“Everyone calls me Sammy Davis Junior” says the taxi driver. It is easy to see why. The resemblance is striking, except that this Sammy is under 5ft tall, weighs under 100lbs and is seventy if he is a day. We just hope his eyesight is better than the original Sammy
We have been back to the ship for a scrub down after our day in the Mumbai slums. I have taken a bath and left a ring of scum where the water had been, so I then take a shower. Feeling clean and refreshed we head out to see how the top one percent of Mumbai lives.
We have booked a dinner table at the fabulous Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. There is an orderly queue of taxi drivers dockside, each driver waiting his turn for a fare. We get Sammy Davis Junior. We tell Sammy where we want to go and he says he will wait for us and bring us back to the ship. We say there is no need because we can easily get a cab back, but when he offers to do everything for the princely sum of $12 we readily agree.
At this point we still haven’t actually seen his cab. If we had we wouldn’t have been so eager to accept his offer.
The cab is every bit as old as Sammy and appears to be made of tin. Sammy turns the key in the ignition and nothing happens. He tries again. This time the engine turns over, but it is thirty seconds before it catches. Sammy puts it into first gear and eases his foot off the clutch. The cab shudders and splutters but doesn’t move. Sammy puts his foot down on the accelerator and the taxi slowly moves forward, accompanied by a loud whining noise coming from the engine, or Sammy, we are not sure which. It is several minutes before we get into second gear, and this is achieved with a great deal of shuddering. Either Sammy is new to driving or the taxi is on its last legs. Or both.
It is only a couple of miles to the Taj but it takes twenty minutes as we crawl along the streets. Even a horse and buggy overtakes us.
Outside the Taj Hotel there is a line of horse and carriages waiting to take tourists along the sea front.These carriages put the Central Park equivalent to shame. They have amazingly ornate tin panels on the sides and front and a canopy or huge umbrella over the top. Some are filled with vast vases of flowers, but all are magically lit with hundreds of tiny multicoloured bulbs that reflect in the tin.
The fabulosity meter (remember that, dear readers) is going crazy.
Inside, the hotel it is just as fabulous. The lobby and shopping corridor is full of fabulously wealthy Indians, the women beautifully dressed in their lovely jewel toned saris, and the men in impeccably tailored suits.
An incredible and eye opening contrast to the slums we saw earlier. If you are going to be born in Mumbai it is emphatically necessary to be born into what Donald Trump so aptly calls the Lucky Sperm Club. The alternative is not worth thinking about.
As we enjoy our dinner an English couple arrived at the table nest to us. He is around 40 and dressed in a red T shirt and tan trousers. He is strikingly handsome but rather under dressed for the room. She walks a few paces behind him. As he walks across the dining room he gives a small but easy smile and says hello to each table as he passes. He is obviously famous and convinced that we all know who he is. Either that or he suffers from delusions of grandeur. But whatever the case, the fabulosity meter and I love his entry and I am going to practice it myself. It probably won’t be as effective in the Sizzler when I get home, but I have to do it.
At the end of the meal I go to the mens room. That too is fabulous. A gentlemen opens the door for me and lead the way to the urinals, in case I can’t find them on my own. He selects an unoccupied one and ushers me to it. I am concerned that he is going to offer a little more help finding something else, but he leaves me alone to unzip my own fly. When I have completed the task in hand (so to speak), he leads me across to the wash basins. He turns on the tap and waits for me to put my hands under the running water. He then lifts the soap dispenser over my hands and gives a generous squirt into my palms. I have to rub them together myself, but he is waiting for me to finish with a beautifully laundered towel.
FABULOUS! I will suggest this at the Sizzler after I have made my entrance.
It is now time to find Sammy and get him to take us back to the ship. He isn’t where he said he would be. The place is full of taxis all vying for our business. We look everywhere for Sammy. Fortunately his cab is older and more dilapidated than the rest so we easily spot it double parked a hundred yards away down the street. As we approach we look for Sammy but can’t see him. Then we spot him in the back seat. He is either fast asleep, passed out or dead. We aren’t sure which. His eyes have rolled back into his head, but his lids are open. So is his mouth and there is a small amount of drool dribbling down one side of his chin. It is an alarming sight. We call his name but he doesn’t move. We bang on the door. That does the trick. He shoots up in the seat and valiantly attempts to focus his attention on whatever has woken him. It takes a while before he remembers that he is a taxi driver and we are his passengers. He clambers into the front seat and starts the car.
Our journey back to the ship takes less than five minutes. Sammy drives at break neck speed, the engine screaming in pain and the taxi shaking so much we fear it is going to fall apart. He pays little attention to which side of the road he is on and no attention whatsoever to traffic lights. His only concession to a red light is to hold his hand on the horn as he shoots across the junction. It doesn’t take us long to realise that Sammy had passed the time while he was waiting for us by imbibing copious amounts of alcohol. He is drunk. Really drunk.
Somehow we make it safely to the port gates where he has to show his taxi pass to the security people. He gets out of the car and weaves his way erratically on foot to the security guard, and then, barely managing to stand upright, searches his pockets for the necessary papers. We take the opportunity to quietly exit the cab, leave the $12 on his seat and walk back to the ship, leaving Sammy and Mumbai behind us.
OK, it isn’t a passenger. But this is how the lovely people on the ship behave when the on board shops have a sale to unload all the stuff that hasn’t sold. It makes the markets of Mumbai seem civilized