My recent visit to Mumbai left quite an impression on me. I tend to think of Chicago as a big city with its share of splendor and grime but Chicago is peanuts compared to this place. Never before have I been dropped into a place so different from what I’m used to at such an immense scale. It’s nuts.
I love renting bikes in foreign cities for exploring purposes – it is something that David Byrne and I have in common. That wasn’t really an option in Mumbai though. The streets were too chaotic that I wouldn’t know where to begin. I shot a short video of traffic from a cab:
Living amidst this traffic and its pollution can’t help but make one wish there was cleaner transportation available, like trains and >ahem< bicycles. And it certainly makes the “People’s Car“, India’s new ultra-inexpensive cars, seem like a really bad idea. The last thing this place needs is more cars!
That’s not to say that bicycles were devoid from the Mumbai’s city landscape; I saw plenty of them. The Atlas model above was the most ubiquitous and people used them to tote all sorts of things around, including other people.
And I particularly liked how this enterprising gentleman utilized the mechanics of the bicycle to create a mobile knife sharpening business.
Mumbai is also famous for its dabbawallas, people who deliver lunch to offices via bicycle or carts. About 200,000 lunches get delivered each day by about 5,000 dabbawallas, with fewer than one mistake per 5 million deliveries. Not bad! I wish our delivery services were that great.
I picked up a notebook with a dabbawalla illustration by the hip Indian brand the Play Clan as one of my souvenirs. I’ve already starting filling it with sketches of future Po Campo products!
Once I started paying attention to bicycles in the city, I noticed that I only saw men riding them. Was it because of the traffic? I’m not sure, but I kept an eye out in other places we traveled and the only woman I saw biking was a tourist in a little beach town. Then, on my last day in India, in the southern town of Kochi, I was extremely delighted to come upon a group of school girls bicycling home from school. I can only hope that they will continue to ride as adults.
Now back home, I got on my bike today for the first time in almost three weeks. I rode down to Wicker Park for the monthly Women Who Bike Brunch and then popped over to the Renegade Craft Fair for some holiday shopping. While quite a bit nippier here than in India, the pleasantness of the ride and the camaraderie of friends made it one of those “It’s so nice to be back home” kind of days.