Mumbai airport

Its hot and humid. It hits like an ocean wave and instantly my clothes stick to me. I’ve traveled a lot in the past, so I move through the airport like I know what I’m doing. I didn’t really sleep on the plane and I hadn’t slept well the night before so I figure I got about four hours over the past two days. There’s a bounce in my step because I remember what it’s like to travel and I’m liking it already. The air smells like old diesel fuel and spices. There’s tons of people getting off the plane and other planes like it. The guy sitting next to me tells me that planes come 24/7. That they can’t land them quickly enough. I believe him. I make it through customs pretty well and walk towards the Exit sign. There’s a mob of people waiting at the exit, many of them holding up signs in all kinds of languages and alphabets. I find my name quickly and he takes my bags to a compact Ford. Swarms of assistants/beggars descend upon us, helping to put my bag into the car, asking for some change. Actually, they start asking for five Euros, which is a huge amount of money here. I hadn’t exchanged any money and all I had were $20’s and change. So I gave one some coins and he walked off, surrounded by a group of others.

The car took me to this huge wrought iron gate about 10 minutes away, where security guards had my driver, Fahim, pop the trunk while they checked the undercarriage for bombs. This became a common theme, also in the office parks where one would stand in front of the car, another would scan underneath with a mirror attached to a stick and the third would search the insides. Don’t know whether to feel safe, or unsafe. Maybe both.

The hotel is a five star, one of a handful here among the metal shacks, blue tarps and trash everywhere. Much of the city looks like it’s been part of a war zone, with pock-marked streets and easily condemned “buildings.” My room is awfully nice with a bay window looking out on a slum. I drop my things and take a shower, using the hotel’s shampoo suffused with tea essence. That’s one of the more disturbing things: when your head smells like Darjeeling.

First Morning

I didn’t get much sleep, but the room service breakfast was awesome. My driver is waiting for me downstairs and I soak in the sights while he scoots past the three wheeled taxi mopeds that are all over the place. It’s a 45 minute drive to the office, and I think I see a total of four traffic signals. They barely slow down at intersections, but the confidence of everyone driving is pretty reassuring for some reason. There continue to be these businesses along the roadside, all about 150 square feet with these corrugated metal walls that must come from ship storage container walls. There’s blue tarp everywhere. But people are pretty casual and go about their businesses and destinations without a care in the world. There’s a great sense of at-peace quality to it all. The fact that a guy is removing the rim of a flat tire right in the middle of a shop that has a sign for Tandoori chicken and fried fish somehow doesn’t seem strange to them. I decide however not to eat there.

The office building is very modern and very humid. There’s no sign for Merrill Lynch at all, and no one seems to know anything except that I should sign in. I look in the book for sign-in destinations that match my own and find one pretty fast. As I get off the elevator, I quickly realize that the last person didn’t know where he was going either.

I did finally find the right floor, and security continued to be tight. You couldn’t go anywhere with a badge, but someone came out with flowers for me, escorted me to an office, and a shy white gloved guy brought me some really good coffee. The team came out to meet me and I said some meaningless drivel.

I got logged on to my e-mail, deleted a bunch of junk and met everyone. I got a temporary pass and scanned it about every 15 steps. They’re a good group and we all went out to lunch at the mall. It’s very modern, filled with glass and marble and security check points and metal detectors. They have Subways, Ruby Tuesdays, and a handful of Indian fast food places near the United Colors of Benetton.

The rest of the day went pretty quickly with meetings and presentations. I got out of work at 9pm and will probably do the same for the rest of my stay, considering I got in around 11:30. That’s what they do there so that they can talk to the Americans. Everyone just works a later shift.