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My sweetheart and I landed in Mumbai at 7.30 am on Saturday, 3rd February 2024.

As we walked to immigration, an orange-red sun rose above the static planes.

The dust and pollution make the sky beautiful.

A veneer covering a health bomb waiting to detonate.

According to Swiss-based IQAir.com, the world’s largest free real-time air quality information platform, today, Mumbai ranks as the world’s fourth most polluted city.

The haze and mix of smells told me I was walking through an invisible lung-wrecking toxic soup, long before scientific evidence proved my observations were correct.

Yet I love this city. I love India and have ever since my toe pinkies first kissed the ground of this ancient land.

India was the first non-European country I visited in 1985 at 21.

At that time, travelling at such a tender age was rare.

There was no internet, no phoning home without it costing your entire travel budget.

Only blue airmail paper, an American Express post restante address and a map.

Shut eyes, point finger, get train, and arrive at a place in the middle of nowhere.

That was how I travelled in the Eighties.

I don’t visit countries to spend time with my kind.

I visit to meet the people and experience the place.

Although a tourist, I usually wander away from the tourist enclaves. I prefer instead to observe the locals’ daily life.

I do occasionally sightsee, but usually, I spend my time walking around unknown streets.

In the past, I would have taken public transport, thinking I was somehow experiencing ‘real’ India—the same with staying at £3 a night guesthouses.

Real India has never existed. One’s chosen experience and way of travel is simply an expression of personal economics.

That’s the same for any country in the world.

Privileged Western fantasists often mistake experiencing low-income living as somehow more ‘real’ than someone with the ability to stay at the Taj Mahal Palace hotel.

The Taj is one of Mumbai’s most expensive hotels. A night stay will cost you upwards of £300.

The difference is that Westerners can leave any time they choose.

Not so for the poor buggers trapped in the places the privileged deem ‘real’ India.

Mumbai excites and confuses me. A place where Mukesh Ambani, the world’s 12th-ranked billionaire, spent $1 billion on his personal skyscraper.

The delineation between rich and poor is never really that defined.

The city’s spatial dynamics mean that affluent neighbourhoods are only a spitting distance from neighbourhoods with extreme poverty.

The smell of piss and human excrement has left a powerful impression on me.

To fund my original trip, I had to sell all my possessions, including a treasured record collection of rare experimental vinyl put out by Recommended Records and purchased either by mail order or from a visit to their Wandsworth shop.

I suspect my first visit to India saved my life.

1985 was a year of heavy activism, arrests by the cops and the ensuing phone taps, surveillance and an unhealthy addiction to hashish and amphetamine (speed).

All of that stopped the moment I got on the plane.

I came back having put on weight as well as pausing my keen drug habit.

It would take another 28 years, a few months before my fiftieth birthday, to finally escape what the Buddhists call the realm of the hungry ghost.

As for my political activism, well, that went out the window.

My Damascus moment was walking over Howrah Bridge in Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) and meeting the dispossessed: the Dalits, India’s untouchables.

Many were deformed and disfigured, and it was at that moment I realised what a spoilt, entitled Western brat I was.

The image forever burned into my psyche is that of me metaphorically tossing the protest placards into the Hooghly River that the bridge traverses.

I gave thanks for the place of my birth and the comfort and safety it offered.

It isn’t perfect and never will be, but compared to the oppression and corruption I have witnessed around the world since, I’ll take Western secular values every time.

Since that moment on Howrah Bridge, I have not been involved in politics.

I have opinions about the state of the world.

But the change politics promises the people, yet never delivers, is not something I am interested in.

Change happens daily, how you and I are with our fellow humans.

For all the ideology touted, if it isn’t embodied in this moment, right now, then it is a pointless waste of energy.

When people ask me what the alternative is to the ballot box.

I reply, ‘Get a bigger imagination’ and then leave the starry-eyed idealists to ponder.