I went to Mumbai (formerly Bombay) to have extensive oral and sinus surgery. The first week was taken up mostly by surgical procedures and recovery. Following is a diary-like account of my time in this huge city with some random facts thrown in.
[Editor’s Note] I have performed minor typographical editing on Ms. Stanley’s observations; otherwise it’s pretty much as she submitted it from Mumbai. Ms. Stanley graciously gave me permission to edit and publish the following account.]
My chin and jaw are grotesquely swollen this morning. It started setting in yesterday afternoon. The gums are also very swollen now. I have maxillary surgery scheduled at 4:00 this afternoon. It will be even more invasive due to the sinus lift needed.
It’s the beginning of my second week in Mumbai. There is a noticeable reduction in the amount of swelling after a steroid injection last night. I do have visible bruising on my chin, though. I have another appointment for post surgery follow up this afternoon. I am very impressed with my surgeon. He seems to be highly skilled, and he is genuinely caring person. He gently cleaned the inside of my mouth and my face after each surgery. In the US, those tasks would not have been performed by doctors. By the way, all surgery assistants are male here. There is female office staff and my dentist is female but that is it. Everyone else is male.
I’ll likely spend the day until my appointment in my room. I have a very thick Dan Brown novel purchased used from a book stall for $3. It is hardback. I have learned that the literacy rate in Mumbai is nearly 90%. There are many book stalls on the streets that sell only books. According to my young Sikh friend, Babu, education for poor children is free in Mumbai but only Hindi is taught in public school. If children want to learn English they must pay to attend private schools or for tutoring. He also explained that there are twenty-two official languages spoken in India and more than 1,500 mother tongues still spoken. My belief was that all writing was Sanskrit-based, but many written languages in northern India are Urdu-based. The Indian subcontinent is vast with many climate zones and there are tens of thousands of small villages in rural India. On a map, Goa seems to be nearby, but the reality is that it a ten hour train ride. Babu is from a city that is twenty-two train hours distant from Mumbai.
I just learned that there are 1000 men for every 870 women in Mumbai. There are roughly 20,000,000 people here. Do the math.
I just returned from my most recent trip to the dentist. Today’s trip was more adventurous than usual. The taxi driver had an idea how to locate the section of Malabar Hills known as Kemp’s corner but he had no idea where the dental office was located. He drove more than a kilometer in the wrong direction before I managed to get him stopped. He knew no English and I don’t speak a word of his language whatever that might be. I ended up walking back to the clinic in the 90 degree heat. The dentist took impressions for the temporary dentures that will be given before I return to Mumbai after the end of the forthcoming rainy season. The dentures made by my dentist in Huntington (WV), whom I shall not mention by name, have never fit correctly and made sores in my mouth. I had them relined when they were only two months old. The bill was $400; a bill I will never pay! My surgeon gave me another steroid injection to deal with the swelling. I imagine that I will look as normal as I can without any teeth tomorrow. Happily, I am more than 8,000 miles from home, and I don’t know anyone who will photograph me and post the photo on Facebook!
When I returned to the hotel, I had new prescriptions to fill. There is only one pharmacy in the area and it is poorly stocked. The store is probably about 12 feet by 16 feet in size. There are multiple paper merchants on both sides of every street in the area, but only one little tiny pharmacy. There is a 7-11 on every corner in Bangkok, where I spent some time a few years back and a pharmacy somewhere on every block. I have not seen a single 7-11 anywhere in Mumbai. Maybe that is because there was a terrorist attack here on July 11, 2006. The Indian press called it 7/11. Anyway, I was able to get my prescriptions filled. I have no need to visit the dentist tomorrow, but I doubt that I’ll leave the hotel even though I don’t know anyone here.
I did take a walk this morning. There are more banks in this section of Mumbai than any other business, including paper merchants. They are not large banks but there are many dozens of them. I did find the Hermes store, but I didn’t go in. I have no reason to believe that the line costs less here than elsewhere.
I was looking for the Cafe Leopold and Gate to India and the Taj Mahal. The Taj is the Tata-owned hotel attacked by Pakistani terrorists in November 2008. I did find the naval yard and had no problem finding my way back to the hotel using a different route. I returned drenched in sweat, though.
I met Glenn, the Aussie man next door, this morning. He is also a dental patient with the same clinic. He seems like a nice enough “bloke”, and likely less dangerous than Babu who is only 31 and has sex on his mind. He knows my age but doesn’t seem deterred. Could that be because there are so few women in Mumbai? Glenn is 50ish and seems harmless. I learned from him that the minimum wage in Australia is $23 an hour. Aussies don’t tip because there is no need for working people there to supplement the wages of other working people in that way. I had to explain the need to do so here. Australia has not embraced supply side economics. Maybe I’ll ask him to take the ferry ride with me on Sunday, teeth or no teeth. I’ll take a taxi to the Taj then. The quality of the shops improves the closer one gets to Colaba. The Indian Navy is located there, so there is probably more money to be spent. Its presence did not deter the terrorists though.
I had dinner with my new Aussie “mate” last night. I had Dum Aloo which is potato in curry gravy and rice. I was able to mash the potato and mix it and the gravy with the rice. “Aloo” means potato. Glenn is a working nurse in a small town in Queensland, one of Australia’s Territories on its eastern coast. He lives in a part of Queensland that is temperate. Right now it is winter there and cold. I learned much about the difficulty of controlling introduced species, plant or animal, into an environment where they are not native and about life in rural Australia. We both have appointments this afternoon, mine at 3:00 and his at 3:30 and we will share a taxi. I have met many interesting people here.
Presently, there is a group of young Germans here. I have had also had conversations with Scots transplanted to Australia.
A young Indian journalist stopped into a cafe one day while I was there. She was meeting a French crew to film an interview of a local politician. Pan Singh would not serve her a requested beverage because she was not a guest of the hotel. I asked if she could be my guest and if he would serve her then and he did. She is part of India’s middle class. Mumbai has a large middle class of university-educated people and a large number of very wealthy people but also millions of poor people who come here from the rural areas of India to work so they can earn cash to send home to support their families. My guess is that it is one of the reasons why there are many more men than women here. The men are the sons who must now support their extended families due to the loss of their father. India is a patriarchy where any job is first reserved for men and where labor is undervalued and everything is labor intensive. No women work in this tiny boutique hotel even though the staff is large. There are usually three men at the front desk and a door man. The dining room can only seat sixteen at a time but there are always four wait staff. There are three men responsible for cleaning the nine rooms on my floor. This hotel employs many people who work very hard for little pay. I suppose that the Indian economy must work this way because of its huge population, but I am bothered by it.
I walked over to the Back Bay and met an English speaking taxi driver with air-conditioning who offered a two hour tour for 200 INR (about $3 US). I toured the house where Gandhi lived for seventeen years between 1917 and 1934. I also visited a beautiful Krishna Temple. I was soaked with sweat when I returned, so I jumped into the shower fully-clothed and then hung my clothes in the shower to dry. It is 95 degrees today with 70% humidity. I’ll rest in my room until my afternoon dental appointment.