Destination: Mumbai

Travel Dispatches From a Hidden Mumbai

I’ve been working my way through Behind the Beautiful Forevers, Katherine Boo’s much-lauded book about life in a precarious Mumbai slum. It’s an incredible work of reporting, and beautifully written too: The book tells the story of a group of families in Annawadi, a semi-legal settlement whose economy revolves around recyclable garbage.

It’s not what most people would call travel writing—Boo is absent from the story, which reads like a novel with an omniscient narrator—but as I read it, I’ve been thinking about how it might fit into the genre. It’s drawing me into a part of the world I’ve never visited, and likely never will; it’s teaching me about lives led on the other side of the world, lives that are both wildly divergent, and yet not so different, from my own. Isn’t that one of the tasks of great travel writing?

Interestingly enough, Annawadi is located right next to the Mumbai airport, which means its dramas have unfolded under the noses of every tourist and travel writer who’s ever visited the city.

NPR has a short excerpt.

The Peace Corps Volunteer Inspired by Angelina Jolie

Sean Smith is leaving his job as a writer at Entertainment Weekly to join the Peace Corps. Why?

As he writes in The Daily Beast, he was tiring of his job covering the entertainment industry when he traveled to India to interview Angelina Jolie.

A reported 43 percent of Mumbai’s 18 million people live in slums, and the depth of poverty is soul-sickening. By the time I met with Jolie, I felt raw and rattled, and I was eager to learn how she coped with this kind of suffering in her role as a U.N. ambassador. She said it was painful, yes, but it wasn’t debilitating because she was active. Her work was bringing attention to crises in the world. “If I couldn’t do that, I don’t know how I’d be around it, because I’d feel helpless,” she told me as we drove through the city. “You know, we all go through stages in our life where we feel lost, and I think it all comes down to having a sense of purpose. When I was famous for just being an actress, my life felt very shallow. Then when I became a mom and started working with the U.N., I was happy. I could die and feel that I’d done the right things with my life. It’s as simple as that.”

As a rule, I don’t ask celebrities for advice about anything, save hotels and restaurants, and I didn’t exactly race home and quit my job. But Jolie’s insight stuck with me, and over the next few years, as my ambivalence about my career deepened, I realized that she had provided me with an answer. I had absolute freedom. If I was willing to make a few sacrifices, I could find my sense of purpose and engage myself in work that would feel meaningful to me and be helpful to others.

Confessions of a White Woman in India

Sharell Cook lives in Mumbai and is married to an Indian man. She shares the raw details of her life and her travels in India in an essay in Open.

How foreigners are regarded in India is a curious matter. Our white skin, and the belief that we have power and money, unwittingly elevates us to the top of the social hierarchy. Doors will open for me in India, while at the same time remaining closed for many Indians. Shop assistants will beckon for my attention,while ignoring other potential customers. Everyone wants to have a foreigner for a friend. I’ve lost count of how many times my neighbours have knocked on my door, asking me to meet every relative who visits them. They’re not interested in my husband, though.

Photo You Must See: Bollywood, Sideways in Mumbai

Photo You Must See: Bollywood, Sideways in Mumbai REUTERS/Arko Datta
REUTERS/Arko Datta

Workers handle a giant publicity cut-out for a Bollywood movie in Mumbai.

Jan Morris Reveals her Favorite Cities

She fields this question in the Guardian: What is her favorite of them all?

Dear God, what a question! To my mind cities are distillations of human life itself, in all its nuances, with all its contradictions and anomalies, changing from one year to another, changing with the weather, changing with history, changing with the state of the world, changing above all in one’s own personal responses. How can I have a favourite? Sometimes I prefer one city, sometimes another. Inconstancy governs my responses to cities—fidelity in personal matters, promiscuity in civic affairs.

Morris does have a ready answer, though, when asked about her least favorite city: Indianapolis. (Via @ben_coop)

Photo We Love: Praying for Rain in Mumbai

Photo We Love: Praying for Rain in Mumbai REUTERS/Punit Paranjpe
REUTERS/Punit Paranjpe

Hindu priests sit inside water-filled barrels as they pray for rain in Mumbai.


The Luxury of Solitude

The Luxury of Solitude Photo by David Farley

In a Mumbai greenmarket, David Farley hunts for the Indian city's most precious commodity

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Tags: Asia, India, Mumbai

‘The Hangover’ Gets Bollywoodized

‘The Hangover’ Gets Bollywoodized Publicity still via IGN
Publicity still via IGN

Here’s an unexpected bit of cross-cultural synergy. This summer’s funniest travel movie involving a Vegas bachelor party, Mike Tyson, and a tiger—OK, OK, this summer’s only travel movie involving all of the above—is getting its very own Bollywood remake.

After he had time to think it over, Get the Big Picture’s Colin Boyd decided he approves. “You’ve seen ‘The Hangover,’ right? It’s full of non sequiturs from Mike Tyson to the chicken to the tiger in the bathroom to the baby to the missing tooth,” he writes. “And where better to find humorous non sequiturs than Bollywood?”

Photo We Love: Unruly Umbrella in Mumbai

Photo We Love: Unruly Umbrella in Mumbai REUTERS/Arko Datta
REUTERS/Arko Datta

A woman tries to control her umbrella along a stormy seafront in Mumbai, India.

Danny Boyle Can’t Quit You, Mumbai

Danny Boyle Can’t Quit You, Mumbai Photo by babasteve via Flickr (Creative Commons)
Photo by babasteve via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Yup, the Indian city has its hooks in the Oscar-winning director of “Slumdog Millionaire,” and it isn’t letting go. The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Boyle has bought the film rights to Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found, Suketu Mehta’s Pulitzer-nominated travelogue about Mumbai’s seedy, sometimes-violent subcultures: dirty cops, exotic dancers, religious hitmen and more.

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The Heat Seeker: Spicier, Please!

The Heat Seeker: Spicier, Please! iStockphoto

Alison Stein Wellner likes her food hot and spicy. To find out how hot and spicy, she searched the world for heat. Part three of five: Into Kumarakom.

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The Heat Seeker: ‘This Raita Will Be Your Savior’

The Heat Seeker: ‘This Raita Will Be Your Savior’ Photo by Swami Stream via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Alison Stein Wellner likes her food hot and spicy. To find out how hot and spicy, she searched the world for heat. Part two of five: Getting Hot in Mumbai.

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Video: Alison Stein Wellner: The Heat Seeker

Alison Stein Wellner traveled around the world to eat the hottest food she could handle, a quest she chronicled for World Hum

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Slumming It: Can Slum Tourism Be Done Right?

Dharavi, Mumbai REUTERS/Punit Paranjpe

Global Positioning: On the intersection of place, politics and culture

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Hollywood Heads to Bollywood

Hollywood Heads to Bollywood Photo by Meanest Indian via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Turns out, it really is a small world after all. Kylie Minogue has wrapped up filming for an upcoming Bollywood flick, “Blue,” making her one of the first big-name Western stars to land on a Mumbai sound stage. “I don’t feel that I’m necessarily at the forefront of a Hollywood-Bollywood crossover because I don’t consider myself Hollywood,” Minogue told the Telegraph. “But I do think this could be the start of something. The fact that I’m here shows it could be the start of something.”

Early signs suggest she’s right—Sylvester Stallone is set to do the Bollywood thing later this year. And—rumor has it!—Arnold Schwarzenegger will be joining him. Could the Bolly/Hollywood fusion become another wonder of our shrinking planet?

I’m all for it.