In searching out the truth be ready for the unexpected, for it is difficult to find and puzzling when you find it.
JUST returned from a long journey to Mumbai, India.
I've headed out to Asia at different times for nearly 40 years now and it's always a life-changer.
It's impossible to overlook the contrasts between here and there. North Vancouver's air, if chilly and damp in November, is breathable and doesn't cause a raw throat daily. If it's hazy, that's sea mist and cloud, not smog so thick it's fog by midday
Mumbai? Think outside the box; think smog of unprecedented magnitude, like a one-time gigantic confluence of all the various contaminants - a tropical super-soup of acrid, biospheric junk.
Breathe deep, babu-ji. Feel the enlightenment!
From a small ferry out to the Lord Shiva caves at Elephanta Island you look across the harbour and the skyline is bigger than you expect. Vast highrise towers loom above the murk.
It's not Manhattan with a population somewhere between 13 and 18 million people, Mumbai is way bigger. Neat to think that if you're a fan of overbuilt construction projects like the huge tower proposals at Seylynn and Lynn Valley Town Centre in the District of North Vancouver, you'd feel right at home here! Ditto the maxed-out Onni Group proposal for the Safeway site at 13th Street and Lonsdale Avenue in the city.
Ain't it great to know that with their combined populations of less than 200,000 the two North Vancouvers can play way up in the world big leagues like this? Maybe, as a human rights issue, it's time we sent the area's ridiculous double sets of mayors, councillors and extremely well-paid bureaucrats some Little Napolean T-shirts to warn local residents when they're coming to our neighbourhoods: "Stand back! I'm gonna do urban planning!" Or maybe a dance routine for them too, like that nutty Kangnam Psy guy from Korea: "Up Up Up! Reach Reach Reach! That's North Van Style!"
Mumbai style you arrive middle of the night in sultry weather. Lines of palm trees guide you past South Asia's unmistakable shopfronts and, here and there at nexus points, past weary souls sleeping on the pavement. Deeper into the city along quiet streets people walk in ones and twos toward early hour puja worship at the Ganesha Temple, Lord Shiva's elephant-headed son, another beloved god. It's a good feeling seeing people walking out in the stillness to pray.
For a town that frequently feels on the brink of ecocide, Mumbai still works. The people are great and adore their city. There's a rough and tumble order to things and plenty of big money here. Rolex shops stand beside budget clothing boutiques and coconut-wallahs chop you a cooling drink in the shade. Everywhere it's a hodgepodge of crowded alleys, traffic flyovers and markets. Yet a colonial-era 18 hole golf club sits oasis-like amid the sprawl of this second-largest city on earth, and there is always the proximity to the Arabian seafront. Car horns blare continually day and night. It's T.S. Eliot's "unreal city," and a visiting Canuck can only giggle at a headline in The Times of India announcing Get Out the Woollies! Temperatures Fall as Winter Looms; 19.9 C.
Meanwhile, confirming that wintery times have arrived on the North Shore, mobs of busy juncoes have descended from the snowy higher slopes and flit around compost heaps with blue jays, winter wrens and voracious squirrels. I'm back, for sure.
Oddly, I only learned that Prime Minister Harper would be visiting India from the gentleman heading a delegation of Apex Leaders who'd meet him in India's progressive south. Several days later in The Times on about page 16, I saw a photograph that the Canadian P.M. had indeed arrived in New Delhi. As he worked his way south, where India's booming high tech, auto and Bollywood industries are located, media coverage grew and he became front-page news. I remembered that farmers
in the Fraser Valley are buying Mahindra tractors these days, imported from Mother India.
At a reception I was introduced to Rahul Bose, a popular Indian actor in quality artistic films. Someone mentioned that Rahul is rugby-mad and for some years was captain of India's national team - an honour among tough men. He asked about rugby here and I said, yes, we've a couple of ferocious teams in North Van and a thriving film industry too. A businessman interjected that film is better these days, and the actor smiled. His nose has been broken five times.
Standing there on a terrace looking out to the sea, I thought about the rugby pitch back in Lower Capilano and how Larco looks like it's finally going to get the big residential development nearby it's wanted all these years. Isn't there even a newish, development-friendly "Gateway" community association encouraging it all on?
The event's guest of honour, Nobel Laureate in Literature Sir V.S. Naipaul, didn't stay long. It's always a privilege to meet such cantankerous figures though: individuals who've challenged the comfortable orthodoxies of their times and still managed to live as free men.
"Socrates must have been a bit like him," the business leader I'd met earlier said as Sir Vidya and Lady Naipaul departed. "But you're our Canadian," he added. "Tell me about your country."
I expected the usual inquiries about Quebec, oil pipelines, or Alberta's tar sands. But no, the gentleman I'd read about in Forbes magazine on my return flight - see India's 100 Richest - wanted to know about Canada and Latin America. We were at his club at the Taj Hotel, the Anglo-Saracen architectural jewel horrifically bombed by terrorists several years ago, and from where we stood its view of Bombay's famous India Gate was unparalleled. Latin America?
My druid radar clicked on then and I knew I was hearing something important in this ancient country that gave us the game of chess, and where a daily "Sacred Space" feature runs in its establishment newspaper.
"How are Canadian relations with South America? With Mexico? Are we prepared for our next wave of new immigrants, Latins?"
Then, a few days ago I saw this headline: Canada Wins Observer Status in Latin American Bloc; May Also Ease the Way to Improved Ties with Asia." Synchronicity?
What you hear on the road is remarkable. What you see is amazing too, but hopefully not prophetic. When the towers rise, is the murk far behind?