From Malad station, I exit onto a road that, from the aroma, appears to be one massive garbage dump. I don't understand how the myriad shops here stand this stench all day, all year. But that's just what they are doing. I walk up and down in search of a rickshaw to go where I need to, with no luck, and I'm getting steadily more desperate because it is impossible to escape the smell anywhere on the road. There's absolutely no system here for rickshaws, so it is free-for-all mayhem. That, and the traffic and the rain and the noise and the smell make up the familiar scene that you will find outside most suburban stations in Bombay. Chaos, pure and simple.
Eventually, I get transport and escape the mess. Not far from the station, trundling down a long straight road, we pass several buses that belong to the Witty International School.
Do students of this excellent institution emerge from its premises every day spouting wisecracks and sundry sardonic remarks from the side of their mouths, leaving passersby chuckling at their droll humour? I look everywhere, but there's nobody like that about. Perhaps they are still inside this morning, being coached in the fine points of puns and banter.
Where I'm going is a pretty and wooded campus adjoining the Marve beach. There's a two-day workshop on journalism that 30 or so young men and women are attending, and the friend who is running it has asked me to come speak to them. "In Hindi," he added. That's a challenge. I feel fluent in the language in conversation, but giving a talk is something else. But with this attentive and responsive audience, it goes far better than I thought it would, with a spirited discussion afterward that lasts over an hour.
Incidentally, before I spoke each of the attendees introduced themselves briefly. Here's a shortlist of the Bombay neighbourhoods they had come from: Sion-Koliwada, Vikhroli Parksite, Antop Hill, Ambujwadi, Shivaji Nagar.
Reminded of the time I ordered one of the city's call taxis (Meru or some such) to go with two older women to Antop Hill. As we drove there, the driver told us again and again that this was the first time in a year of working for the cab company that he had taken customers to Antop Hill. Nobody ever comes here, he said.
So where do your customers usually want to go, I asked. He rattled off another shortlist of Bombay neighbourhoods: Nariman Point, Pedder Road, the airport, Worli, Malabar Hill.
No intersection between those shortlists. There's probably something witty to say about that, but I suspect I'll have to attend the school to figure out what.