To most people, it seems that life on the road and all possessions jammed into a small rucksack is kind of a dream come true. The truth is a little less quaint. Backpacking is laborious and tiresome. It forces you to talk to strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comforts of home, family and friends. You are constantly off balance. You are always reminded that nothing is granted or yours except dreams, memories, the air, and the sky.
It was already late afternoon when my derelict taxi finally pulled up somewhere in the financial district of Mumbai. Before me, along the side of an unpaved, potholed road, stood a high-rise building tucked away unfittingly amidst much less developed structures, most made from scrap wood and corrugated iron sheets. I began to think that maybe I should have booked a hostel instead of Couchsurfing on my own in a distant, foreign country.
My worries slithered away quickly the second Krishna opened the door to welcome me with a sincere Duchenne smile. It took me a while before I realised his flat, although modern, was completely empty, filled only with hot air and blue-ish fluorescent light bouncing off the whitewashed walls and tiled floor. There was no furniture in the living room: no couch, no TV, no table or a cupboard, not even a single chair. “I have just moved in a few days ago,” he explained, probably expecting me to ask. In the bathroom, to my surprise and delight, there was a typical Western toilet and not a hole in the ground I was already acquainted with earlier that day at the airport in a pitiful attempt to relieve myself. There also was a normal shower with both hot and cold water, which made me wonder if anyone in this town actually takes hot showers – the thought alone made me wilt.
Krishna has lived in the city most of his life, and like most people who reside in Mumbai, he is an aspiring actor. We had only exchanged a few rather short emails before I arrived. He was happy to host me, and I too was glad to have – in this turbid, seemingly disordered corner of the Earth – a place to crash for a few days. We quickly found a common language besides English, and though I was exhausted, we stayed up late talking for hours over a home-cooked vegetarian feast his live-in maid prepared for us. India, like Britain and America until a century ago, has an established culture of domestic workers aka servants. Professional urban families often have a maid, usually a young migrant woman, who does everything from dusting to child care. Krishan’s maid was a young, plump guy who did all the shopping, cooking, and cleaning. He often ate with us but rarely spoke or smiled. We shared the cool floor in the unfurnished living room where we slept by the large, wide-open window.
It wasn’t the first time Krishna had guests like myself – travellers of all kinds from all over. But why would anyone want to let some random people into their home? What kind of person is willing to share their lives with people they have never met. “We are all part of this place,” he shrugged smiling.