Mumbai: Thanking Muggers

 After years of travel there are a few places that I still get excited to visit.  Mumbai India is one of them.  Maybe it’s because of the great shopping I’ve experienced or great food I’ve enjoyed but Mumbai has always been an exciting visit for me and this time wouldn’t be any different.  I hadn’t been off the ship since returning from vacation in Singapore and I was excited to enjoy a lunch with members of the entertainment team onboard including George DeMott, his wife Carolynne, and Marvin Randal and Sabine Fuchsbichler the Crew Accountant.  We had a most enjoyable lunch at the Khyber Restaurant.  I’ve been coming to the Khyber for many years enjoying the food and atmosphere.  Experiencing the exotic menu in familiar surroundings makes you feel less like a tourist and more like a welcomed world traveler.   I was pleased to see many of our guests there as well and on our way out we laughed and chatted about the extra spicy curries to stay away from and a few menu items to check out like the Lambs Brain in a mild coconut and coriander chutney.   

Outside the Khyber restaurant the whole group waited for a taxi.  Four of the group was going back to the ship but I was planning on going to Victoria Station, the train station in downtown Mumbai, to take photos of the beautiful building and the colorful people.  Only one taxi showed up and a very hyper driver tried to get all five of us in his taxi but we insisted that we split up.  Because my destination was closest I was the first to be loaded into the back seat of his vintage Premier Padmini Fiat.  I’m not sure what year it was, because for several decades they made them all to look alike.  Black body and yellow top.  They were all equiped with a roof rack for luggage or the odd farm animal being brought to market.  It took me a little extra time to fold my 6′ 3″ frame into the back of the car but once I settled in I was overwhelmed with the smell of incense and curry but it was strong enough to over take the driver’s body odor.  I was no sooner in then the driver hastily sped off hoping to get back to the restaurant in time to take the rest of the party to the ship.  Too tall for the back seat I had to tilt my head sideways to see past the knick knack shelf for a dashboard and through the cracked windshield.   We quickly reached top speed and before I knew it we were cutting and slashing through the traffic.  I felt like a bag of rice being thrown from side to side.  Fortunately my outstretched arms could reach each side of the vehicle and that alone kept me upright.  The driver sensed my discomfort and asked if I liked Indian music as if that would soothe me.  I didn’t want to set him off by saying no, so I nodded.  This, I soon found out, was a big mistake.  His voice sounded like a snake charmer’s flute and as he sang he let go of the steering wheel, wrapped in wooded massage beads, so his arms were free to wave wildly as if he were an Indian Classical dancer.  All the while he was driving faster and faster, narrowly missing ox carts, cars and pedestrians.  I finally screamed at him to slow down where upon he glanced at me in disbelief and started to sing his song slower.  The good news is that I arrived at Victoria Station in record time.  Little did I know this was just the start of my adventure.    

 I got out of the taxi much quicker than I got in and was so happy that I had arrived safely I gladly overpaid him by 200 rupees..  I had plenty of money with me as I planned on giving a few rupees to some of the people as a thank you for allowing me to take their picture. It is so hard to look at the mothers with young children and not want to help.  They are so desperately poor I couldn’t take their image without giving them something in return.  I headed out to try and avoid the ugly poverty that grips the city and capture the beauty of people and places within Mumbai.  Victoria Station loomed large across the busy intersection and beckoned to me to photograph its architectural beauty.  
  On the way I stopped every few feet to photograph the colorful happy people at the markets that had sprung up on the streets surrounding the station.  They were selling everything from watermelon with slices of fresh pineapple chilled with rapidly melting blocks of ice to scraps of material to cheap padlocks.  Because my camera is new I was concentrating on the information that appeared in my view finder, focused solely on my photography.  I wandered freely throughout the crowded venue and even though I was by myself I felt very safe.   I have enjoyed many wonderful visits to this exotic and exciting country without any incidents and had no reason to believe today would be any different.  Even though I didn’t buy anything, the street vendors seemed to enjoy me looking at their various items.  I think it added some credibility to their card-table stores.  I weaved and wiggled my way through the vendors and crossed the street to capture a good panoramic view of Victorian station.  As I walked along a roadside barrier I kept my eye on Victoria Station not noticing a taxi approaching me from the opposite direction.  It pulled to a stop right next to me 
and two young men got out.  At the same time someone tapped me on my shoulder and as I turned to see who it was the two men from the taxi immediately dropped down in front of me grabbing and wrapping themselves around each leg. My first thought was my God these beggars are a lot more aggressive then they used to be but at the same time two men jumped on my back, one holding onto my left arm and the other one going for my backpack, 
which contained more camera equipment.   Another one wrapped his arms around my waist.   I must be watching too much of the Discovery Channel because I remember thinking I’m like a wildebeest on the Serengeti being pulled down by a pack of jackals.  Even though the wildebeest is much stronger, the Jackals can bring him down through perseverance.  I staggered forward wearing 5 young men and then it occurred to me that they weren’t trying to hurt me, they were just trying to detain me long just enough to pickpocket me.  Within seconds I reached for my wallet but it was already gone.  This enraged me, and I tossed two of the young men to the ground noticing at the same time one of the boys was running from the scene dodging traffic as quickly as his flip-flops would allow.  His hasty departure told me he was the one with my wallet.  I tried to pursue him, but there were still three thugs hanging on to my legs and waist.  I was able to quickly rid myself of the young man around my waist but I had to use my camera as a hammer to get rid of my human leg irons.  They were no match for the Nikon D80 and they also quickly dropped off and I was free to pursue the young man with my wallet.  I ran across the four lanes of traffic yelling “stop thief” at the top of my lungs hoping to gain attention and support from the many locals in the area but he had already made it to the other side of the road and had merged with the millions of Indians at the Sunday market.  My heart sank knowing that my chances of ever seeing him or my wallet again were nil.  I wandered through the market carefully scrutinizing every face I saw.  After about ten minutes, realizing my search was futile, I headed back to the ship.  I now looked suspiciously at the same people but now their beauty and innocence was gone.  I was sad about that.   Little did I know that there was still more to my Mumbai adventure.  
The black and yellow taxis looked like big Bumble Bees all lined up looking for fares but not necessarily looking for me because in this part of town few of the drivers spoke English.  In these situations, rather than asking drivers if they speak english, I ask “Did it rain last night?”  If they say “yes, no problem” then I know we would have a problem if I got in that taxi.  After quizzing at least 8 to 10 drivers I found one that I thought understood my destination.  I was relieved that I had remembered before leaving the ship to stash some cash in other pockets in case of just such an emergency.  I climbed into the taxi and he took off in the direction of the ship, giving me confidence that I had made the right choice.  We’d been on the road for 3 or 4 minutes giving me time to organize my thinking and do a quick inventory of what was in my wallet and what steps I was going to have to take when I got back to the ship.  I realized that the wallet contained three credit cards, my drivers license, my PADI scuba dive card I’d had since 1976 and $250 cash.  My concentration was interrupted when suddenly another taxi pulled up next to us with two young men in the back seat yelling at my driver.  My driver tried to ignore them at first but eventually was forced to the side of the road by the other taxi.  I couldn’t believe it was happening again and I braced myself for another attack.  I though the bastards know I have more money because I got in a taxi and they’re after every penny.  I gripped my Nikon for action as the two young men jumped out and quickly threw something in the back window that landed on my lap.  Thinking the worst, I threw myself out of its path only to discover that it was my wallet.  To say I was surprised is an understatement.  I opened it quickly and realized that my credit cards and everything but my money was intact.  As they fled, I blurted out the window “Thank You” as if they were India’s version of Robin Hood.  I thought you’ve really lost it now thanking muggers but my outburst was automatic and out of relief.  My taxi driver smiled at me, and we once again took off for the port.  On the ride I double and triple check my wallet thinking that it was too good to be true to have thieves go to the effort to track me down.  Why had they chosen me to attack and then why in the world would they take the chance of being caught by returning it.  
I wasn’t sure if my driver knew that I’d been mugged when I got in the taxi but I was pretty sure he figured it out, so I asked him why they returned my wallet and he gave me in a one-word relpy, Karma.  
I remembered reading that in the Hindu and Buddhist religions Karma is most important and is based on actions or deeds. The thieves initially created very bad Kama for themselves but by returning my wallet perhaps they 
hoped to balance it out with a good deed.  
Once back on the port I told the ship’s agent about the incident, and he asked me to describe the attackers.  I told him that there were 6 or 7 and that they were all about 5′ 6″ to 5′ 7″ with dark hair and dark complexions.   I added what I thought would be a helpful detail remembering that they were all wearing flip-flops.  He seemed amused, and I embarrassingly realized that I had just described not only him but probably 5 million other young men in the city, so I 
quickly added that one of them might have a unique imprint on his forehead of a 28mmX200mm Nikon lens.  Bottom Line, I lost $250 but that’s not what I’ll miss the most.  I’ll miss feeling safe in a city I still love.