The emergency couch surfing board…. that great unknown. I had only used it once in the past when I desperately needed a host in Jerusalem, a notoriously expensive city. The emergency couch surfing board allows a host to pick you rather than you picking a host and this, as I found out in Jerusalem, carries a certain risk of your host being an utter nutcase. This didn’t change the fact that I was headed to Bombay, now officially known as Mumbai, one of the most expensive cities in India, and had been turned down by all of the hosts I had contacted in advance. Within twenty minutes of posting on the board I was contacted by Siddharth Rajput, who I quickly began to refer to simply as Sid, a brain surgeon living in a hospital. Ale’ was not so sure about him, he only had a few references, but she was also very keen to avoid paying for a room in such an expensive city.
Somewhat intrigued, and with no other option anyway, we rushed to meet him and allowed him to usher us into one of the most horrible buildings I have ever seen in my life. Peeling and faded paint adorned the walls and most of the floor space was taken up with sleeping patients and anxious relatives, blood stains covered the stairs and congealed vomit decorated the corners. The top floor of the hospital was little better and was where many of the doctors lived. Fifty medical professionals, some of the brightest minds in a city of over twenty million people, shared one squat toilet and a pipe in the wall which doubled as a poor excuse for a shower. Suddenly I understood the reasons behind the brain drain in India.
Having recently returned from a trip around Europe Sid was desperate, like most skilled professionals in India, to emigrate and work abroad. Sid only worked in the Government hospital once a week and spent most of his time working in a posh private hospital just down the road, this came with many benefits. For one thing, Sid definitely ‘knew the right people’. On our first night we quickly dumped our stuff and proceeded to ‘Flamboyant’ the most incredible restaurant I have ever seen. This put me in rather an embarrassing situation; I couldn’t afford a single thing on the menu. Just as I was about to explain this to Sid the owner of the restaurant came over and thanked us extravagantly for coming. Shaking our hands, waggling his head and grabbing the head waiter, he commanded “Get Mr. Rajput and his friends whatever they want, make sure they have a good time”. Sid is not only extremely intelligent; he is also seriously funny with a dry wit that would do well in England. The banter was fantastic and me and Sid matched each other beer for beer whilst Ale’ experimented with various wines. Sid is the only Indian I have met who can hold his drink, seriously; this guy really should be in England! We ploughed through numerous delicate starters, delicious mains including super posh pizza and the most delicious tiramisu in the world. Sid was fast becoming my best friend in all of Asia…
The next day we nursed our hangover with large amounts of comedy shows and prepared for the night to come, which unfortunately for us was New Years Eve. I’m not really prepared to go into detail as to what happened that night as I don’t really know, what I DO remember is that I ended up in the Hard Rock Cafe and that all the booze was free, Sid knew someone who knew someone. Somehow I missed the countdown as I was attempting not to be violently sick and holding my head in my hands on the pavement. Sid eventually got me in a taxi and took me back home where we all crashed out on the pair of hospital bunks he had nicked for his Spartan room.
The next day, feeling somewhat delicate and with a killer headache I headed to the airport to pick up Luce. Time and again she had mentioned that our reunion should be like the airport scene out of ‘Love Actually’. I however had no idea what she was talking about and so could only hope that this scene featured a tired, ridiculously hung-over dude reeking of beer. As I waited outside the airport I became gradually more and more nervous, here I was unshaved and unshowered wearing some kind of terrible Aladdin top I had picked up for fifty pence waiting for one of the most glamorous, beautiful people I know. I had not seen Lucy for over three months and was incredibly excited to see her but there was also a certain dread building up inside me. Suddenly through the window I glimpsed a small figure struggling under an enormous orange rucksack. Lucy apparently spotted me at the same time and I can only assume she panicked as she dived behind a pillar and stayed there for a full three minutes arranging her hair. Finally she emerged blinking into the sun and after a somewhat over the top embrace and many sentences varying slightly but all basically along the lines of “it so good to see you!” it was time for Lucy to get her first taste of India. We boarded our tuk tuk after a long and angry bit of haggling. Lucy was shocked at how I had gotten aggressive with the driver but this was an Indian city, even with ten minutes of haggling we were still being ripped off, and she would soon learn that manners had no place here. We bumped along a potholed road narrowly avoiding numerous cricket games, trucks and cows before finally making it to another CS host where we would be staying for the next four days. Lucy had never couchsurfed before and I was keen to show her a travel community which has given me so much over the last two years.
Mr Swappan Mukherjee is an intelligent, kindly fellow who has hosted hundreds of people in the last few years. I had contacted him because he was such an experienced member that he would be a great ‘introduction host’ for Lucy and also because he is a fan of Star Wars, okay mostly I had wanted to surf with him because he is a fan of Star Wars. Swapan has huge black eyebrows speckled with silver and a pair of equally large spectacles. Being a professional photographer some of his favorite works, many having been surreally photo shopped, adorned the walls and some of these looked more like oil paintings than photos. An extremely attentive host, Swapan instantly plied us with chai and amusing anecdotes whilst showing us to the living room where we could crash for the night. I had hoped that me and Lucy would be able to cuddle up but alas we ended up on separate sofas with little room to spare. For the first time ever Lucy actually fell asleep before me which kind of sucked as I just ended up lying there somewhat frustrated. The next morning Swapan awoke us with a lovely home cooked breakfast of eggs, toast and fresh orange juice. It was a bit like staying with a kindly grandparents and we were instantly pretty fond of him.