Curt was in major culture shock as he stepped out of the Mumbai international terminal. His cousin Bruce was supposed to meet him as he exited arrivals area but as Bruce was no where in sight he wondered if there’d been a miscommunication and he was supposed to meet outside the entrance. Not having travelled before Curt had looked on this as a grand adventure, moving through immigration hadn’t been the trial his cousin described in his email, and it had been thrilling to mingle with the huge crowd at immigration and the luggage carousal. Loud shouting in multiple languages had greeted him as luggage was collected and customs approached. There’d been pleasantness he’d not expected at customs as two hovered over his open suitcases and one rechecked his passport and asked seemingly innocent questions before waving him on.
But moving through the exit gate two customs officers gave him a quick final appraisal before indicating the exit door Curt was feeling quite in control and pleased with this travel experience so far. It came as quite a shock exiting the door when an avalanche of touts, supposed taxi drivers and hotel agents descended on him pressing him for business and grabbing at his luggage. All Curt’s bravado evaporated as he held tight to his luggage in desperation. Where was Bruce? He hadn’t put this in his notes on what to do on arrival!
Bruce in the meantime was enjoying the scene immensely. His parents had been in this country since Bruce could remember and he’d grown up here, so he knew how things work to survive. Growing up here he’d mingled with the local kids and learned two of the languages fluently in addition to English which he spoke with a trace of the local accent.
He’d eventually been pushed out of the nest when he reached college age and sent back home to live with Mom’s sister Clara Simson Judd while completing college. His cousin Curt had mocked his use of accented English, so Bruce had a few things to settle with cousin Curt though they were good friends. His Aunt Clara had taken Bruce under her wing and made sure Curt’s constant pranks didn’t go too far. Bruce idealized her as she looked just like his mother!
But now Bruce was back on his adopted home turf and enjoying the plight of his cousin. He’d preceded his cousin by a month while Curt finished a summer school course he needed to graduate. Bruce generously tipped the security guard who’d allowed him to park in this no parking spot and headed for the melee pestering his cousin with the security guard by his side.
The security guard shouted and produced his lathi, the bamboo stick carried to emphasize authority. The crowd melted shouting insults and gesturing in disapproval. The security guard salaamed and went back to his beat waving the traffic along. Bruce grabbed luggage and waved to his favourite coolie who’d been instructed when the right time would be to move in. The small coolie effortlessly slung luggage onto his head, grabbed the hand baggage and headed for the minivan at a rapid clip while Bruce chuckling led his cousin to the van.
Curt gazed at the small coolie in admiration. “How did he do that? I found that luggage heavy enough to pull around on wheels and this little guy just slung it onto his head as if it were a feather!”
Relaxing now he was safe in the minivan Curt did an instant replay of his introduction to India. Suddenly he realized his cousin had deliberately set him up by not giving him warning as to what to expect when he exited the airport haven. Bruce helped the driver stack luggage and shouted “Challo!” He sat beside Curt chuckling as he saw the irritation on his cousin’s face.
“I owed you that for all the times you’ve pranked me when I came to live with your family during college years cousin.” Bruce laughed and the driver smiled as he watched the fun in the back seat through the driver’s mirror. Anvit chota Sahib was a jolly fellow, and everyone liked him. Not the typical gora admi foreigner. The locals used the name Anvit instead of Bruce when he was with them and seemed only vaguely aware of his English name.
Curt flinched as they passed taxis, bus and hand carts and auto rickshaws engaged in their dance together. It almost seemed he was eyeball to eyeball with passengers in other vehicles at times with only inches between each vehicle. Despite the squeeze urchins found a way to pop up at the window at each traffic stop gesticulating to get attention.
“Is it always like this?” Curt tapped his cousin on the shoulder to get his attention and Bruce looked at his cousin in surprise.
“What do you mean like this?” Everything appeared normal to Bruce and he looked at his cousin with a puzzled look.
“I mean the press of traffic and all those horns blaring at once. How can you stand it?”
Bruce looked around trying to find something unusual then turned back to study his cousin who made the sign of plugging his ears. He shrugged.
“You think New York is better?” His face showed a trace of irritation. “You’ll get used to it. Our driver Ramesh can whiz through traffic and has never had an accident.”
Driver Ramesh beamed with pleasure. Anvit Sahib may be white, but he was desh ka, a true Indian.
Curt thought it prudent to change the subject. His cousin seemed to be very defensive of his adopted homeland.
“Are we heading home now?”
Bruce nodded. “We’re heading up Malibar Hill now. You’ll get a good view of the ocean as we go up. When we get you settled at home after all those hours on the plane we’ll spend the rest of the day down at Breach Candy Club. The swim and sun will help you get over jet lag faster and if you’re up to it we can meet some of my friends in the evening. Dad is usually late getting home in the evening, but Mom should be home by 6 pm. The servants will have food ready for us when we get there.
As they turned a corner the broad curve of a beach with silhouette of the business area behind it burst into view.
“That’s beautiful!” Bruce beamed with appreciation at his cousin’s outburst.
Another five minutes passed before they turned into spacious grounds immaculately manicured. Curt nodded in appreciation again comparing the surrounds favourably with his parent’s apartment in New York and their cabin in the woods. The size of the bungalow was impressive and rush of servants as the driver paused at the front door to unload was surprising too. Those with money have a certain hierarchy in their servant kingdom. A driver will only drive, a cook will only cook, the gardener will only work outside and not run errands and the cleaner is at the bottom of the rung. Cook who’d been there longest ruled the home. Each would jockey for influence with Victoria memsahib and each were now present to welcome Anvit chota Sahib and his visitor to see the other did not get more attention in their pecking order. Bruce gave them all a cheery greeting and they rushed around to seek his approval appraising the foreigner he bought with him.
Bruce took Curt to one of the guest rooms and watched him unpack slowly under the watchful eyes of servants at the door.
“Not much privacy here Bruce, how do you deal with it?” Curt watched the door out of the corner of his eye and took note of the interest in what he was doing. “Will my stuff be safe if I leave it around?”
Bruce laughed. “Not a thing will be missing, they watch each other just as much as they watch us. I find it comforting to know they’re watching. They’ve been with us as far back as I can remember, and we treat them as part of the family. Mom pays them well and sees they have a fund building up for each of them when they want to retire and go back to their ancestral village. They’re loyal and trustworthy even though they constantly bicker with each other and Mom must settle it at times. Come on, cook is waiting to feed us both then we head for some swimming and relaxing.”
To be continued.
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