Mumbai

Here we are, as unbelievable as it sounds, in Mumbai...INDIA. It is about as different to what we Western brats are used to as the city of Nairobi or Tangier. The dirt rises from the ground. There is humidity, mosquitos and a fantastically energetic humanity that electrifies the air. And this is without even leaving the airport. But, it doesn't take long on the road that winds out into the neighborhoods to realize that this fair land is trampled underfoot by teems of people, cars, honking horns, grand old British Raj buildings, rubble, slums and marketplaces selling everything from incense burners to Gucci knock-offs. Our hotel, the Trident, of course is an oasis. It is deeply secured by metal detectors, police dogs and a bag check system that rivals any prison or airport. Once inside, we proceed to the bar, which they keep open for us until 2:00 am (gloriously)!

The next morning I wake up at 9 on the 33rd floor of this tower by the coast , press a button by my bedside and the large window shade covering a picture window that runs from wall to wall rises revealing a breathtaking view of the Arabian Sea. The sun glints off the water and small, pontoon-like boats sail slowly across the Nariman Penninsula. It is a jewel in the crown, indeed! So mystically gorgeous and alive is this place that I can only imagine how sorry the British must have been to give it back.

After an almost obscenely plentiful breakfast, with buffet tables filled with Indian dishes of every sort -- chapatis, pooris, aloo, mint sauces, chicken curries, tandoori and other unreasonably good delicacies -- we head to a press conference and spend a few hours sitting at a large dais in a conference room, where we take questions, pose for pictures and talk to TV cameras. Then, onto more photo ops (with the Les Paul) by the waterfront and climb up on a sea wall with the wind (and 200% humidity) in our hair. Crowds of young Indian men gather and stare at what they must take to be "some famous rock band." Yes, some famous rock band with big, kinky clown hair.

We are then escorted by our hosts to some of the spots in Mumbai where the bombings occurred, such as the grand old Taj hotel near the Gateway to India and the CST train station (where the now famous last scene of Slum Dog Millionaire was shot). At the CST, the "Times of India," one of the country's largest newspapers, takes pictures -- again with the Les Paul and hoards of people staring us down. There is something a bit eerie about visiting all the bomb sites; those areas where lots of people died; those areas that are probably top five on the list issued from the American Embassy of where NOT to go when in India. The morbid factor is a little unsettling, yet it helps reinforce why we are here, and during this pilgrimage, we all have individual realizations at some point today that what we are doing here is important -- not just for the people of Mumbai, but for people everywhere -- including we New Yorkers -- who have had to defy and ultimately defeat the politics of terrorism and fear.

Lunch at Leopold's, a 170-year old fan-cooled, indo-chinese restaurant -- as well as another hot spot on the terror-map of Mumbai, as proved by the bullet holes in the ceiling -- is distinguished by the giant beer canisters that look like oversized, conical Jedi light sabres and brough to your table with the requisite glasses and spout. After stuffing ourselves on beer and chicken tikka we bargain a bit on the street for compasses, trumpets and hand drums and fend off with heavy hearts the most beautiful little beggar children who literally climb up the walls of the sedan. We can't stand it -- who could? -- and so pass some money out of the window, the result of which is to be further besieged by more children, by children holding children with their hands out pleading, and by salesman with arms full of balloons and fans made of peacock feathers. There is no end to it, of course, and no meaningful way to help on this level. Still, it is a clarion call to just how lucky we are merely to have clean sheets on the bed, a bottle of Vitamin Water and a pair of shoes.

But, at least tomorrow, perhaps a little of a "Whole Lotta Love" will result both in lifted spirits and a few more ambulances to boot.

At the CST station in Mumbai, moments before the photo shoot for the Times of India


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