The thing about travelling overseas on business trips is that, unless you expressly take time out to properly immerse yourself in the place, you’ll tend to experience it at a distance. Through a glass, as it were. This was literally the case on my January trip to Mumbai in India, where much of what I saw was through the windows of various taxis en-route to meetings. But even one step removed, so much of what I experienced was endearing and fascinating.

I particularly enjoyed the painted entreaties on all goods vehicles’ bumpers requesting overtaking vehicles to (sound the) ‘Horn OK Please’, all of which were lovingly done up with flourishes and bright colours. Of course, in Mumbai, one hardly needs to be told to sound the horn: the horn is the communication instrument of choice on the roads. Most vehicles’ direction signals don’t work (or simply aren’t used). Plump grandmothers unhurriedly cross main roads with no pedestrian crossing in sight, willy nilly, in full confidence (justified) that vehicles will give way. Drivers who miss their turning execute ridiculous manoeuvres and drive against the direction of the traffic to get to the right place. There is the occasional buffalo-drawn cart that makes a too-wide circle while turning.

And yet, despite the chaos, and the constant chorus of horns, not once did I witness a single accident. Mumbai drivers are unbelievably skilled and surprisingly considerate of other road users. Four (small) cars abreast will happily share a three-lane road. If your taxi driver is lost, he will pull up beside a rank of taxis idling by the road and get directions from the waiting drivers, all of whom will take an interest in the problem. In the face of the constant interruptions (plump grandmothers et al), drivers are philosophical and simply give way to those who need it. It is truly a joy to observe.

We had one afternoon for sightseeing and by great good luck got into a hotel taxi driven by Dipen. He had attended university for a few years but had to drop out mid-way (he didn’t say why), and he had an impressive command of English, which he continued to hone by watching the Discovery channel at home. He explained to us a rather cryptic banner we saw outside the Mumbai Stock Exchange that seemed to be advertising a movie being made within the building. It seems that the banner was actually a sarcastic criticism of the Indian Finance Minister’s failure to prevent the dramatic falls in the stock market in the preceding fortnight. He impressed upon us that India was like a state composed of 42 different countries, all with their own culture and language. He brought us to the Dhoby Ghaut, or laundry area – which, unlike the Singapore equivalent, is still functioning. He explained the intricacies of the taxi company system and confessed his ambition to one day own his own taxi company. And despite being as good as a tour guide, driving us to all the main city sights, giving potted histories for us ignoramuses and even helping us to take photos, he did not demand a large fare at the end (hotel taxis are not metered) but humbly suggested that we pay him whatever extra we deemed appropriate.

In spite of the crumbling and discoloured buildings, the evident poverty, the pollution and the littered streets, the overwhelming impressions and memories I have of Mumbai are of the vivid busy-ness and life of the city and its inhabitants. Everyone we saw was dressed in such bright colours, walking, chatting, or laughing with others, staring curiously at our Chinese faces, congregating around the Gateway to India which was erected to welcome Queen Victoria in from the Bay of Bengal. People seemed to derive joy from simple pleasures like enjoying popsicles of dubious sanitary standard bought on the street, or even getting themselves weighed.

I don’t know if traveling in India really broadened my mind all that much (as travel is purported to do). I promptly forgot almost everything Dipen imparted to me, save the fact that Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport is named after an Indian historical figure. But if there can be such a thing, I feel like I have a broader idea of the range of human experience.