He picked me up at the Cafe Coffee Day down the street, which is being renovated, but is still open even though the outside is a big construction mess. So I got an iced tea and waited, and my landlord, Viqar, showed up on his motorcycle. The first time I rode it, when I first got here, I must admit was a little scary, but I've been on the back of his bike a couple times since then and by now I'm pretty comfortable, just leaning against the back rest, hands in my lap.
First we went all the way down to central Mumbai, past the Haji Ali, a beautiful mosque built out in the ocean, to get some pav bhaji. Pav bhaji is a popular restaurant and street food here, it's kind of like refried beans, made of potatoes and lentils and tomatoes and other vegetables and spices all mushed together, served with buttered rolls. We went to a place called Sardar, where it was supposedly first made, and even if it wasn't the first, it seems to be the best. It was a very crowded restaurant, and everyone there was eating the same dish. It was the first time I tried it, I was kind of waiting to try it with him, he told me he would take me to the best place for it. And it was fantastic! So deliciously yummy. Some places apparently use water to make the mush, but this place uses only butter; butter in the bhaji, butter on the bread, it was great.
After that, we hopped back on his bike and went on a little tour of the city, starting with the red light district. I didn't really know Mumbai had one, but it was a little grungy street, filled with working women, in rooms together with the front doors open, or out on the street in groups of 3 and 4. They looked to be in pretty good shape, clean, pretty, not particularly unhappy, but the scene was quite seedy. Still, it was fun to see, and I got a couple of nice smiles. We pulled over for a second when his bike stalled, and immediately some man came over, waiting for us to ask for what we wanted. He just wagged his head when Viqar started his bike and took off.
We drove through some more alleys, including through Chor Bazaar, a market place where you can get anything. Chor means thief, thieves' bazaar, and apparently it got its name from a story about Queen Victoria. Once when she visited India, some items went missing from her ship's stateroom, and when she went to that bazaar, she found people selling her stuff there. Anyway it's more of a daytime marketplace, so there was not much going on at the time.
All along the way, we were talking on the motorcycle, We discussed everything from religion to sex, and although sometimes some ridiculous things come out of his mouth (he trash talks the Hindu religion, being some combination of Muslim and Christian himself, and he seems to be of the Bill Clinton school of thought about what qualifies as sex), he's always entertaining and sincere.
Oh we did have one kind of scary moment. We were riding along, and there was a local commuter bus next to us. All of a sudden, the bus driver, who was probably drunk, veered to the left. Viqar was fine, he's a very good driver and extra careful when I'm on the bike with him. We pulled over to the left and stopped. But I looked back and someone was on the ground, rolled over a couple times, and then got up, filthy from the street. He looked okay but it was way too close. At the next light, Viqar pullled in front of the bus and yelled at the driver who yelled back. Apparently the driver was telling him to climb onto the bus so they could fight about it. If the driver came down, he would be fired, but he could retaliate if anyone gets on the bus and starts something, so he was egging Viqar on. Viqar is generally quite sweet and peaceful (earlier that night he helped push another motorcycle who had run out of gas to the gas station, when he saw the owner pushing it along), so after a few acerbic words we moved on.
We rode back home along the scenic route, seeing the coast and the new Worli Sea Link bridge (though we couldn't ride over it, no 2-wheelers allowed), We made it back home after almost 3 hours of riding around. Which was not easy on the body, it felt like the camel ride. All in all, it was a great night riding around Mumbai by motorcycle.