mumbai – by robert elms

a new year, a new addition to my blog – specially written pieces by guest writers.  here is the first one by Robert Elms on Mumbai.   i shall be starting a new page – guest writers – so that these pieces can easily be found – it will be an interesting and diverse collection of writing pieces.


A city smaller geographically than London or New York but with a population larger than both of those great metropolis’s combined, Mumbai is the noisiest, dirtiest, most crowded, chaotic, and frantic place I have ever visited. It is also one of the most gloriously life affirming, a perpetual riot of colour and clamour, a cavalcade of humanity in all its pungent glory, at all times in all directions.

Like both London and New York, this former Bombay is a hustling port town, a waterside trading centre, confident in its cosmopolitanism and strident in its commercialism. A relatively modern creation, its colonial past has bequeathed an array of ornate Victorian architecture, elegant clubs and verdant cricket fields, which contrast with the blizzard of modern high-rises which have sprung up without plan or reason from its sprawling morass. Slums too, slanted and blighted are everywhere, in every angular gap between the new-found wealth.

Poverty in extremis and in your face is one of the aspects of Mumbai life you have to contend with. Multi generational families living on the street, children sleeping on the cracked and broken pavements, the disabled and disadvantaged paraded for alms. Yet despite the sometimes gut wrenching poverty there is an energy and optimism, an almost tangible desire for improvement which permeates from every grimy crack and corner. Music, movement, momentum, buy and sell, hustle and bustle, here and there. A wedding, a shrine, a feast, an ablution, a holy man, a cow.

To enjoy this fervour of perpetual motion you need a retreat, a haven of sanity and serenity, and our hotel, The Taj was just that, and more, much more. Right by the Gatweway to India, overlooking the boats in the bay it is both the epi-centre of Mumbai life and the perfect antidote to it. Calm and cool, yet big and important, with elegance and charm backed up by exemplary staff, handsome rooms and fabulous bars and restaurants, a lovely pool and an array of shops, you could spend days here without leaving. Great days they would be too, but wasted ones.

For Mumbai invites you to venture forth and revel in the madness. It is indeed like London and New York when they were newer and in their noisy, noisome prime.

Robert Elms




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