This is Not Brazil

View of Chowpatty from the Hanging Gardens Juhu Beach Coconut Stand View of Marine Drive from the Marine Plaza Hotel

I understand that some of you are under the impression that I’m in some exotic, beachfront paradise. Some of you have seen pics of us on the beach and have wondered why we’re not in our swimsuits. Let me tell you this…Bombay Ain’t Rio.

I like to call Bombay a big tease. There are so many things here that look fantastic from afar, then you get a closer look. For instance, there are hundreds of dogs, but you can’t pet them because they’re strays. You’ll see carts and carts full of beautiful fruits and veggies, then you realize that in order for you to enjoy any of those, you’ll first have to soak them in a bleach solution for a while. On the other hand, you can find some of the most fashion-forward stores behind the facades of crumbling buildings. Every day is like a scavenger hunt!

To sound cliche, the city is full of contrasts. But the one thing, the biggest tease of all, is that we’re sitting here on the sea with the beautiful curving coastline, yet we can’t even get in the water. We’ve been here for more than six weeks now, and have yet to set a toe in Arabian Sea. I fear that the water is so toxic that touching it would have the same effect as a vat of acid. An exaggeration, I’m sure. But, it’s pretty bad.

You see, there’s no culture of fun-loving beachgoing in this country. In fact, people here have long used the waterways as their dustbin, sewage depository or toilet. The Ganpati Festival definitely doesn’t help in that regard.

So here you have all these pretty vistas and beachfront property, and you can’t even go for a dip. It’s so disheartening, too, because I keep thinking to myself that if this city (er, this country) could clean itself up, it really could be like Brazil. Not that Brazil doesn’t have its share of clean-water problems, but you can swim there for the most part. And you know, it just doesn’t make sense to live somewhere where it’s 90 degrees year-round and you can’t even jump in the ocean.

Meera kayal mein (in my opinion) Incredible India, the tourism agency here, has a lot of work on its hands. How do you explain a country that has approximately 7,000 km of coastline and less than half of that (maybe more) is inappropriate for swimming in? Not that I think that India should become some beach destination for pasty white tourists, but the potential is there. India’s economy could take a giant leap thanks to tourism dollars/pounds/euros if it were to focus on those little things. Though, I’m beginning to think that since they’ve already got about a billion people here, why would they want to encourage more to come?

We’ve planned a trip to Kerala (in the south) for November, and there may be a chance to go to Goa soon, too. I hear the swimming is fine in both of those places post-monsoon. But, as long as we stay in Bombay, we’ll have to settle for an invite to the pool.

One comment

  1. Vikas says:

    I hear ya … I lived in Bombay for over a decade and i can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times i ventured into the water on the beaches. Its not just the water but the beaches themselves. When i was growing up, Juhu beach and Dadar chowpatty were considered dirty but the others like Gorai, Aksa etc were pretty clean. I’m pretty sure thats not the case anymore. Although they did undertake a “clean the beaches” campaign as part of the “Keep Mumbai clean” drive. But with the vast numbers of people visiting the beaches … i dont think its really helped.
    Ganga (Ganges) is considered the “pure” one. But the only place i saw really clean water was at Haridwar (way up in North India near the glaciers). There the water was crystal clear … one could see the rounded stones and pebbles deep down at the bottom. I even saved a nice big (probably weighed about 3lbs) oval stone for myself as a souvenir from that trip (this was when i was about 8).
    When i returned home from that trip I showed it to my grandmother who promptly proclaimed it to be Lord Shiva and added it to her “God” collection. So it took all of 4 days for that piece of rock to go from the bottom of the river bed to a prime spot in our mini-temple at home.
    Anyways back to Ganga water … there’s millions of people that take a dip in the river every year. In Allahabad the city where Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati (the non-existant river) meet there’s a massive gathering every 4 years called the Kumbha mela. Its considered one of the holiest places. You can wash away all your sins with one dip in the water. I lived in Allahabad for 4 years and did not even dare to dip a toe into the river. I was afraid it would melt away or something. My grandma tells me i’ll go to hell for doing that but hey … i’ll take my chances 🙂
    Anyhoo … i do believe the Goa and Kerala beaches are lovely. I’m sure you’ll enjoy them.

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