When we arrived in Mumbai, we couldn’t help but act like total tourists. While everyone else on the streets were going about their daily business, scurrying around on whatever errands they had, Morgan and I were constantly stopping to marvel at the strangeness of our new environment. “What are they doing over there?” “Why is that guy shouting?” “What’s that smell?”
(You didn’t always want to know the answer to that last question)
As we meandered through Mumbai’s labyrinths of open-air bazaars, and fought our way on to overcrowded trains, we were able to discover quite a few different parts of the city. Among our favorite discoveries were all the new types of street businesses we’d never seen before. Below, in no particular order, are our top five:
The Sugar Cane Stands
We first noticed the sugar cane stands near the CST train station. On one of the street corners, a guy was feeding what looked like 6 foot stalks of bamboo into a motor generated grinder. Each bundle of stalks would go through the grinder about four times, by which point all that was left was a fibrous pulp. He would then grab a fresh bundle from underneath his cart and start the process over.
Upon closer inspection, it turned out the stalks weren’t bamboo. They were sugar cane. The grinder on the cart was producing fresh-pressed, filtered sugar cane juice into a metal container. And For just 10 rupees (that’s 20 cents) we bought a 1/3 liter glass. It’s absolutely delicious on a hot day.
As bike tourists, we are fans of all things cycle related. So naturally, the knife sharpeners of Mumbai caught our eye. We found these guys sitting backwards on their bikes, balanced within stationary stands on the sidewalk. But rather than having a rear tire, they were spinning around a sharpening stone. Customers would then walk up to them with their dulled knives, and the sharpener would pedal his converted bike to rotate the stone and sharpen the cutlery.
Street Side Secretaries
Need a letter typed up and printed? Have to fill out an online form for a government application? In Mumbai, neither task requires a personal computer. In fact, you don’t even need to know how to type.
You can simply visit a street-side secretary. In Mumbai, their booths are usually lined up more than 15 or 20 in a row. Within them, customers sit across from the secretary and their computer, and orally dictate whatever it is they need to be word-processed or printed. The customer can say whatever he or she wants, and the secretary will type it out. It’s an easy solution for those who don’t have computers, or need letters and forms translated into English. Plus, it’s impressive just to watch the dizzying speed of a professional typist.
The Coconut Vendors
For 20 rupees (40 cents), we discovered the coconut vendors. In Mumbai, a coconut seller doesn’t just hand you the fruit, they make it into an experience.
Using a sickle-shaped machete, they set the coconut their thigh and hack the top off with two or three sharp blows – just enough so they can produce a small opening to the hollow cavity inside — where the coconut water is. After handing you a straw, they’ll wait until you’ve sipped out all the coconut water. Then, with a couple more downward hacks (which always look uncomfortably close to striking their legs), they open up the rest of the cavity, and give you a part of the shell to use as a spoon to scoop out the tasty coconut meat inside.
The whole glorious process occurs right before your eyes – from live chicken to sliced breast fillets. I’ll let the reader use their imagination. It doesn’t get any fresher than this.