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Taxis extend a very Mumbai welcome

Alison Mitchell Alison Mitchell | 12:17 UK time, Monday, 10 November 2008

The first thing that engulfs you when you arrive in Mumbai is the smell: it seeps through the air cavities of the walkway as you step off the plane; it hits you flush in the face when you emerge out of the arrivals hall and into the heat of day; it's a heady mix of sweat, spices, car fumes, and 13 million people crammed into one intoxicating city.

At least that's what I was led to believe from reading several travel novels about India. In fact I found the smell much less pungent than I expected. What struck me first as I pushed my luggage trolley into the dazzling yet hazy sunshine was the line of quaint, black and yellow Fiat taxis with bench front seat, waiting hopefully in line for their next passengers.


They are the most quirky cabs I've ever seen and I immediately fell in love with them and what they represent.

Take the New York yellow cab, the London black cab, and the red paintwork and silver roof of the taxis in Hong Kong. Each is the same and they are a symbol of their city. Here, the taxis are also part of Mumbai's heritage, and in a quirk of Indian contradiction, all are the same, yet each is different.

Drivers take great pride in their yellow roofed vehicle, and every single car has a stamp of individualism about it, whether it be the red hub caps, the decorative mud guards over the rear wheels, the swirling pink letters painted onto the side, the fully carpeted interior or the colourful stickers adorning the bonnet.

Some are lovingly held together with brown package tape, either to hold the bumper in place or repair a broken window, but they add to a sense that individualism and creativity must thrive in a city where it would be so easy to blend in and just become a population statistic.

Unfortunately though, thousands of Mumbai residents aren't a population statistic at all. The other day, several journalists accompanied five of the England players to an afternoon of sporting activity with children who live in slum areas of the city.


Nearly 100,000 families live in slums and pavement communities on government port land in Mumbai. These communities are illegal and simply not recognised, even though some have existed for 50 years.

The afternoon was arranged by Magic Bus, a not-for-profit organisation who believe in a child's right to play and who use sport as a means of developing the life skills of children, who might otherwise have no opportunity to do so.

The journey to the sports ground was an eye-opener in itself, as the car squeezed along a muddy, pothole-ridden road, past a never-ending line of huts made of cardboard and hardboard, some with tarpaulin roofs, some with corrugated iron for protection.

We pulled into a dusty field, about the size of a football pitch, with a course covering of grass and a couple of football goalposts. You will hear more about this experience in one of the intervals during the one-day series on Test Match Special.

All I will say for now is that the children were delightful, the players were very good sports, and Magic Bus are doing some admirable, rewarding and much much needed work.


  • Comment number 1.

    And how do these Mumbai taxis affect England chances in the upcoming Ashes series?

    Nothing really matters for England Cricket team more than loosing to Aussies every two years. Touring India is a waste of time, because at the end of the tour all the pundits will tell us how it didn't help in preparing for the Ashes.

    Please don't play other series because you want to prepare for the Ashes. Play to win as if that's the only series that matters or don't play at all.

    It's kinda murky outside the windows, good indicator of English chances in the Ashes.

  • Comment number 2.

    Well thats me well and truly patronised.

    "At least that's what I was led to believe from reading several travel novels about India. In fact I found the smell much less pungent than I expected."

    Where did your flight land in from Alison? The 50's?

  • Comment number 3.

    Aawww....those poor people from these third world nations I tell you...bless their hearts...I love that they love they are backward....sometimes it's nice to get away from posh London streets...

    Are you like one of those ignorants who finally had a chance to step outside London?

    Your patronizing take with your colonial nostrils reminds me one of those Jane Goody resurrection trips to India.

  • Comment number 4.

    I doubt if Allison ever travelled in London by Tube either in the middle of Summer or peak of winter. If done, was she wearing a mask to her face and taking oxygen from a cylinder??

  • Comment number 5.

    "Colonial nostrils"? Please open your eyes and understand there are lots of people - including journalists - who have never stepped foot in India before. Alison is one of those, painting a picture of a city (which from plenty of previous family visits is an all-out assault on the senses) steeped in yellow and black, one of the first things you would immediately notice on first visit. It's a blog, it's about creating the atmosphere of Mumbai - I look out of my window and see 43 shades of grey, I would much rather see yellow, black, bright red, deep blue and every other palette India has, like Alison has explained.

    And I doubt if Jade Goody could argue the merits of playing both Graeme Swann and Samit Patel on spin-friendly pitches as well as Alison can.

    Touring India is a waste of time? Just don't tell the 500m-odd people chomping at the bit to watch Mahendra Singh Dhoni take on Andrew Flintoff.

  • Comment number 6.

    Alison you should take some months off work and travel around the world. Nowhere is what it looks like from outside.

  • Comment number 7.

    Alison - having lived in Mumbai for nearly a year, trust me, you'll learn to hate the taxi's very quickly - when the front axle breaks at 40mph on the Tulsi Pike Road and the car careers into the barriers, you'll not think the gaffer tape is quite so quaint! But I'm pleased the England team spent some time with the slum kids - for these kids, cricket is everything and if the team can bring some joy to their lives, then their trip will have been worthwhile. It's dissapointing though, that only 5 went - what were the rest doing? Surely a day of the players time spent with the kids of India is the best way they can contribute to the lives of these kids?

    As for the Mumbai smell - you're lucky you're not there in monsoon - then you'll really get to know about it!

  • Comment number 8.

    I am travelling to India and I am looking at booking transport between the 5th and 6th one dayers in Cuttack and Guhawati respectively. Before I do this I was hoping that someone could confirm the Guhawati match is definitely on. I have read nothing in the press re. the game although there was a serious bomb attack less than a fortnight ago and I know that the ECB tends to review the security situation in light of such incidents. Any help much appreciated.

  • Comment number 9.

    Well Well Well!!! See where the cat dragged in..... I wasn't really surprised by going through the comments by whom? Yes 'Alison'. It’s not my patriotism that speaks out fully, but you can say so. It is not the first time someone speaks about Mumbai.

    All of a sudden this comment had a flash effect through my thoughts; '' I can resist everything except temptation''. I have to tell you before you make such a comment you should realize the fact and feelings of the readers.

    Keeping in mind the fact India still got a large population below the poverty line; let me tell you something. It is clearly reflected the temptation of western media showing the bad sides of rest of the world. I never saw any media showing good developed parts and good acts by Asian or African countries. A city that is over crowded will have these types of consequences. But Alison never mentioned after the miserable taxi trip where she headed to and what hospitality she enjoyed afterwards.

    If time permits and situation allows would you be kind enough to have a chat with Touring English cricket team. And let’s know how they are enjoying the hospitality of Indians. Please let the readers have a go on those comments.

    It is quite natural if the conditions are humid and city is over crowded more over if it’s warm climate, you should expect these conditions. But traveling on public funded business class ticket can’t match the taxi hired in Mumbai.

    I had a similar thought about western medias when at the time of Olympics in China Medias were reluctant to comment about the facilities they offered and the efficient ways they organized but were digging and mining for complaints.

    Please let me humbly request you to have a trip across India and see what real India is. You should travel with commitment from heart and with a thought in your mind, '' this is a country that is not living on others benefits, but lives on hard earned money''.

  • Comment number 10.

    What a sad collection of comments. Can't bear for anything other than hearing your bitternesses seep through, huh?

    I haven't been and don't know if I will, but I am so interested in India that I was only disappointed that the piece stopped so abruptly, I wanted to hear more.

    Alison keep your chin up and tell us more of your adventure. Thanks.

  • Comment number 11.

    How many Indian cricket players visit slums or hospital for charity work? Sure they are the richest among all cricketers.

  • Comment number 12.

    Toatally agree with jsfain-Keep up the good work Alison...

  • Comment number 13.

    arunk79 - hey Indian readers don't get so upset - the media doesn't actually represent the British.

    Most fans are really lookng forward to our winter series in there own right, although it's true we do love to play the Aussies and Windies most.

    I'm heading out to India next week - so remember that not everyone is against you contrary to what newspapers might lead you to believe.

    As for stereotyping, it's alive and well in Britain - journalists still struggle hard to find the shots of old coal mines, empty ship yards and back to back houses when they visit Britain's poorer areas. Don't fall into the same trap and think everyone agrees with them.

  • Comment number 14.

    Stereotyping and patronising aside, my complaint is that the full story is not on the blog - I have to listen to TMS to get the full experience. Great if you're in the UK, but for those of us elsewhere, TMS is thing of great beauty to savoured but once a year - during an England home series. Stuff broadcast rights - where I live, if the home team is not involved, then the chances of it being covered are pretty small.

  • Comment number 15.


    Have you tried reading our popular live text commentaries on for all England matches? We try to include the best comments from Aggers and co, and also interact as much as possible with our readers, publishing many of their e-mails.

  • Comment number 16.

    Good lord. Next thing, Alison will be telling us it's hot over there.

    I'm sorry, but if I wanted my licence fee to pay for a cricketing "journalist" to give me her view on taxis - of all things - I would have asked.

    Can't wait for her 500-word essay on the quality of the water.

  • Comment number 17.

    Crikey there are a lot of negative comments on here. Perhaps we need to realise that this is Alison's blog, HER view on what she sees, hears and smells.

    Alison has done an excellent job over the last few years looking beneath the game of cricket itself and reporting on the wider issues.

    If you extracted the human side of any sport, you'd have no sporting books left. Sport is a part of life and as such I for one don't want to be limited to hear or read just what happens on the field of play in any sport. I want someone to paint a picture for me, and that is exactly what Alison has done.

  • Comment number 18.

    Alison, I haven't been to India for around eight years now but I see what you mean about the smell. It is so distinctive!

    However, the reason why I am writing is because of some really chilidish comments on the article. People saying how you need to go around the world more often and how the image you present is 1950s!

    What's wrong with these blind people? If you look at few videos of the developed India, it doesn't mean that's the whole picture. Large chunks of India are filled with poverty and rather than denying it, one has to accept it if there is ever going to be a change.

    I thought the article was very good and just talked about her experience. If you don't like it, then don't read it!

    No one is forcing you to are they? I really appericiate what the England players did because for those kids seeing some of the world's biggest stars makes a lot more difference than an average British guy.

    People like Kash or whatever that rubbish name was need to start making use of their cerebral hemispheres before making such absurd comments!

    Hope you have a gr8 tour in India Alison and look forward to a very good series!

  • Comment number 19.

    To all those complaining about the blog, have none of you realised that covering the cricket may well be difficult for the writers when none of it has actually taken place yet.

    Obviously a preview blog of the tour would be nice but I'm sure we'll get that from Aggers soon enough.

    Otherwise there is very little to write about from a cricketing perspective so a little bit of cricket tailored travel writing is better than nothing at all (which would be far easier to do).

    I enjoyed the blog and clearly many others have as well. Keep it up.

  • Comment number 20.

    For goodness sake, some of these posters seem to have fallen out of the
    over-sensitive tree and tripped on the moody roots. Get a life you whingers.

    A well written blog with personal views. Close observation of detail and lots of colour. I think noticing things when you first arrive in a country is at its peak. As the hours pass you quickly adapt and cease to see the differences so easily.

  • Comment number 21.

    What's all the fuss about - India is still a developing country where sanitation is still under developed - Kash seems to getting all hot and bothered about the smell issue - I'm of Indian origin and i certainly notice a smell of different sorts whenever i visit the 'motherland' although it is becoming less and less noticeable on each visit - keep up the good work alison

  • Comment number 22.

    Alison, England team should go and visit slums in the UK first. I have seen both and guess Mumbai is okay comparing to the situations here. I have seen thousands of poor people living in council flats and surroundings; dirty, noisy….and they never been to schools. On top Government give them money (JSA or what so ever) to buy drugs which make things worst. There are thousands of single moms within the age group 12-14. BBC will never speak about this as they don’t want to ruin the image of Great Britain. England team should do some charity events in India to rehabilitate these poor kids.

  • Comment number 23.

    On the smell of Mumbai:

    "The lack of toilets for a majority of the slums dwellers leave them no other option than bathing, urinating and
    defecating in the street or the close water bodies. ...

    The resident communities are the victim of the withdrawal of the public authorities regarding the waste management...

    Mumbai generates an average of 7025 metric tons of solid waste daily;
    about 5000 MT is general waste, 2000 MT is silt and construction debris
    mostly disposed in abandoned quarries, and about 10 MT biomedical waste....

    The total solid waste generation in Greater Mumbai is expected to reach
    about 10000 metric tones per day by 2025."

  • Comment number 24.

    Thanks for an interesting blog, Alison.

    It's always good to get a little bit of information about a place from a new perspective.

    I'm looking forward to the next instalment.

  • Comment number 25.

    Alison, i do understand what you meant about smell..but also understand what Kash meant to say. people like Kash, and myself for instance being half indian, hate the fact that most media concentrate on 'smell...showing all the poverty they can..and bbc can win awards on that' - take the laughable Paul Merton...he takes the mick out of all indian hospitality..

    india is a developing country....and is engulfed with these problems. lets show some good parts of india..i visited mumbai last year..and was surprised of how quickly it is developing..there are many good sides that never find space on bbc. but apart from that, i liked ur blog..keep up the good wrk

  • Comment number 26.

    Re: Sunilbadve at 01:28

    "How many Indian cricket players visit slums or hospital for charity work? Sure they are the richest among all cricketers."

    I completely agree with you. Steve Waugh and Shane Warne seem to do more for India's downtrodden than Sachin Tendulkar and Mahendra Dhoni. The Indian media and the 700 million of us above the poverty line act as if the other 300 million do not exist, and are not human beings.

    Thank you Allison for a well balanced article, and bringing things to light without being cliched. I look forward to an exciting series.

  • Comment number 27.

    8. At 7:07pm on 10 Nov 2008, Stig1981 wrote:
    I am travelling to India and I am looking at booking transport between the 5th and 6th one dayers in Cuttack and Guhawati respectively. Before I do this I was hoping that someone could confirm the Guhawati match is definitely on. I have read nothing in the press re. the game although there was a serious bomb attack less than a fortnight ago and I know that the ECB tends to review the security situation in light of such incidents. Any help much appreciated.

    Mate - the Guwahati match has been shifted to Mohali, so don't book tickets for that. As far as the train/tranport info. is concerned - try these sites for Indian railway - and, for air travel try this -

    Hope this helps.

    As far as the blog is concerned there is some sort of insecurity among Indians and it seems they can only look at the negative aspect of things as the blog doesn't seem to be taking mick of India or Mumbai, its more to pointing out the uniqueness and the quirky side of Mumbai taxis and its the same way as journalists in U.K. find the quirkyness in the London tube and bus transportation.
    And be honest, don't all the fellow Indians think that Mumbai taxis need to be improved, personally I like them but I wouldn't mind if some improvements are done in them and by the way Alison ,there are some very good Airconditioned Bluish taxis as well and they don't smell that much although you can not escape the fact that heat will produce sweat and which in turn will produce odour.

    Take it all in good spirit guys, its nothing to be upset about, we have just won a Test series against OZ these are happy times.
    Cmmon India.

  • Comment number 28.

    27. GunnerAnk
    Thanks very much for all your help re. the rearranged fixture. I was holding off booking transport because I feared that it may have to be rescheduled. The above change has (had) not been posted on to the ECB website. I am looking forward to a bit of sunshine my toes are freezing. Thanks again.

  • Comment number 29.

    Hi Alison,
    I am an indian and I am distressed by some of the comments here. Yours is just the point of view of someone who is seeing all this for the first time. It is therefore quite an adeventure for you and I can fully understand you wanting to blog about it. you appear neither patronising nor disdainful for that. Do write about your experiences. I am glad to see that you are having fun taking all you see in the right spirit. You should go out as much as you can and enjoy the full hospitality of the Indians. We are very kind and helpful. I'm sure you will come away very much enriched by this experience.

    To all my countrymen who are hurt .. Our fierce national pride is a very good thing, but I feel that to overcome our problems we should face them first. For better or worse, ours is a country that is working to put it's past and poverty behind it. A lot of ground has been covered, and there's a lot more to be done. The slums and the poverty Allison saw are, unfortunately, still a reality for us and I see no reason why she shouldn't mention it. Also there is a lot of talk in the western media about the rise of India and China. So we shouldn't say it's all 'just a snobbish talking down' that comes out of the west. Let us tone down our rheotric and instead work with organisations like Magic Bus to eliminate the problems that plague our country.

    P.S : someone asked if the Indian players do charity. I can personally vouch for a few of them. Sachin T gets involved with different organisations in almost every city he goes to play cricket in. So do Dravid and Ganguly. These are three I know because they once worked with an NGO in Hyderabad when then came to play. I'm sure all others do their bit too.

  • Comment number 30.

    To all my fellow indians, a blog like this just gives a feel of things as it is and allison, has conveyed it as you and me would, no need to get all hoity-toity.
    I enjoyed it because it conveys the sights, smells and the feel of a city very nicely, eagerly witing for your next post

  • Comment number 31.

    Looks like Alison is collecting all the possible reasons to write in her blog when Englang looses against India...I wont be surprised if her next article is about how she got 'Delhi belly'....Grow up Alison, write something interesting for us to read..

  • Comment number 32.

    As an Indian born and brought up in Mumbai, who has subsequently travelled around the world from the well-to-do western countries to the not-so-rich African countries, here is my honest view:

    Mumbai is one of the most pathetic and horrible cities I've ever seen. The place is so overpopulated, it feels worse than a packed animal farm. The climate is hot and humid. The air is arid and musty. It is difficult to breath easily on a hot summer day, it feels like one is going to choke. The infrastructure is despicable, almost non-existent. The city holds the dubious record of housing the largest slum in Asia (Dharavi). Load shedding (powercuts) and water shortages are order of the day. You don't live in Mumbai; you can only survive there. The quality of life for majority of the people is demeaning to human beings.

    Yet, there is a privileged minority who live in some posh apartments in Western suburbs or South Mumbai. Their affluent “colonies” are like oasis in a desert, but only far and few. They zip around in their air-conditioned cars instead of the rib-crushing public transport, and sip on their cold colas, while being in denial about the difficulties of the majority of the population. There view of Mumbai is limited to what they see in Karan Johar movies; plush and pristine. They might've well been living in Malibu rather then Mumbai. They’re ashamed of the other poor, starving occupants of the city, so much so they’ve disowned them. These are the people who have posted their acerbic responses to the article as if someone has shaken their world view. I dare to ask them, how many of you have actually left the comfort of your posh penthouses and ventured in those godforsaken slums to play cricket with those poor kids? Have you ever hugged any abandoned street children that you find in abundance in most Indian metros? I’ll be surprised if I hear a single honest answer that they did. Because, I’ve grown up in Mumbai, I can tell you that for most Mumbaikars, “social work” is only worth the 10 easy marks you get for school assignments for visiting a slum or a hospital.
    And when these people read an article such as this written by Alison, they post their acerbic responses as if someone has shaken their world view. The problems of India are not going to change soon, because the first step to solve a problem is to acknowledge that there is one. And the Indians who can effect a change are in denial.

  • Comment number 33.

    Surely you meant a coarse covering of grass Alison???

  • Comment number 34.

    Hey Oliver, thanks, and yes I've tried the bbc text and some other sites, but it's just not the same as listening in real time, whilst actually getting on with stuff and doing something constructive. The addition of Tuffers has lead tome very witty and often hilarious asides that the txt just doesn't manage to convey in full. A podcast of all these little gems (an sort of bloopercast) at the end of a test would go someway to making up for missing TMS.

  • Comment number 35.

    Alison - I'm a Londoner who goes back to Mumbai at least every couple of years to see friends and family out there and let me advise that you should ignore the bitterness and contempt that some of the above posters have got.

    Your blog is excellent and I remember the same feelings on my first visit to Mumbai back when it was Bombay in the early 1990s.

    Keep up the good work.

  • Comment number 36.

    I don't see what the big deal is. She's describing what she saw when she first set foot in Mumbai. We Indians have a fairly good understanding of what's good and bad about Mumbai. Then why get upset when a foreigner points out some of it? And if the bitter readers above could read between the lines, they'd see that she's actually being quite positive about her trip. Hey Alison, keep those experiences coming.

  • Comment number 37.

    I always look at Mumbai as a collection of cities. The population of Mumbai is far more than that of some of the smaller countries in Europe.

    The Brihan Mumbai Mahanagar Palika needs to find out ways to streamline the maintenance and beautification of this important city.

    In recent years the Mumbai City Corporation has done a lot. Hats off to the Mumbaikars. But much remains to be done. Let us wish the city fathers all the very best in their efforts to make Mumbai a top class city on the Planet.

    Dr. Cajetan Coelho

  • Comment number 38.

    Mumbai is the cosmopolitan city of India, whoever comes in falls in love with the city and the people. I agree Dharavi and other slums, but cannot accept Mumbai Smells.. Don't give this wrong image to the world. It is just pockets of Mumbai that would smell. People eat at road side from a poor person to a top class company executive at Nariman point. Go ahead Alison and taste the pungent aromatic food that doen’t SMELL mind you. Have you gone around east ham, plaistow and upton park in London? Why don’t you showcase hundreds of years old houses where a kid jumps on the first floor and ground floor left rattled, and rat menace in each house? Or Delayed tube trains and no service on weekends which carries less than 1/10 of what Mumbai trains carries everyday with undisturbed service, or knife crime in London.

  • Comment number 39.

    For some reason this blog has reminded me of the advice given by a seasoned tourist (Was it Fred Trueman?) to a young cricketer about to go on his first tour to India:

    "Well son, if you feel like farting.....don't!"

  • Comment number 40.

    Having just read some of the comments written here I became a member to defend Alisons blog . I have been to India several times ranging from crossing the country by bus and staying in some dubious accomadation and on other visits 5* hotels. This is just one persons view on their first visit and it is a startling place and very unique. you can't get away from the poverty in a country where wealth is so unevenly distributed and yes it does have a smell of its own not a nasty one just its own, that is not being patronising just fact. lighten up read this in the spirit it is intended.

    Good work Alison keep it up

  • Comment number 41.

    Its a little funny to see people being all cheesed off at this article/blogpost.
    a. It is an opinion of a writer who is a first-time traveller to Bombay
    b. It is NOT negative
    c. Allison didnt say it smells bad... she said that thats what she was lead to believe before she landed... (read the article before taking off on her)
    d. I've lived in bombay for the last 22 years and trust me, BOMBAY SMELLS. There are parts of bombay that has distinctive smells, the airport smells of sh!t, Mahim creek smells of sewage water, the docks smell of fish, the local trains smell of sweat...and the list goes on. What is wrong in anyone saying that Bombay smells?
    e. Bombay has poor people, and it is crowded as hell and it is dirty and everything else that sinsoakedguy said.
    But the fact of the matter is, it is HOME to a lot of us, which is why people get pissed off.
    But honestly, i don't see any reason to have to defend it (especially when no one is saying anything wrong about it) If the truth hurts, go do something about changing it... getting angry with Allison for something she didn't do won't solve anything.

    Personally, i thought the post was a refreshing take on Bombay. Keep up the good work Allison

    As for charity work, Sachin does a LOT of charity work in Bombay for children; he just doesn't have an entourage of reporters around him when he does something like that. Apart from that he has also been involved with UNICEF.
    Dhoni himself has done soem AIDS awareness stuff in smaller towns of India. These things don't get as much publicity as Steve Waugh gets when he comes to Calcutta, but it doesn't mean they don't give back. They do what they can and one can't expect them to start doling out their income to everyone.

  • Comment number 42.

    Well, I cant understand why there are so many haters to this nice blog. I've been born and bought up on the streets of New Delhi, and what I believe is that these smells and cabs or whatever it might be, is India'c character, and is unique only to India.
    India is one of the few places where people experience true happiness without the pursuit to materialism, and the slums, pungent smells are all a part of it.

    Keep writing these blogs about India Alison, since there are people who appreciate them. Good things always have critics!


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