How a city of 21 million people shuts down

I longed for the experience of watching a Bollywood movie in one of the old cinemas in downtown Mumbai. But when I walked towards a theatre on saturday afternoon, suddenly all the shutters went down. Shops, markets, bars and restaurants closed and people hurried to get home. Streets were deserted, everyone tried to get in front of a TV. The news spread rapidly: Bal Thackeray, founder of the right wing polical party Shiv Sena and an enormous important leader in the region, had died at the age of 86.

The highways and flyovers that lead out into the suburbs were blocked immediately, but everywhere else Mumbai turned into a ghost city. Taxis and autorickshaws went off the streets, so I had to walk to the hotel. When I finally reached it, I learned that not everybody closed because of mass mouring for Thackeray. Many people fearded the outbreak of violence after the death of the controversial figure, because members of Shiv Sena, called Shiv Sainiks, are not known for their peacefulness. My hotel owner told me that mobs went around on bicycles to enforce the shutdown. He even had to switch off the lights.

People tried to  stock up on essentials, but many failed. I saw only a few shops that kept on selling water and food underneath the shutter. Tourists walked around the streets looking for a someone to get them to the airport. But the first reports of stone throws at taxis and buses came in.

The next morning a curtain of silence lay above the city, just like a government curfew. None of the usual ceaselessly honking, no shouting, no racing along. A couple that landed at the airport in the morning faced an odyssey of buses, local trains and a lot of walking with their heavy luggage before they reached my hotel in the afternoon. Even the police of the city of 21 million people asked the people to stay indoors. Some started to become bored and irritated – because apart from two news channels all the TV programs were stopped.

But quite  soon Mumbai started adopting: I saw barbers with hawker’s trays that shaved men in house entrances, taxi drivers used their private cars (and charged at least the douple for it) and restraunts prepared take aways, given secretely through the crack of the doors. Tourists passed on messages like: “I heard the fancy restaurant in the Taj Mahal Palace is open – you can have a brunch for 21 Euros there.”

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