As the seatbelt light came on and people gradually returned to their seats for the final descent into Mumbai, I have to admit to feeling a little nervous. After the incredibly ordered calm of UAE, I knew Mumbai was going to be almost exactly the opposite, but no matter how many books or films you see, nothing can prepare you for the assault on your senses that is this astonishing city. When you land at Heathrow having approached from the East, you realise that London is actually a fairly small place even when you take into account the huge number of suburbs; it doesn’t take long to fly over. As the plane came down through the clouds the sheer size of the place became apparent, it goes on and on into the distance, a huge sprawling mass of people and buildings. Everybody around me is leaning over to try to get a first glimpse out of the window of our home for the next 2 days. Most people in the orchestra have never been to India before and there are certainly no members left from the last time the LSO came here in 1964. As we approach the airport, one of the infamous slums appears below us. There is an audible gasp at the size and intensity of the settlement; we’ve all seen the film, but somehow, great film though it is, it doesn’t prepare you for the reality, and that is just from the air. We are so low I can see kids on a tin roof waving up at the plane, smiling. I find myself smiling and waving back though they couldn’t possibly see me. I think to myself that this is going to be a trip like no other.
The first morning, a group of us are playing in a wind quintet at venues in the city for two of our sponsors on this tour. First stop is the Vodafone HQ where we are playing in the cafe for all of the staff. But, oh the traffic! The noise of the horns never stops like the bleating of sheep in a field. Nobody seems to get annoyed though and despite the way it may look, it doesn’t seem that chaotic, just organised in a very idiosyncratic way. Despite not knowing which direction a vehicle is going to come at me from, I feel less in danger of being run over than in the city of London. However, for some reason we have been given a full size coach (not a couch) despite the fact that there are only 5 of us. We are extremely on time for the recital and enter a cafe which is full to the brim of young, cool looking staff and their MD Martin, who turns out to be Dutch – Joost was happy! Before we know it we are on stage being introduced. The guy with the mic is very excited and gave us the best introduction I have ever heard.