While out shopping for groceries with her mother a few months ago, Fabia Isabelle Postel noticed a group of tourists looking lost. The 27-year old’s mother asked her to go find out if she could help and Fabia ended up being the group’s ‘guide’ for the day. What followed was a tour of parts of the city usually unexplored and, at the end of the day, the group told Fabia they were crew of an international airline.
“With permission, they put my details on a private group they have of crew members who fly to Mumbai and may want to explore the city. Since then, I have ended up taking many of their colleagues around the city,” says Fabia.
Like the encounter with the airline crew, Fabia’s job as a tour guide, too, was accidental. Fabia grew up in the city till she was 15. “My parents separated then and I went to a boarding school in England. The place was in the countryside and had more sheep than people. I missed Mumbai and the rush here,” she says.
Meanwhile, back home, her mother put her room in their house in Mumbai Central on Airbnb. This meant a lot of interaction with tourists, especially women travellers, visiting the city. “I was pursuing a degree in media and cultural studies and came home during vacations. I would interact with the tourists staying at our house and realised usually women travellers are intimidated with regard to safety,” Fabia says.
She then realised the need for women tour guides. She says while the field remains largely male-dominated, many travellers, especially women, seek local women to accompany them. For over three years now, Fabia says she has begun filling this void. “Apart from historical information, many want a cultural understanding of the city, of how people live here, what their daily lives entail,” Fabia says. For instance, many ask her about the ubiquitous big blue drums, found outside homes to fill water. She says she plans trips based on the interest of tourists, size of group, etc.
As a hijab-wearing Muslim woman, Fabia says her job makes her feel independent and confident. “I did not want a job in an office as I felt that while people may not have a problem with me wearing a scarf, I may be the only person doing so in that space and it would make me stand out. On the streets of the city, I feel people don’t judge usually. I have taken tourists to Jain temples or synagogues without any issue of access,” she says.
Fabia, who usually gets tourist clients through word-of-mouth, says she doesn’t promote herself on social media. “I hope in future, I can explore the possibility where women travellers find tour guides as trustworthy companions to explore the city with. This includes having the option of women tour guides, women drivers,” she says.