cover or anything to lie on. Small kids, young adults, old people – a whole streetful of edge dwelling humanity. These are the ones who have just arrived from the drought stressed rural villages – and they may remain in this place as their home for many months.
We are rightly horrified at what is happening in Syria and the mass migration – but it happens on a daily basis here and is rarely mentioned in the press.
But here we are – arrived at the bus stop. All in darkness – “Oh” says the rickshaw driver – “8 o’clock coming”.. “No – 5 am” signs a friendly man sitting on the back of a motorcycle nearby. I trust my instincts and head in behind the fence to perch myself and my belongings on the step of the kiosk to wait the half hour till 5am. Despite the early hour there is plenty of traffic.. some crazy young people flying by yelling and chortling on the back of motorcycles.. a few early exercisers, and the occasional wandering scavenger.
While I wait another type of scavenger appears – a large rat scurrying along seeking what it may in the rubbish by the wall completely oblivious to the strange foreigner nearby.
And eventually the ‘clink clink clink’ sound of the fluoro lights coming on above my head signalled the opening of the ticket kiosk. Rs 450 – but sorry I have no change.. only have Rs 420.. “Ok Ok no problem”.. Rs 420 it is. And I get my ticket in my hand.
Now the man sets out a few plastic stools on the sidewallk by the road and indicates I should sit there. Ha ha .. the beacon of a foreign lady sitting on a dark Indian street at 5am drew lots of interest. Luckily by now after some time in this land I actually don’t care how many people stare at me.. its normal – I am different I know.. so that’s just the way it is.
And finally – about 5.45 the big rumbling bus appears – me and various other passengers climb on and we are off on the way up the winding highway to Lonavala – and home to the kids at Shikshangram.