Does Bandra Terminus have a cloakroom

The tycoon, the model and the trunk gods

Out and about in Bombay, the city of business and glamor.

Outside Mumbai International Airport it was teeming with figures that everyone had warned me about: pushy young men who shouting and screaming with spindly arms attack the suitcases and bags of the newcomers and try to coax this money out of the couple's luggage Meters from the exit to the taxi. I clutched my suitcase a little tighter, made my way through the crowd and fled straight into the care of that moustached man who held up a tablet with my name on it.

The man said he had been sent by Sam, and then I knew: Sam can be relied on.

Sam's driver wore a snow-white uniform with black and gold shoulder flaps and was clearly different from his colleagues in black polyester trousers, who said “Taxi! Taxi!" called. He wasn't driving a Fiat junk box like everyone else, but an elegant Opel that smelled of mothballs.

By the time we started, it was long past midnight, but it was still rush hour on the street. We jostled between black and yellow Fiat taxis in the design of the fifties, creaking motorcycles, three-wheel rickshaws, trucks spewing smoke. Food stalls steamed on the roadside. People sat under colored garlands of light, others had curled up to sleep in the open air. In a side street I saw a wagon on which a fat-bellied statue with an elephant's head was enthroned, in front of it women in brightly colored scarves and men with bare chests who danced to the beat of drums.

The closer we got to the center, the bigger and more numerous became the billboards that towered over shadowy houses and huts. KIT KAT, HAVE A BREAK, CITYBANK, TATA TEA. After a good hour we turned onto Marine Drive, which hugs the shores of the Arabian Sea in a wide arc. The mothball Opel stopped in front of the Oberoi Towers Hotel, porters in black turbans rushed over and took me back to another world: the world of western luxury with fitted carpets, a health club and a marble bathroom. The television was on CNBC, and when I gazed at the illuminated skyline of Bombay's business districts from my room on the 33rd floor, nothing reminded me that I was in India.

Sam, whose real name is Shyamsunder, is an acquaintance of an acquaintance and is so kind as to support me in my explorations in the Indian metropolis of 15 million - The City of Paradox, as he says. He comes from Mumbai, which for him, like for every real Bombaywalla, is still called Bombay even after it was officially renamed a few years ago. He studied at the Bocconi elite school in Milan and has been working as a trustee and financial advisor for several years.

Sam is in his mid thirties, a jovial guy who is always in a good mood. He describes his state of mind and the course of his business as “excellent” and his work as a “one-man show”, whatever that means. His customers, he reveals, are small and medium-sized companies that invest in India or want to sell their products on the Indian billion-dollar market. Not an easy undertaking, as Sam admits. Because the potential of this market is enormous, but it has its own laws. "You need permits, you have to deal with the bureaucracy, you have to know the culture and, above all, you have to be careful with whom you are getting involved."

Sam has come to the hotel in his rickety Indian Maruti (the BMW, he says with a laugh, is being repaired) and suggests that we first take a tour of the city and then have lunch at the yacht club where he is a member.

Before we get into the car, he routinely chases away two little girls in dusty rags who are begging for a few rupees. Then we chug from the business district to the Victoria Terminal with the white domes, Bombay's largest train station, which pumps three million people from the suburbs to the business center every day. The feverish Moloch stretches over an almost infinite 660 square kilometers along the Arabian Sea, an amorphous collection of quarters, slums and suburbs. We continue south on Marine Drive, past huts where women with oiled hair wash clothes in puddles of rain, past the stock exchange and the Prince of Wales Museum to the Gateway of India, the city's landmark: an ornate basalt-brown archway , Completed in 1924 on the occasion of the visit of King George V.

The representative building of the yacht club is just behind the Gateway of India and is also a relic from the British colonial era. Anyone who wants to enter here must show their membership card at the entrance gate and enter themselves in a leather-bound book; then he is taken to the salon with heavy club armchairs for the aperitif. Through the high, wide-open windows, the view sweeps out onto the palm garden. Instead of the roar of the big city, only the whistling of birds can be heard here. Fans leisurely describe their circles on the ceiling. Sam rings the chased brass bell on the table and has the liveried waiter bring him two glasses of coconut milk.

Sam appreciates the post-colonial atmosphere of the club, but also the opportunity to use the club's own sailing yachts. In this club you are among your own kind, and of course that is also good for business. Because in India, he says, a business relationship is always also a personal relationship.

What is meant by this, among other things, will soon become apparent. On our tour through the better society of Bombay, Sam first leads me to the fashion designer Radhika Naik, whom he would like to visit again himself. The attractive young woman - white powdered face, auburn hair, daring miniskirt - has specialized in lavish haute couture and, what a coincidence, runs a boutique very close to the yacht club. Her customers include wealthy Indians from Hong Kong and London, who can and happily throw millions around them, especially when there is a wedding to be celebrated.

Most of these weddings, says the designer, are still arranged by the families today, at least the parents have an important say in the search for a partner. In the better circles, says Radhika, weddings tend to be staged as mega-events. 3000, 5000 or even 15,000 invited guests are not uncommon. The ceremonies lasted several days and are divided into precisely defined functions - engagement, receptions, party, wedding ceremony and again party - at which the newlyweds presented themselves in new clothes over and over again.

Anyone who has a wedding wardrobe tailored at Radhika Naik must expect that each individual dress costs up to $ 10,000. But with such a robe, no skimpy on tulle and borders, sequins and Swarovski crystals. Such a showpiece can weigh up to fifteen kilos and is not an easy burden for any bride to carry.

The next day, Sam is busy with a customer who values ​​discretion, so I'm traveling alone for the first time. I buy a pashmina scarf downstairs at the yacht club, for which I pay four times too much, sniff around in cookshops and finally don't dare to try one of these served in tin bowls and dishes that smell of coriander, turmeric and curry.

In the afternoon I have an appointment with the Reliance Group, one of the largest industrial conglomerates in the country with a turnover of 12 billion dollars. Actually, I want to speak to the father or son Ambani, a member of the family clan who controls the group; Even after several phone calls, however, I only got to a man named Desai, who asks me to bring my request to him personally, at the place of business, Chamber IV, fifth floor.

Chamber IV is a faceless skyscraper that houses various offices, including the Swiss consulate. A lift boy takes me to the fifth floor, where a receptionist sends me down to the fourth floor, where a similar person shuttles me back to the fifth. There I am finally shown into a room with two greasy sofas.

Yogesh Desai is President for Corporate Development within the company. He has a white, stringy goatee and seems to be serenity in person. He has tea brought to me, looks at me through large horn-rimmed glasses and begins to talk about Switzerland. Desai knows Zurich, and above all he knows Baden and Oerlikon. He says he worked for ABB for 14 years and has now been with the Reliance Group for 7 years. "The best company in India," as he claims. “We are the largest manufacturer of black polyester in the world. Reliance Petroleum is India's most profitable company and Reliance Industries is the largest exporter of Indian goods. "

Desai is 58 years old and describes himself as a member of the upper middle class. He has a house in a good location and two cars, and he employs three servants: a driver, a housemaid and a cook. That is quite normal in his circles. "Anyone who has a good job is doing better than ever." He tells how he bought the first refrigerator in 1961 when his first daughter was born. From the humble life of being content with a pair of pants, a pair of shoes, and a pair of sandals. "Today I can afford Nike sneakers, even if they cost 1,700 rupees."

Desai says that since the liberalization of the economic system ten years ago, a middle class has emerged as never before in India. People who earn decently and who spend their money on consumer goods. "From 10,000 rupees a month," he says, "you can have a good life in India." And what does his chauffeur earn? "4000 rupees." That's less than 200 francs.

Desai admits that since liberalization not only wages but also the cost of living have risen. In particular, the housing prices, which, fueled by speculation, skyrocketed in the mid-1990s and have now leveled off at a lower level. However, certain consumer goods have also become much cheaper. For example, a color television from state-owned companies used to cost 25,000 rupees. Today less than half, and with better quality. «Liberalization has caused India to change from a seller's market to a buyer's market. That is probably the most important change in the last ten years. "

Actually, Desai says at the end, he has already told me almost everything. If I am still interested in an interview with the chairman, please fax my questions.

When I leave Chamber IV, there is a cream-colored Cadillac in front of the building. Dhirubhai Ambani, the elderly founder of the company, gets out of the car, accompanied by half a dozen security guards. The old man is no longer good on his feet. He climbs a small platform, a lift that slowly screws him up, up the eight steps from the forecourt to the entrance hall.

Bombay is India's economic engine. 300 large companies have their headquarters here and 450,000 smaller companies that generate 17 percent of India's gross national product. Bombay feeds the Indian treasury with 40 percent of the total tax revenue. But Bombay is also the city of ShowBiz and the entertainment industry, the city where the trends are set, the city of the modern Indian lifestyle.

What's going on here, says the "Bombay Times", the local supplement of the "Times of India". The modern sheet with large color pictures reports on the latest love affairs among film stars and speculates about possible pregnancies of actresses; it introduces the hip clubs, boutiques, restaurants and fitness centers; it brings the craziest parties into the picture.

Ayaz Memon is the editor-in-chief of the Bombay Times, a moustached man in his forties with dark shadows under his eyes. We meet in the "Indigo", a trendy restaurant that Memon wants to visit anyway, because a cognac company sponsors an evening with soul and blues music, to which the owner of the restaurant, a well-known gastro entrepreneur, has invited him. The "Indigo" is styled like the trendy bars in New York, San Francisco or Zurich: a sober bar with contemporary Indian art on the walls, candlelight on the tables, a bar, a cigar lounge. From the kitchen there is an international mix of specialties from all over the world and from the wine cellar there is a Cheval Blanc 1993 for 1000 dollars a bottle.

"What gathers in this bar are the symbols of the globalized world," says Menon. «Wine, cigars, single malt whiskey, the accessories of the upscale international lifestyle have also reached India. Consumption is the new religion and cable television with MTV, Star-TV and V-TV is the new guru. " The introverted India, mindful of the collective and committed to spiritual values, is being displaced more and more by a global lifestyle. "The young generation lives in the here and now, it pays homage to individualism."

Meno himself no longer wants to do without the new freedom; Last but not least, as a journalist he appreciates the fact that he is less led by politicians today. But he also sees dangers: the social gradient has become even sharper. And more competition also means more uncertainty. «In India you used to have a job for life. That is over, and the fear is correspondingly great, especially now that the IT boom that promised quick money has suddenly come to an end. "

At the next table are two girls, one with purple Gucci glasses in her hair, the other wearing a T-shirt that says “So many men - so few that can afford me”. Menon orders a double Glenfiddich and starts to joke a bit with the two girls. He soon insinuates that he is the head of the Bombay Times, and then the Gucci glasses don't give him peace of mind. It's her birthday next week and she's giving a big party, she says. 'Couldn't you do something about that on page three? That would be the greatest gift for me. "

Menon says he receives such inquiries almost every day. «People are crazy. Despite its 15 million, Bombay is somehow like a village. "

Everyone in Bombay knows Shobhaa De. She used to be a photo model, today she writes non-fiction books with titles such as “Surviving Men” and columns in the “Sunday Times” and the “Indian Express”. She is married for the second time, which already causes frowns here and there in India and casts doubt on her seriousness; some say it is “a real honeytrap”, others call it the Joan Collins of India.

The author resides in an apartment, which has been transformed into a small Maharaja's palace with Indian carpets and antique wood carvings, near the World Trade Center in Bombay. A housemaid greets the visitor and, as always, a jug of sweet black tea and milk is there immediately.

Shobhaa De is the mother of six children, the eldest son is 28, and she herself still looks 35. Coquettishly, she notices that she unfortunately hasn't had time to put on make-up, but then throws herself on the satin sofa and plays along her fingers in her long black hair.

Ms. De, what makes Bombay different from the other cities in India?

“Bombay is like New York. Here in Bombay nobody asks you: Who are you? It doesn't matter what caste you belong to, what family you come from or who you know. The only question here is: What can you do? Bombay is a win-win city. Not for everyone, of course. But for a few, dreams come true here. "

What dreams?

«The dream of freedom, for example. Women in particular enjoy freedom in Bombay like nowhere else in India. I could always do what I wanted. I consider myself emancipated, but different from American or European feminists. The Indian woman has feminine charm and at the same time a self-confidence and self-assertion that can only be developed in this country. "

What has changed in Bombay in recent years?

«The climate has become harsher. The mobsters have taken power. What counts is only the money. How to get that money isn't that important, but when you have money the party never ends. Anyone who has money is a hero in this city. That may sound cynical - but that's Bombay. "

Shobhaa De does not mince his words; “Politically Incorrect” is the name of her column in the “Sunday Times”, in which, as Kassandra, she likes to target the egoism and double standards of Indian high society. Nevertheless, she is a welcome guest at the high society parties, which she estimates at a few hundred people. In the meantime she belongs to the so-called Dom Pérignon faction of the elderly, meanwhile her children amuse themselves in the Bacardi faction. However, the differences are not that big. You meet more or less the same people over and over again. "But this is not the only reason why older men in particular seek connection with the Bacardi parliamentary group by all means."

Yogesh Desai reports that he received the questions and passed them on to the Chairman, but he asked for a little patience. Sam, on the other hand, tries to find a film actress, but the "good friend" just doesn't want to call back. As time is running out, we decide to go to Film City anyway, a two-hour journey from the south to the north of the city.

Heavy rain fell over the city in the morning, the streets are steaming. 32 degrees with 99 percent humidity! Sam has rolled down all the windows and laughs: "Natural air condition." When we wait in front of a light signal, beggars rush over and stretch their hand in, withered hands, infected with eczema, with leprosy.

The journey leads past musty houses, past slums and residential silos. The closer we get to Film City, the bigger the advertising posters for new films get: lush paintings of languishing beauties, sinister villains and noble Prince Charming. 230 films, more than in Hollywood, are produced in Bollywood every year, and as we now know: Switzerland is often one of the filming locations - the old town of Olten, Bern or Schönried in Saanenland.

Sam doesn't think much of Bollywood films. The pattern of action - love, family, betrayal, vengeance and atonement - is eternal. And the ideology is often repressive: a young girl wants to marry a man who has not been chosen by her parents, runs away, gets into bad company, falls in love with a man, dreams that she must return home and do as her parents want - and see da: The one chosen by the parents is the man she loves!

We drive past the Novartis headquarters, turn into a long avenue, pass a police checkpoint and drive up a hill, past buffalo stalls. Then we are in Film City, in the Indian dream factory, which in fact and truth consists primarily of a few gray concrete blocks; a dozen recording studios in a green meadow.

The site is teeming with onlookers who have come in groups to see a film star in person for once. In front of a studio with an improvised loggia, across which actresses flit and disappear into doors labeled “make-up”, stands a shouting and hooting crowd. We ask what's going on here, and one just says: Kaun Banga Crorepati. What in German means something like: Who will be a millionaire?

Anyone who dares to get too close to the studio will be harshly rejected by civil security guards, and a press pass will have no effect. But Sam knows what to do. He knows the unit manager and has a messenger bring him a card, and all the doors open.

The studio, spotlight and music are the same as in any of the 70 countries in the world where this game show is produced. The audience alone provides some local color: the women all wear colored saris, most men dark suits and ties. In India, being staffage for a television show is a matter of honor, a festive affair.

For every show, says the production manager, 150,000 people registered and the audience ratings are phenomenal. Three candidates have so far managed to win the ten million rupees.

The game show that will be shot that evening is a special one. Because candidates are for once not people from the common people, but two actresses from a soap opera who are supposed to donate their winnings to a good cause. You are sitting in the audience with the TV series family and are waiting for the presenter Amitabh Bachan.

Bachan, says Sam, is a real superstar in India, a kind of demigod. This can be seen, for example, in the fact that he initially makes the audience wait over an hour. When he finally appears, he is still in no hurry. He has his cheeks powdered again, his gray, neatly trimmed goatee combed, then his pitch-black hair that looks suspiciously like a wig.

Bachan is a veteran. He shows his dazzling white teeth, smiles into the teleprompter and engages the candidates in a casual conversation. First question: Which key is not likely to be found on a television remote control: Volume, Channel, Pause, On? Second question: what is a Saint Bernard: a cat, a dog, a horse or a wolf? The two actresses didn't completely fall on their heads and win 350,000 rupees.

Once in the spotlight: Naskhatra Reddy also knows this uplifting feeling. Two years ago she was on the cover of National Geographic with her daughter Meghna; the mother wrapped in traditional clothing and a black and gold stole, the daughter in a skin-tight PVC suit, the zipper pulled just above the navel.

Mother Reddy bought a few dozen copies of this special issue on the topic of “Global Culture” and is the first to hand me a copy with a personal dedication. Meghna, a well-known photo model, is still at the premiere of a film in which she played a small role. But she'll come, Mother Reddy comforts me in the drawing room of the family apartment in the Bandra West district. "She is a wonderful girl, a girl you can rely on, a girl who, despite her success, has remained natural."

The Reddy family belongs to the upper middle class. The father owns an ointment factory, the mother is a biochemist and works as a holistic healer, which is shown, among other things, in the fact that she hugs everyone she meets. The three daughters are all extremely pretty and are all in public, two as photo models, one as a VJ on the music channel V-TV. The most famous of the three is Meghna. She graced the covers of women's magazines such as the Indian "Elle" and advertised Pepsi, Levi's and Swatch. Not much was missing, according to Mother Reddy, and she also had an international career. "Maybe it was only a few centimeters."

When Meghna finally shows up - in jeans and a T-shirt and fluffy curls - the mother has already told almost everything about her daughter's career. How she won a prize in a beauty pageant at the age of 16, how she was discovered by a well-known model at 18 and made the leap into the scene out of nowhere, how her father raged when she went to London and Paris, hardly finding work , stranded in a small, musty room when her father brought her home, how she now goes to a design school in New York and tries a new beginning.

Meghna Reddy is urbane: “I can no longer live in India, but I cannot live without India either. I have the Indian paradox within me. I'm still a star in India. Here I can easily earn the money I need, but I want more out of life than just smiling and posing. At the height of my career, I made $ 5,000 in two days for a TV commercial. At 19, I had enough money to live my life the way I wanted. As the first Indian I dyed my hair pink - alcohol, hash, parties were my life. The success went into my head. I thought I could achieve anything. " However, she does not want to see the fact that it did not work out in Paris and London as a failure, but rather as a “lesson from God”. «I had to find myself again, I hitchhiked through Europe and Africa. All alone with 100 CDs in your luggage. I started to meditate. " Today, she says, she has found a spiritual depth. «I am Indian, shaped by the tradition and spirituality of this country. At the same time, I am a modern woman who wants to determine her own life. "

Meghna Reddy feels torn between Indian tradition and the modern global lifestyle. Last Saturday she made a pilgrimage to the noble club Athena, today she wants to go to Ganesh Chaturthi on Chowpatty Beach.

It is the last day of the ten-day Hindu festival on which the trunk god Ganesh - in the form of clay figures - is carried to the sea in endless processions and sunk in the sea for the last time. Marine Drive is cordoned off in the afternoon. Processional parades have set in motion from all points of the compass. Carriages adorned with flower garlands and palm fronds jerk up, on top of them up to three meters high Ganesh figures in all colors and variations. Each car is accompanied by drummers, behind them people dancing in a trance, women in colored clothes, men with bare chests and red fluorescent gulal powder in their hair.

I let myself go with the crowd. When I get down to Chowpatty Beach, the first Ganeshs are already in the water, floating out to sea. The beach is brightly lit. A million people watch the spectacle, sit, stand, lie in the sand.

Ganesh Chaturthi is a mixture of a spiritual ceremony, a fair and a street parade. At the roadside, peanuts are roasted on glowing coals, corn on the cob roasted, peeled cucumbers are for sale. A gray-bearded man in a white turban has placed rusty scales in front of him: Weighing once costs 1 rupee. A mini ferris wheel has also been set up. It is barely three meters high and is operated by people - young men who climb up the rods and then swing down.

In the evening I find a message in the hotel. Mr Desai sends a message that unfortunately it is not possible for Mr Ambani to receive me for an interview. The Chairman had gone abroad, which he apologizes for. In addition the sentence: "Hope to see you next time."

No more than a polite phrase, of course. But Bombay wouldn't be Bombay if it weren't for some kind of promise.

This article comes from the November 2001 NZZ Folio magazine on the subject of "India". You can order this issue or subscribe to the NZZ Folio.