So my fab cousins in Singapore are going to be around during my brief stop-over between Nepal and Japan and I get to stay with them for a couple of nights (see #10). I’ve been to Singapore a few times but not since they built the Marina Bay Sands hotel, with the iconic boat-shaped ‘SkyPark’ on the top. It will be interesting to see what’s new and relax with Maria, Mark and friends. They are from the Indian branch of the family (my dad’s side) and I don’t get to see them very often.
I first met this part of the family on my first visit to India in the mid-90’s, and as it was a backpacking trip and things were flexible I ended up staying with them for about a month. They lived in Bandra, a suburb of Bombay (sorry, I should say Mumbai), when it still had a ‘village-like’ feel; these days it’s a very fashionable place to live and all the Bollywood stars can be found in the vicinity. I feel very fortunate to have been able to experience living like a local in Bandra at that time. I was travelling with my (now ex-) boyfriend, and after a while a friend of the family allowed us to stay in a ground floor apartment they owned and we used to go to the market every day to barter for our potatoes, carrots, tomatoes and other staples. At that time there were no Westerners around so everyone knew who we were and recognised us and it was very friendly.
The apartment had not yet been furnished so was bare concrete with a room containing a single wooden bed, another room containing a stove with a gas bottle for cooking and another room with a brick built square about waist height and tiled, that you stood inside and filled a bucket with (cold) water from the tap and poured over you to wash. The doors didn’t quite go all the way to the floor so at night the light from the corridor used to shine through. I always remember lying in bed one night and seeing the shadows of the massive rats that used to inhabit the place as they darted here and there. I have never seen such big rats, we used to see dead ones occasionally in the vicinity and no word of a lie they were literally about 8-10” long! You learn to adapt though, and the living conditions didn’t seem too much of a hardship when you went out into the street and saw people sleeping in the gutter on a piece of cardboard or living under a tarpaulin in the slums. In the first world we take our homes, our bathrooms and kitchens for granted and it is easy to forget that millions of people don’t have access to clean water let alone a hot shower.
The reason we were so long in Mumbai was because we decided to buy a van and drive around India all the way to Calcutta (or Kolkata as it’s now known) where I had other family – or down to Kerala, or over to Rajasthan perhaps – our plan wasn’t very well thought out. I could write a book about all of our different experiences: how we bought the van and the complexities of the Indian banking and legal systems; the whole day we spent getting the insurance – and meeting Cha Cha (Uncle) who was the broker, who when we came back to Mumbai took us out for a tandoori; buying our provisions and pots, pans and utensils (some of which I still have); how we modified the van; joined the Indian equivalent of the AA; got a ticket for running a red light because the brakes didn’t work! and how we set off in the middle of the Monsoon and soon came unstuck with the potholes and dodgy battery, breaking down on a remote road on the way to the hill stations outside of Mumbai.
Ultimately we had to return to Mumbai as it was too dangerous to continue, but looking back it was such an adventure although it didn’t feel like it at the time. It was an experience which was sometimes frustrating and sometimes really scary for me all those years ago, and this got in the way of me enjoying it. I think the me of today is much more adventurous and confident, and because of my experiences I now actually enjoy adversity and encountering problems because that’s what makes life interesting. Anyone reading this blog, I say to you – follow your dreams and make them a reality! It’s possible, it really is. It’s not easy, you have to work hard, save up, have a vision, work out a plan and then with a bit of perseverance, patience and luck you will achieve it. And if you don’t achieve fully what you set out to do it doesn’t matter because on the way you would have probably met great people and had priceless experiences. So here’s to my cousins, who encouraged and supported me all those years ago – I can’t wait to see you again.