Bombay Bobble Heads – Mumbai, India

After Porbandar, I fell quite ill. I didn’t want to do anything and lost my appetite as well. I felt worried that I was going to enter India sick as a dog and that I wouldn’t be able to manage. I knew that even though we were docking on Sunday morning, the ship didn’t leave for a few days and I could stay on board until Monday. I hunkered down and willed myself to feel better.

I spent the night and next day in bed drinking tea and sleeping. I skipped a few meals and didn’t even have the energy to take my art down to the exhibition. I got them sent down but never did get a chance to see the whole thing. I heard it went well. As time ticked, I got more and more concerned that I was getting sweaty and hot. I felt a fever coming on.

Sunday morning, I woke and felt that the ship had stopped. I peered out my picture window and took my first look at Mumbai. Bombay. Whatever you want to call it. It seems the name change hasn’t really taken as most people still refer to the richest and most populous city in India as Bombay. I mean really, Bollywood is based here and what would they change that to? Mollywood? Not likely.

I felt somewhat better than the night before even though I still had the sniffles and my throat was killing me. I can handle a cold but my lungs hurt just looking at the smog and pollution hovering over the city. I knew that I would have to man up big time. I decided I would go out just for a spell and get a taste of what I had to prepare for on Monday. Lee wanted to use the internet so we got in a cab with Johnny from Goa and sped through the humongous port to the gates. Johnny from Goa was charming enough that we agreed to go to one of his friends stores. Five minutes later it turned into two stores and I quickly saw where this was going.

I wandered the street while Lee ducked into an internet store where he had to show ID and fill out a whole lot of personal information. I guess they have to be strict here with stuff like this and are extra paranoid since the bombings. Hundreds of people have died as a result of terrorist attacks in 2006, 2008 and as recently as July this year.

We went to the two obligatory stores and had a quick look around. The air conditioning was a nice break from the muggy hot weather though I had doubts about what this would do for my cold. I glanced at the overpriced gold and silks but found the hoards of Asian tourists more fun to watch. I plopped myself in a chair while Lee humored one of the over enthusiastic salesmen. In the next store I let the men wrap me up in a long piece of fabric which they called a sari. To me it looked like drapes on some grandparents front window. I thanked them but politely turned down the hundred-dollar tablecloth that didn’t really seem to fit me anyway.

After we felt like a sufficient time had passed that our friend Johnny would get his credit, we left the store. As we were driving back to the ship, I saw the Gate of India and a lot of our shipmates snapping photos around the tourist laden area. I just wanted to get back to bed. I was feeling worse by the minute and knew I needed to save my strength for tomorrow when I would really be in it.

Passing through security, I was relieved to see no line at the gangway. I asked the young immigration man in military garb how he was doing (as I always do), and he answered shyly with a head bobble “Nice. I am nice.” The older officer behind him whispered loudly in his ear correcting him sternly but also with a more violent head shake, “Good! I am GOOD.”. The younger man just looked at me a little embarrassed and gave me yet another head wobble!

What the heck is that!? It’s kind of like if you were swimming and were trying shake the water out of your ears. Or it’s like Tourette’s or some kind of nervous tic. What it really looks like are those bobble head dolls and it is one of the funniest forms of body language I have ever seen. And by far the most confusing. Does it mean YES? NO? Maybe it means I don’t know? Or is it their way of saying politely without words “Who cares”? Does it mean they need a neck massage? Whatever it means, it’s fascinating. It is most peculiar but very very fascinating. I intend to study this nuance of Indian culture over the next few months. I boarded the ship and went straight my room to practice this curious head wiggle in my bathroom mirror. I wasn’t able to quite get it right but I had a good belly laugh whist trying. I think my neck needs a little (or a lot) of WD-40.

Grateful for body language.

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2 Responses to Bombay Bobble Heads – Mumbai, India

  1. Rockcityfire says:

    I love the bobble head.

    I think of the bobble head as inscribing an infinity sign with one’s nose. An 8 on it’s side. It kind of works with the message, which is neither a “yes” or “no”, but more of a “that question is more than I can answer”.

    So, rather than telling me something I didn’t want to hear, or information beyond their station, people would revert to a head bobble. Once I saw it that way, it made a lot more sense.

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