Indian authorsSunday Salon

An adventurous week

pound coinThis was the week when I discovered that it is not a good idea to start a trip to India having left my purse containing credit cards and cash back in the departure area of Heathrow airport. Forty minutes before touch down in Mumbai I made the discovery that my sole funds consisted of a £1 coin and a 10 pence piece. Even allowing for India’s lower cost of living, that wasn’t going to get me very far.

I could do nothing for five and half hours until my husband could give me contact details for the card providers so I could cancel the cards. And hope above hope that no-one had tried to use them and access our accounts. Fortunately we were able to wire money to a Western Union outlet so I was solvent by the next day but it was a frightening experience. Our funds are intact though the purse has not been located. A narrow escape.

Rohinton Mistry’s Such a Long Journey helped distract me from my woes, partially at least. I’ve meant to read him for such a long time and it seemed the perfect moment to begin since this book – his first novel – is set in Mumbai. I do enjoy reading books set in places I’m visiting since it makes the descriptions of the setting and people more meaningful. You read a passage in the book, lift your eyes from the page and there in front of you is the very scene or close to it.

Here’s Mistry’s description of the sprawling development of one Mumbai district.

Dr Paymaster’s dispensary  was located in a neighbourhood that had changed in recent years from a place of dusty, unobtrusive poverty to a bustling, overcrowded, and still dusty, nub of commerce. Crumbling leaky warehouses and rickety-staired, wobbly balconied tenements had been refurbished and upgraded, from squalid and uninhabitable to squalid and temporarily inhabitable. The sewer system remained unchanged, broken and overflowing. Water supply continued to be a problem. So did rats, garbage and street lighting. …Soon there appeared enterprising individuals who serviced motorcars, retreated tyres, , restored refrigerators and allowed the waste products of their enterprise to run where they would. The barefooted now had to skip and hop over grease slicks, oil puddles, razor-sharp fins of broken cooling coils and long, twisting snakes of vulcanised rubber disgorged by tyre re-treaders.

The only bits he’s forgotten about are the piles of bricks and rubble left by the district government as a way of pretending they are about to start work on upgrading the work. And the cows that amble along the central reservation oblivious to oncoming traffic but forcing cars, mopeds and tuk tuks to halt.

I’m back home now, shaken by the experience of being driven weaving in and out of traffic for three hours so I could see the Taj Mahal; sobered by the experience of being away from home without money and looking forward to a slightly less adventurous week.




What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

19 thoughts on “An adventurous week

  • What a horrible experience! I would have been completely stressed. I’m so glad you managed to work your way around it – but just think, you could have written one of those Dear X, I am stranded in a foreign country with no money emails and it wouldn’t have been spam! I have the Rohinton Mistry to read, so am delighted to know you were enjoying it.

  • Oh no! What a scary, unmoored thing to have happen especially when you are in a country where you don’t know anyone. I’m glad it all worked out ok. It sounds like you had a really good book to read.

    • That was a definite help Stefanie along with watching some very odd Indian soap operas.

  • Horrible feeling, Karen. I left my purse in a taxi in Burgos, Spain, a couple of years ago. Fortunately husband was with me so we weren’t destitute but it left us a card short and loss of flexibility. I also couldn’t go shopping without him – unless I had cash with me! Fortunately I’m not a big shopper but I felt “naked”. Fortunately, my passport was not in the purse but elsewhere in my bag. Sounds like the same for you.

    Anyhow, glad you are reading Mistry. His A fine balance is one of my all time favourite books.

    • I can’t imagine what would have happened if I had arrived sans passport. I suspect I would have been made to hang about in a horrid area for most of the day before being put on a flight back home.

  • Glad you were able to get money transferred! I’m impressed you were so in control, I would probably devolve into a mess.

  • Wow, that’s scary! I’m glad it all turned out well. I read Mistry (A Fine Balance) during a trip to Mumbai also. It was definitely a good (though depressing) book for reading on location.

    • I have that one on my shelf and was tempted but it was a bit big to lug about

  • readerbuzz

    What a scary experience. Glad everything turned out okay.

    I love Mistry. Hope you will read more of him, especially Family Matters.

  • yes it was for work Bryan – two days in Mumbai and then took a few days vacation by heading for Delhi and Agra. My work colleague told me it was about time I saw something else of India beyond Mumbai. Photo will be coming shortly – just have to figure out how to upload from the camera

    • I’ll look forward to seeing it whenever you get around to it. 🙂

      But glad everything worked out…in the end.

  • Glad you made it back. Now do you have the harrowing experience of replacing all your ID to look forward to?

    • Our bank was wonderful and the cards were already waiting for me when I got home. They were also the ones who came up with the idea of doing a money transfer.

  • A few questions: What took you to India? Work? If you can talk about? Where is the obligatory photo of the Taj Mahal? 🙂


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