At Kala Ghoda, we walked a short distance to the Gateway of India. The site, a plaza ringed by an old stone wall that separated it from the sea, was full of people: locals, tourists, police men, construction workers and hawkers of all kinds: photographers, telescope vendors, snack vendors, bubble-machine vendors, middlemen, ferry ride sales-persons. The Gateway monument and the Taj hotel flanked its boundaries, horse-drawn chariots competed for space with BMWs and Toyotas: history and modernity together, side-by-side. I heard six languages in our thirty minutes there. It was a microcosm of India itself.
It was, in a way, unreal to be walking those streets, places I had read about in books and watched in movies. The city had an established place in my imagination; I was curious to see how reality would alter that picture.
The Taj was still under renovation – you could spot workers at windows, polishing an edge or drilling a hole – but the facade no longer had the burnt-down look we’d seen on TV after the terrorist strike. Near us some tourists were looking up at the building, discussing the event in 2008. Long after the physical traces of violence are gone, an uneasy memory – and abundant curiosity – remains.