India: Rules to Live By, Mumbai Edition

Living in Mumbai for a little over a month certainly doesn’t make me an expert, but I have learned a few things these past few weeks. I’m sure many of these observations apply to India as a whole, but I’ll have to confirm that after we’ve traveled some more, which will happen soon. India certainly lives by its own rules, and Mumbai is no different.

Rickshaw Boogie.

"Horn OK Please" is on the back of most trucks in India. My friend Zachary told me about a shirt someone gave him that said, "Horny OK Please."

1. There are no driving rules. As long as you honk your horn, you can pretty much do whatever you want–staying in lanes, stopping at lights or for pedestrians, and maintaing any sort of speed limit all seem to be optional. Turning into oncoming traffic without signaling in any way and swerving in front of the vehicle next to you is a-okay.

School kids always pile into rickshaws, squeezing as many as 8 kids into one, which can fit 4 adults, tightly.

2. Don’t be shy about hailing an auto-rickshaw. Yelling, gesturing wildly, and hopping into one as someone else hops out are all encouraged. And if the driver doesn’t want to take you somewhere, insist until he agrees (this actually only works sometimes…you can’t force them to drive!) And always ask to see the conversion chart if you think you’re being scammed–the meter numbers themselves mean nothing. I think the point I started to feel like I lived here was the first time I caught a driver trying to overcharge me!

3. Don’t be afraid to take the train. it’s often much faster, and certainly much cheaper, than a taxi, and you get to observe the local culture from a prime vantage point. Yes, it can get very crowded during rush hour (and other random times), but that’s all part of the fun, isn’t it? Bonus points if you get on or off the train while it’s moving (Yes, we’ve done that!).

4.  There is no such thing as personal space. If you’re on line, expect the people behind you to crowd you, lean on you, and practically shove you out of the way. If you’re sitting on the train, it’s perfectly acceptable to ask the people on a full bench to squeeze over so you can sit on the edge. There are no secluded places in the city; people are everywhere, all the time.

5. If you look lost, there’s a good chance someone will ask if you need help or directions. Take them up on it, but continue asking people for directions as you try to find your way–I guarantee you’ll get different answers each time. But all with good intentions.

Where was this guy when we needed him?

Our neighbor made us frankies for breakfast: a flatbread roti with a fried egg omelette on top and spicy potato rolls (those aren't sausages). You put the fried potato inside and roll the whole thing up. Yum!

6. Ask your neighbors for help; if they’re anything like ours they’ll happily lend you a cooking gas canister until you can figure out how to get a new one and offer to make you breakfast one morning.

This chaat stall across the street from our apartment became a fast favorite once we worked up the courage to try it and didn't get sick!

Sev Puri is a crunchy disc covered in potatoes, raw onions, and crunchy "sev"--the curly noodles. Sweet and spicy sauces are poured on top.

These puris are used in many chaat, most famously pani puri. In pani puri, the vendor pokes a hole in the top of the puri and fills it with a chickpea mixture, then dunks it in a sweet brown sauce and then a spicy green water. He hands it to you and when you pop it in your mouth flavors and textures literally explode. The vendor will keep making them for you until you tell him to stop.

Puris are also used in dahi dabba puri. This time, the puris are filled with some chickpeas, but also potatoes and raw onions, and then the sweet and spicy sauces are ladled on top, along with dabs of yogurt (dahi), and then the whole thing is covered in crunchy sev.

Bhel Puri is a mixture of curly sev and bhel--a rice krispy-like snack, covered with sweet and spicy sauces. Chowatty Beach is another great place to get chaat and enjoy it on a mat like this one on the sand.

7. Try the street food, but only if you spot a crowd around a vendor. Even better, get someone like Manor to try it first. Chaats, or snacks in Mumbai, are pretty amazing anywhere, but even better from the street.

Chai, it does a body good.

8. Drink chai! It’s everywhere, and it’s delicious. Bombay-style means lots of ginger.

9. Don’t be afraid to eat with your hands!

Juhu Beach, Mumbai

Chowpatty Beach, Mumbai

10. There are plenty of beaches, being that Mumbai is a port city surrounded by water, but definitely don’t go in the water, even if you see locals taking a dip (fully-clothed, of course). It’s safer to sit on the sand and eat some yummy chaats (see #7).

School kids love to have their picture taken.

11. Feel free to take pictures of people, but be willing to show them the picture of themselves afterwards.

Minor celebrity.

12. Don’t feel pressure to have your picture taken with Indians who are fascinated by foreigners. It’s funny once, then it gets annoying.

13. Yes, cows wander around the streets here and there are also tons of goats, plus we are awakened by a rooster each morning. It’s a weird rural-metropolitan mash-up that you can’t not love.

14. It’s normal to see someone getting a shave and a haircut on the sidewalk, even on a busy street.

15. This is one rule I suspect only applies to Mumbai: you can anything and everything delivered! From water to imported cheese (yes, I had English cheddar delivered at 9 PM one night), there’s no need to leave your home if you don’t want to!

Check out the guys on the "lower level."

Flower sellers were in full gear the week of Diwali.

Our neighbors decorated their door for Diwali


We don't know what this festival was for in the Matunga neighborhood, but it had a large Ganesh, surrounded by mice, his ever faithful servants..

These mice were actually mechanical and played cymbals!

16. There are constantly festivals for one reason or another. When we first arrived, Diwali was a big one, but there are small affairs all the time. We often see some sort of platform set up, or hear random fireworks and marching bands. Just go with it.

17. Spitting is the norm, especially red paan, a mixture of chewing tobacco and aromatic spices wrapped in a banana leaf and sold on every corner.

At least this garbage is in a dumpster. If you're wondering what that is, it's sugarcane that's been juiced; sugarcane juice is a popular treat in India.

18. Sometimes there is no garbage can in sight for miles and you have to throw your trash on the ground. It hurts, but Manor says it’s improved from five years ago.

19. You can get books really cheaply; sometimes sellers will even approach you in your taxi or rickshaw when you’re stuck in traffic. Hottest book being hawked right now? The Steve Jobs biography–it’s all over the place. Other goods sold on the street? Shoes, clothes, kitchenware, produce, and spices.

20. If  someone makes a kissing noise it’s not sexual harassment, they’re just trying to get your or someone’s attention (and not for a salacious reason).

21. Apparently, it’s acceptable to put up a sign asking for a baby in the train station.

How could you not love this city?




Filed under Animals, Culture, Festivals, Food, India, People, Transit

7 responses to “India: Rules to Live By, Mumbai Edition

  1. Oh I love love sev puri!! All your images are reminding me of my semester in India back in 2007…

  2. Wonderful taste of Mumbai. I spent a lot of time on Juhu Beach back in 1999. The rest of the City was simply too crowded.

  3. This is such a lovely blog. I am from Bombay and you get the drift of the people and places so perfectly…Love to chat up with you more about your views on Bombay for my blog…drop me a mail if you like

  4. Loved # 20 😀 I was gobsmacked when I discovered this “kissing sound” and people not at being affected by it. I’m from the eastern part of the country, Bengal.

  5. Pingback: India: Last Visits to Mumbai Favorites | Brooklyn Meets Bombay

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