Taxis extend a very Mumbai welcome
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.