All these points are specific to how I feel about Mumbai, where I live and work. I am not an authority on what living in another Indian city is like. Of course, I am also well aware that my position as an expat here is an extremely privileged one. I write this post for people who might be considering a move to Mumbai, and are worried about what living here is like.
I have now been in Mumbai for almost 3 months and am starting to find the natural rhythms of this chaotic, crazy city. Having never visited Mumbai before, the only expectation I had was that it would be somewhat like Delhi—a city I visited 10 years ago.
Before I left for India people were concerned about my decision; will you be safe? Won’t you get ill? What about all the poverty? They asked.
India is not safe for women, they said.
I did not dismiss their concerns: India is unsanitary, poverty is rife, and the Delhi rapes are a constant reminder that women are not viewed as equals here. I remembered feeling uncomfortable in the male-dominated streets of Delhi, and knew that Mumbai could well feel the same.
Thirteen weeks later I am now looking back at the expectations I had before I came here; expectations shaped by perceived notions of what India is—and isn’t—and realise that Mumbai is simply not what I expected at all.
1. I order my groceries online
I envisaged traipsing around local markets to find produce, and whilst that would be fun every once in a while my reality is that there are a number of grocery stores that I can order from online. With a busy full time job this saves me plenty of time, and money.
2. I am not the only person with a smartphone
Before I left, I considered leaving my iPhone in Sweden and using a cheap phone while in India. I didn’t want to stand out for having an expensive phone. Therefore, I was surprised to see that inside every rickshaw on the streets of Mumbai people were playing games and listening to music on smartphones. Now, I feel safe enough to use my iphone to take pictures in busy places and track rickshaw journeys with GPS.
3. I use an app to book and pay for taxis (but use auto-rickshaws for everyday transport)
I’m so pleased that I have my smartphone here as I can use it to book a taxi. Using GPS I can track where the taxi is and how long it will take to reach me. I can even pay for the taxi through the app, making the ride feel like a personal car and driver! Sometimes this doesn’t cost much more than an auto-rickshaw.
4. I don’t carry hand sanitizer in my bag
I did this for the first few weeks—even remembering to use it regularly, but as the days went on and I didn’t get sick when I forgot to use it, I realised that perhaps it wasn’t so necessary. Also, it was a little embarrassing when locals watched you sanitizing your hands every time you interact with their food.
5. Sometimes I eat beef (but I feel a little guilty) *
I love beef and was finding it hard to prepare for having to give it up completely, so I am happy to find that it is available in India. It is certainly not commonplace, but you can find burgers on some menus (often buffalo, but sometimes beef), and there is a butcher that sells beef so we have made a few steaks at home.
*Update – After the March 3, 2015, Maharashtra Beef Ban this point is no longer valid. All restaurants have removed beef from their menus. Buffalo still remains on some, but many have removed it altogether.
6. I brush my teeth with tap-water
This is really not advisable outside of Mumbai (as I found out in Udaipur), but here I use the tap water to brush my teeth and to wash vegetables before I cook them. I don’t drink the tap water, but have had no issues with brushing my teeth in it.
7. I live close to beaches like this…
Mumbai is not Goa and I am not for a minute considering swimming at any of these beaches, but they are surprisingly clean and deserted considering they are an Indian city beach. At Manori beach (above) the water was clear and there was very little litter—although we did find this gorgeous Hindu Goddess half-buried in the sand at Juhu.
8. I feel safe
I say this with caution—I am in India, after all, and I will remain cautious the entire time that I am here. But I feel that I can walk around the streets alone without fearing unwanted attention. I am barely looked at by the locals in my area. There are female-only taxi-cabs available, but I feel that Uber would be equally safe if I had to travel alone at night. From what I have heard this is a common feeling amongst foreign women living in Mumbai.
Do any of these things surprise you? Why, or why not? Please leave a comment below or feel free to share. Let’s spread the word that there’s more to Mumbai than Danny Boyle’s Slumdogs!