The D&O Diary’s Asia Pacific tour ended last week with a final stop in Mumbai for meetings and for an educational event PLUS was co-sponsoring with the local management liability insurance education group, Bima Gyaan. I enjoyed the chance to be back in Mumbai. It is a vibrant, dynamic, fascinating place, a place that is experienced more vividly and more viscerally than more ordinary destinations.
As I observed during my prior visit to the city a couple of years ago, Mumbai can be a place of extraordinary charm. The view along Marine Drive from Nariman Point is spectacular (first picture below), as is the view of Chowpatty Beach from Malabar Hill (second picture). The city also has a trove of colonial-era architectural gems, such as the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (formerly known as the Victoria Terminus), and the Gateway of India (pictured at the top of the post).
Along with the many interesting architectural sites, another of the city’s allures is its fantastic food. I had many great meals while in Mumbai, including a number of absolutely fabulous breakfasts involving a veritable symphony of tastes flavors and textures. One of my breakfast plates is pictured below.
For all of its many great charms, Mumbai can also be intense. Seketu Mehta, a Bombay-born and U.S.-based author, titled his book about his return to the city “Maximum City,” which pretty accurately sums up what it is like to experience Mumbai. At many points throughout my entire trip to the Asia Pacific region I had experiences that took me to the edge of my comfort zone. In Mumbai, I was immediately and entirely way outside my comfort zone every time I left my hotel. Nothing can prepare you for the endless variety of sights and sounds, the crowds, the occasional squalor, and the incredible contrast between wealth and poverty. Indeed, even just the view from the window from my tenth floor room at the Four Seasons Hotel was enough to make me uneasy.
Driving around Mumbai involves a constant stream of unexpected and sometimes jarring sights and sounds. The chaotic street scenes, the seeming lawlessness of the traffic, the crowds of pedestrians walking right in the roadway and weaving among the cars, can be overwhelming and even exhausting. I have set out below just a small sample of some of the things I observed while driving around the city.
One of the many intense experiences in Mumbai involved a trip to tour the Ali Haji Dargah, a shrine to the Muslim saint, Pir Haji Ali Shah Bukhari, who is reported to have died while traveling to Mecca on the Hajj. The saint’s tomb is built on a small island that is connected to the shore by a narrow causeway that floods at high tide; during my prior visit to Mumbai, the causeway had been underwater when I tried to visit, so this time I wanted to be sure to visit at low tide. I went with PLUS staff member Dan Jenney to visit the tomb. We didn’t know it at the time, but it turned out that the day we visited was the religious festival day of Eid al-Adah, and also during this year’s Hajj season. Because it was a religious festival day, the shrine, the causeway, and even the adjacent shoreline were absolutely mobbed with pilgrims and penitents visiting the site. Thousands and thousands of people shuffled in a packed mass along the causeway, which was even further crowded by the presence of countless street vendors and a disturbing number of ragged beggars. The press of humanity, the sheer mass of the crowd, and totally unfamiliar feeling of the place and of the ritual contributed to what was an awesome and daunting experience. The experience was in fact so overpowering that after we had made our way back to shore and made our way through the crowd to our hired car, all we wanted to do was to go back to the hotel.
The next morning, I visited the Crawford Market, a street market located in one of the city’s landmark colonial era buildings. (The correct current Marathi name for the market is Mahatma Jyotiba Phule Mandai, but I only heard the market referred to by its older name.) There are actually several markets spread across a number of different buildings – a vegetable market, a fish market, a meat market, a spices market, and so on. I had a very good guide named Vijay who helped me explore the market (first picture below), which was a good thing because conditions in several parts of the market were downright intimidating, particularly the fish and meat sections, where the floors were covered with rotting fish, animal waste and blood, and a fetid smell filled the air. Just the same, in the spices market, I was able to buy a wide variety of Indian spices that I would be unlikely to find back home.
As I was touring the city, a recurring odd and unexpected thing happened. Several different times while I was out touring around, a person or a group of people would approach me and ask if they could have their picture taken with me. The first time this happened, at Nariman Point on Marine Drive, I was a little bit taken aback, as I couldn’t imagine why anyone could possibly want a picture with me. The same thing happened a short time later in the park at the top of Malabar Hill. When a lovely elderly couple dressed in traditional garb asked for a picture with me, I thought it was kind of funny. The third time it happened, on the Haji Ali Dargah causeway, when I was approached by a large group of young men who wanted to take a picture with me, I decided that I would also get my own picture with them on my own camera. I have included the picture below. I will say that in each case, we were the only Europeans around; there certainly weren’t any others that looked like us on the Haji Ali causeway. We were later told by our local hosts that those from far outside the city may not frequently come in contact with Europeans. Whatever the reasons these different people wanted a picture with me, I found it very amusing although also a little bit odd.
The primary reason for my visit to Mumbai was to participate in the Bima Gyaan seminar, which attracted over 100 people from around India, Sri Lanka, and even the Middle East. The attendees were attentive and inquisitive. I enjoyed the chance to meet so many industry professionals, many of who reported that they regularly read the D&O Diary. There is a great deal of interest in professional education in India. The management liability insurance marketplace in India is growing rapidly and the many young people at the session are keenly interested in developing their technical skills and knowledge. I congratulate the Bima Gyaan committee for putting on such a great event.
The program’s speakers and organizers are pictured below. From left to right, we have: Dan Jenny of PLUS; me; Sakate Khaitan of the Khaitan Legal Association; Deepika Mathur of HFDC Ergo General Insurance; Aruno Rajaratnam of Huntington Partners LLP; Sankar Garigiparthy of Lloyds, India; Dr. N. Raveendram of XSentinal Claims and Advisory; Arun Agarwal of Lloyd’s India; and Suresh B. of XSentinel Claims and Advisory.
At the reception following the event, I met a host of local industry professionals. In this picture I am standing with, from left to right, Vinesh Meshram of Prudent Insurance Brokers; Indranil Roy of Prudent; Mayura Sawe of Raheja QBE General Insurance Company; and Eshan Batra of Prudent Insurance Brokers.
In this picture I am standing with Shweta Gadia and Menali Sheth of HFDC Ergo General Insurance, and in the second picture below I am standing with Deepike Mathur of HFDC Ergo.
The next morning after the event, I traveled to the offices of ICICI Lombard General Insurance Company, at the invitation of Anita Panditaa, to meet her team of management liability insurance underwriters and claims advisors. It was very enjoyable to meet the team and to answer their many questions about management liability insurance issues. (Anita is the second from the left in the picture, dressed in blue.)
Reflections on a Trip Through the Asia Pacific Region: Early in my trip to the Asia Pacific region, while I was in Australia, I took a hike along the Pacific shore, on a coastal walkway. Part of the walkway went through a large seaside cemetery. Most of the people who were buried there had died in the late 19th and early 20th century. It was a very peaceful place, but one thing in particular struck me. It was that, of the people buried there that had reached adulthood, almost all had died in their late 50s or early 60s. Seeing so many graves for so many people who had died at what we would now consider a relatively early age brought home to me how much life expectancy has changed in the last century.
This observation carried particular meaning for me because I turned 60 while I was traveling in Asia. I spent my birthday traveling from Singapore to Mumbai. At an age that in an earlier time likely would have been considered old, I considered myself fortunate to be off on an adventure. I know that I am fortunate to enjoy good health. I also consider myself fortunate to be able to visit new places and to collect new experiences. There is definitely something to be said for encountering new things, even when the experience requires you to step outside of your comfort zone.
I enjoyed my time abroad immensely. I enjoyed seeing new sights and trying new foods. I even enjoyed the feeling of finding myself lost in a foreign country or encountering unexpected aspects of an unfamiliar culture. I hope that I remain willing to push myself out to encounter these new experiences as well, as long as my health allows.
But while I definitely enjoy encountering new things, there was something inexpressibly wonderful about returning home, to my own house and family, to be able to speak my own language, to sleep in my own bed, to move around in a place where I am sure of the rules and the expectations. Unexpectedly, my extended encounter with new things and new experiences left me with a deeper appreciation for the comfortable and familiar. After a very long and fascinating journey, I am happy to be home.
I have also come home with an appreciation for the great benefits of safety and security that we enjoy here, by contrast to the conditions in many other countries. Things that we take for granted, such as the ready availability of safe drinking water, or a safe, secure place to raise a family, are not always available in other countries. The world is a big complicated place; there are many other places and kinds of places that fate might have decided that each of us might have lived. Of course, many other countries — such as, for example, Australia — enjoy the fruits of their own prosperity. Other countries — including Singapore, Hong Kong, and, yes, India — have opportunities and advantages that promise great things in the future. But for the many people, say, living on the street in Mumbai, life is a very different proposition. This reflection is definitely something to consider the next time you are feeling that you have somehow been short-changed in some way. For myself, I have returned home with a renewed appreciation for the advantages we enjoy and a renewed awareness of the challenges and burdens that many others face on a daily basis.