Return to Mumbai 2014
By Denis Doble (A member of our club)
Patricia and I visited Mumbai in March for 10 days with the Rotary Club of Battersea Colleagues.
We were hosted by the Rotary Club of Bombay Central with whom we have a number of joint projects. The club is sufficiently traditional to keep the original name of Bombay!
Since we were there with the Diplomatic Service in the 1980s (I arrived in 1984 after my predecessor had been shot) Mumbai has become a mega city of some 18/22 million. It has huge commercial resources and inevitably vast slum areas, notably Dehlavi, where the film Slumdog Millionaire is said to be based.
To visit the various villages where our projects are situated, we had to leave at 6 a.m. from our YMCA accommodation in the south of the peninsula to escape from the city before the horrendous traffic build up.
Our furthest point was Karjak, some 45 miles northwest of the city. We visited village schools which we have assisted in the past with desks, computers, uniforms, latrines, etc., this time the emphasis was on solar panel lighting. Once set up, the batteries run for 2 years. This is a good investment in a country with lots of sun like India. We also supplied a good deal of stationery equipment, which is always welcome, and sewing machines.
There are many plaques in the villages to The Rotary Club of Battersea Park Indians may well wonder what this means! We put in some 10,000 in total.
Mumbai itself continues as a commercial powerhouse. We visited the cultural highlights and the main cricket stadium for hospitality. The Anglican Cathedral and other churches still flourish, many charities are very active, and Crawford Market is as fascinating as ever.
The vast pile of Alphonso mangos still exists. The mango boss is called Dhoble, a local surname, like my own name with an 'h'. This led to my being nicknamed 'The mango king' in 1984.
We lunched in Leopold's Cafe and visited the Taj Hotel, both victims of the terrorist attack in 2008.
After a final farewell, we left for a few less exhausting days in Rajasthan.
Return to Calcutta also written by Denis
In February, Patricia and I spent an enjoyable week in Calcutta (I prefer that to Kolkata, the new Indian name). I was posted there with the Diplomatic Service in the 1980s.
It was good to see some considerable improvements no one obviously dying on the streets; very hew human rickshaws (the administration are trying to stamp them out); some new flyovers and a new airport; 4 five-star hotels (there was only on in the eighties) and a changed West Bengal government after 30 years of the Communist Left Front, which concentrated on the peasant classes in the rural areas rather than the city itself.
The imposing Victorian Memorial and the Anglican Cathedral were refurbished in the 1990s and business in general is picking up. After many years in construction, the metro is running well too. Calcutta still remains a city of clubs, a legacy of the British. We stayed in the Saturday Club, mainly a sporting club, the second oldest in the city after the Bengal Club, founded in 1825. We had dinner in the Calcutta Club, founded originally because Indians were not allowed in the Bengal Club. The Tollygunge Club in the south, near which we used to live, continues to flourish as a country club with an excellent golf course. The clubs are not short sort of members, unlike some of our London counterparts.
Community relations appear to be reasonable healthy. That is no mean feat in a city of 16 million or maybe more with Hindus, Moslems, Buddhists and Christians. We visited the Cathedral, the oldest Anglican Church, St. Johns and St. Andrews the Scottish church. Both St. Johns and St. Andrews are well attended. The historic Christian Cemetery in South Perk Street is well cared for. I am involved in this through the British Association for Christian Cemeteries in South Asia, which aims to improve the state of civilian cemeteries throughout the country a difficult task!
Calcutta though, with its extensive slum areas, is still in great need of international charity. Mather Teresa's Home for the Dying has plenty of customers. I recalled that I accompanied Archbishop Runcie there with mother Teresa herself when I lived in the city. Volunteers from many countries were in evidence, giving tender loving care.
Future Hope still has great support. The Oxford Mission at Behala, which runs boys schools and a Music Centre is in good shape. I am a committee member in the UK. Charities such as those for women trapped in the sex trade or vulnerable to trafficking, with which our own Ellie Cooke was involved, are doing great work. We hope to set up a project ourselves with the Rotary Club of Battersea Park, and I briefed the present British deputy High Commissioner about our various activities.
We had a cruise on the Hoogly (as the Ganges is known there) and looked up old chums. The Bengalis, with their great literary traditions, are as lively as ever, and the city, when you get to know it, is as warm and hospitable as it always has been. We hope to visit again before too long.