A secret you discovered about Mumbai?
If you walk with your arms extended you won’t drop into the open manholes.
An Indian product or service you can’t do without?
Home delivery — the service is pretty unbelievable and the kids pretty poorly paid. I order often and try to tip well.
Any fashion tips?
Wear shorts in the summer — your body deserves it.
Dared to try street food?
Street food is the porn of the culinary industry. Cheap, flashy, and made to please. No matter where I travel I find that street food is what I end up missing most when I leave. Spiced corn, pani puri, all fantastic in my book.
A phrase you’re bound to hear?
More a sound than a phrase — part whistle, part mouse being squeezed to death. I hear it most often in crowded shops when I’m in somebody’s way and they’re telling me to move.
Your road experiences?
If riding a rickshaw were a videogame it’d be a best-seller. Just 10 rupees to play, fast-paced, and fully-interactive. I’ve realized that it’s my responsibility to warn the driver of oncoming traffic. I’ve been involved in two crashes and that’s only because I wasn’t paying enough attention.
What is sexy about Mumbai?
You don’t come to Mumbai for the parks, for the beach, for the monuments or for the restaurants. You come for the sweat, for the people, for the spirit of the city. It’s standing on a train at 5pm seared to a half a dozen people. It’s watching the sweat collect and slide off the brow of those around you. It’s knowing you’re in it together and it’s worth it. ‘Nuff said.
Have you been conned yet?
Does a 1 Lakh rent deposit count?
Truly, madly, deeply, Mumbai…
My friend and I were stuck in traffic when she tried to light a cigarette with her last match. The taxi jerked forward and the match was extinguished. As she searched in vain a matchbox appeared in front of her face. She followed the arm that held it aloft to discover that it came not from within our car, but from the car idling to our left. A fellow driver noticed her misfortunate and decided to help. He gave her a nod and told her to keep the rest of the pack. Only in Mumbai.
What are the similarities or differences between Mumbai and your hometown?
I was born in North Africa where the first step onto the tarmac brings dust, heat, and a wall of noise that’s difficult to escape. I’ve been told that Cairo is Bombay 40 years in the past and I can see it. The main difference is Mumbai’s energy — it’s a people-magnet whose pull gets stronger every time someone moves into the city. It gives the city an electricity on par with New York and London. It’s a great place if you’re interested in seeing a city take shape.
Mumbai, the cultural capital?
Most definitely. A walk down my street brings an Islamic call to prayer, a group of neighbors conducting a Pooja, and a candle-lighting at the local Catholic altar. Mumbai is a city of immigrants. Many city dwellers are deeply steeped in tradition, having brought with them an ancient and rich tradition from other parts of the country. To become a recognized cultural capital Mumbai needs someone with the will to bring out what’s been hidden in the woodwork for so long. Maybe even someone who’s reading this interview?