Mumbai is a smouldering melting pot of a city. A sprawling mass of people. I don’t think I’m overstating when I say that you’ll find every single profession here, legal or illegal, corporate or creative. People flock from all over India to find opportunity here, it reminds me a bit of London but on a much bigger scale. The unofficial population of the city is 27 million.
We got slightly carried away with the excitement of that on our first full evening in this tropical metropolis. We took an early evening stroll in Colaba, where we were staying. Out to the gateway of India, past the beautiful Taj hotel, built by an Indian who was refused entry to the colonial clubs of Mumbai, he built the grandest and best hotel for Indians. We had a drink there one night and were welcomed by a relaxed atmosphere.
The rest of the walk was accompanied by various other grand, imposing colonial buildings in this area. The high courts with armed army officers pointing there guns out into the road from their sandbags, the university with it’s big ben style clock tower, the National Gallery of Modern Art, and the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya Museum (formerly the Prince of Wales Museum). As we crossed over The Oval park heading towards the beach and the National Centre for Performing Arts – we were planning on seeing a nice relaxing play, we were approached by ‘Captain Jack Sparrow’. Terence Alan Bradley.
A self professed tour guide/alcoholic (who was drunk when we met him) with many stories, a lot of them untrue I assume. But who am I to judge.
After chatting to him on the wave breakers at Marine drive for a while, he took us to a local alcohol joint behind a big construction corrugated iron sheet. We went through a rag of cloth and into a room full of Indian men. Women aren’t allowed in there, the premise being that men can’t handle their liquor and the women get molested, either that or the culture that women don’t go out after dark in a lot of places in India, definitely not to drink. The new India of brands and emerging middle class is slowly changing that. The world of Bollywood with scantily clad women rolling around on the floor is an absolute universe away from this particular reality.
Certainly the men in this room didn’t seem to be having a good time, the liquor that is available at this place was lemon cider, it tasted more like vodka. They drink it with ice and water but we had it with soda. I’m not sure if the atmosphere would have been different if we weren’t there, but they seemed to just be drinking there drinks silently and twitching, then getting up and leaving. There were people in there that stared at us as if to say you’re breaking our moral code. It was a supercharged atmosphere but it was fine. When we came out we were pretty drunk, Terrence was smashed! He started stumbling in front of traffic and screaming at people, he was more erratic and aggressive towards everyone that he met.
On the screaming…He screams at random people all the time, says he’s a metal rocker and has a skull on his belt and necklace, and lots of skull rings in his bag. He threatened just about every Indian that we came across, perhaps because he knew that because he was with foreigners then he was less likely to be beaten up. He kept getting his knuckleduster out of his bag. He kept saying he had a big knife hidden somewhere. He said he was trained in ‘Kung Fu’ and ‘Krav Maga’ – Chinese and the Israeli military martial arts respectively. He kept saying, I’m a good man to a good man, but a bastard to a bastard. Trouble is it is a one dimensional view that he sees of people. Through his eyes only.
For an Indian, his English grammar is immaculate, apparently his mother was a professor of English language at a university in Chennai.
For some reason, partly a sense of adventure and because he reminded me of rock ‘n’ rollers that I’d worked with in the past, we decided to trust him. He was never irrational with us and he always listened to our feelings. I always felt that I could tell him that we wanted to get out of this situation. In fact because of his irrational behaviour I think I felt more like I could say anything I wanted to. We hopped on the bus to go and see the red light district in Mumbai, don’t ask me why, we were going to this place at 9pm which was completely the wrong time, or the right time depending on what you want. We wanted some food so we went down to a Muslim district to eat down on Mohammed Ali road.
Terrence got into a verbal fight with some local kids, he antagonised them and they wouldn’t leave him alone. When we found a place to eat, he got out his knuckle duster and told the guy in the restaurant that he better beat those kids or he’d do it himself. Under the premise that the restaurant owner would lose his custom. Then he asked us if we wanted him to beat them up. We said no.
The food was really good there, a tandoori parrota and some fried, mixed vegetables. All these experiences were starting to get to our nerves though, so we asked him to skip the red light district and he was very accommodating and found us a taxi very quickly. We were very grateful for his attitude towards us, he was always fair and nice. It was just strange that he was so aggressive towards everyone else. When we got in the taxi, he said that he hated Muslims, when I asked why he said because they are bastards.
Some of the things that he told us over alcohol:
He’s travelled twice on the Concorde.
Has 4 guitars: A Gibson hummingbird, a Fender Strat, a Fender Tele, and one more.
His father is a big mechanical engineer apparently. When Terence was young he met a woman with a young kid and fell in love, he moved to Bombay to save enough money to get married. When he returned to Chennai to get married he found out that his father had gotten engaged to her. So the kid who was supposed to be his step son became his step brother, and the woman that he wanted to marry became his step mum. He doesn’t believe in sex before marriage so he’s a 44 year old virgin, If that’s true it’s awful. The father marrying the girl that you’re in love with bit. Actually no both bits.
He has 4 cars.
He explained that he sleeps on the street, we certainly saw him in the same clothes on two separate days. And we saw his toothbrush and toothpaste in his bag.
He told us a story of an American man who started to talk to him by the beach on Marine Drive. He was surprised that he’d dared to talk to him because, during the monsoon, he’d slept out in the rain and was bedraggled. His jeans were ripped in the crotch and the back. Anyway this man from Seattle invited Terence to stay in his hotel room. The concierge, and he was very precise at saying that this man was a Sikh, told the American that Terrence couldn’t come in because he looked like a bum. The American said to the concierge that he could buy him and his whole life so shut up!
When they got to the room, the American gave him $500, which back then was a lot of money, and told him to go out and get new clothes including some Levi jeans and a Stetson cowboy hat. (Is this sounding like a cross between American Pyscho and Shantaram to anyone? It definitely reminded me of the character Vikram in the latter.) Basically, overall, Terrence was given $1000. At one point Terrence was in the room and the American left the safe open, back then there was no ATM so people had to have their money on them, whilst he went for a shower and was testing to see whether Terrence would steal it. Apparently there was $40,000 in there.
He still lives on the streets now, his short term memory is completely shot by drinking. He said that he started drinking at 9 years old, and at one point he drank 5 litres a day. Now he’s cut down to 1 litre. He kept asking us the same questions over and over again. He seems to survive on his wits from money that tourists give him.
He has 31 books of recommendations and I think the problem was that he got wasted and took us to the red light district at the wrong time, maybe our nerves weren’t suited to it either. It was quite far out of our comfort zone at a time where we were feeling tired and our nerves were fraught.
I think he would be a good guide, he also took around the guys from the band ‘Young The Giant’, but you can’t guarantee that he won’t get drunk and erratic. I’m not sure I’d go with him to the Dharavi slum and risk him getting aggressive to everyone around us. It feels like there’s too little a line between a safe situation and it deteriorating into a unsafe situation. Maybe it’s his approach to his fellow Indians that I feel uncomfortable with. It’s a shame because I think he’s got a good set of values outside of his alcoholic self, he views the world through socialist values of people rather than money. He is 44 though and still living on the street, he seems bitter in his exchanges with people, I even heard him say on the bus: “no one talks to me.”
He looks different, and people treat him with a mixture of comedy and fear. He plays up to it. He has long bedraggled hair and he had a long goatee before we met him. I think he plays up to the traditional Indian view of him. I feel like Indian society, at least the old and traditional values, pidgeonhole people so that they react a certain way as a first reaction. That then creates the exchange between them.
Terrence offers a real, shocking, sad, brilliant, amazing, exhilarating tour of Mumbai. He doesn’t have a phone so you have to find him or he has to find you. I’m glad we had one crazy night with him. We gave him money for a full day tour within the next week but we decided to not repeat the experience.