I have been traveling to Mumbai for over five years, almost every year, for business. It typically has been a stifling experience. Everywhere I went, it always felt as if the town was congested and stuck in some of sort of a never-ending traffic jam. Also, in the past there were unusually long and disorganized lines, everywhere. This time, the first thing that strikes me, as I land at the Mumbai International Airport, is the relative lack of people. The immigration officers are courteous (no smiles, though) and very prompt. The clearing process takes less than 2 minutes and I am now walking through a large duty-free shopping complex where Black Label seems to be the most popular liquid of choice.
In the past, when I came out of the airport, it felt as if there were a million people out there trying to sell you services or just being entertained by tired, traveling fools. This time, I find that there are only a handful of people at the entrance – and it’s easy to spot my hotel ride.
Thedriver adjusts the temperature, asks me if I want a diet coke, orange juice or mineral water – and informs me that due to some traffic, it may take a few more minutes than the normal 45 minutes journey to our hotel. Guess what, he’s right. It took 50 minutes. However, the traffic kept moving, albeit, sometimes slow, we get there, and the chaos and confusion – seems to be in a moderate lull.
Mumbai is no Shanghai or Dubai with its organized and fast moving traffic. But things don’t feel stuck anymore.
The second thing that strikes me in Mumbai, this time, is that most my meetings start on time. Almost always, the meeting attendees arrived ahead of schedule; in one instance, one of them was stuck in traffic due to a commemoration parade and he texted me 15 minutes ahead that he maybe 5 minutes late.
While here, I have the opportunity to attend a gorgeous, Bollywood style wedding at some beautiful sea-side locations; even the wedding programs started within thirty minutes of promised time. We have always joked about “Indian Time” – things will start, whenever! I feel in Mumbai, this time around, that there is new-found respect for time. It feels like, that people here are equating time with development and money – and don’t want to waste either.
My hotel is located on the famous Marine Drive, overlooking the Arabian Gulf which is the route Vasco De Gamma and other Portuguese trading traveler, entered the city. While cloud covers welcomed me to Mumbai, the last two days, I enjoy a warm sunshine that shines on the blue Gulf – which was calm – almost like a lake. As I walk the spacious sidewalk, hugging the harbor, its impossible to miss the intensity of emotions and movement around you.
Both the pedestrian and automobile traffic seemed to have purpose, a destination. There is no hesitancy in their eyes. There is a form of kinetic energy that’s contagious in Mumbai. As if, someone has set the people of Mumbai free – and they are moving forward.
Every time I have been in Mumbai, the service, whether at a hotel, restaurant or shop, have been accommodating and courteous. I find the hotel concierges trying to solve my problem; the local store, trying to sell me more souvenirs than I need and the taxi driver always accommodating the special request to stop here or there.
Originating at another side of the subcontinent, these new characteristics of Mumbai make me take notice.
Don’t get me wrong; the large slums are still there. The mold and the mildew on the buildings, the dust – the every-changing construction routes are omnipresent and can be overwhelming at times. However, with the gleaming new sky scrapers, office complexes, beautiful bridges connecting harbors and shopping malls suggest that next time I am back – and all the future times that I will visit this eclectic city, it will look somewhat different.
Timeliness, lack of congestion, exquisite service – coupled with the intent to win, starts at this gateway to India. The mixture of art, fashion, with a strong four-thousand years tradition of trade and commerce – now intermingles with banking, investment and many other sectors.
On my last day, I notice, a man carrying a fragile cargo of trays of fresh eggs on the back of his bicycle while he navigates his way through the traffic. Something tells me, in the next few years, this scene and the bicycle-egg-transporter will likely disappear. In some ways this man is a symbol of Mumbai. Its’ as if the fragile cargo of communally intermingled Mumbai, is being carried along and navigated through its changing landscape – balancing quickly and constantly, so that the wind doesn’t hit too hard and destroy this cargo of life.
There is no doubt that Mumbai is on the move – the question now is how fast and where is it is headed.