Mumbai Memories

This will be a short entry as I leave for Kerala tomorrow morning and the week here in Mumbai has plum tuckered me out.  I don't know if I will have internet in my next abode.  It could be a few days before I check back in, not to worry......

Today I went to Mani Bhavan, Ghandi's Bombay residence and tried to soak in a little of his goodness.  I bought a book of his wisdom, so expect to hear some of that in the weeks to come.  Afterwards I walked down to Chowpatty Beach, made friends with a dog who followed me for blocks despite that fact that I wouldn't pet him.  It was nice to have a friend to walk with.

Then I took a long ride home along the sea road and came back to Patel's to pack.  This evening another of Gary's friends, Harish drove 2 hours with a buddy just to have dinner with me.  It was delightful to sit and laugh with a couple of cute boys, one English speaking Hindu, Harish, and one shy Hindi speaking Muslim, Fareen.  The folks at the restaurant thoroughly disapproved.  I didn't care.  I was so clearly too old for any thing improper to be going on.

My feelings have fluctuated all day between a sort of shaky sadness and serenity.  Taking the train south this morning, I was the only person on the first class train, while the second class train was packed.  I didn't have the energy to bustle along in a cramped compartment, so from being one of the herd on Thursday, I became solitary, different on Sunday.

Watching the now familiar Mumbai landscape rattle by I realized that I was sad to be leaving.  Isn't that something?  I was experiencing heart ache for a place that has utterly undone me in one short week.  I'm gonna miss the vibrancy, the tenacity, the unexpected nature of every twist and turn of the road.

Before I go off to bed I'll leave you with a few short images that I couldn't capture on film, or that I haven't fit into a post, images that hope to convey a little more clearly what is truly wonderful about this place.  Imagine....

* A young girl sandwiched between her father who is driving a motorcycle and her mother who sits behind her on the motor cycle, traffic buzzing around them.  The girl is fast asleep.

* The smile on my old man cab driver who gave me a small tour of Bandra and the beach.  He noticed me taking pictures of people out the window and started vying for open road space~not so he could get to my house faster, but so that I would get better people shots.  I gave him a 40rs tip.

* Men getting a shave and a hair cut on the side of the road.  I love their need to look well kept when chaos and filth surrounds them.

* The zillions of women in their sunday-best saris, lean and elegant, short and portly, bright colors everywhere.  Sometimes they are crammed on train cars, or lolly-gagging down the street.  But they are always beautiful.

* The woman who gave up her seat on a bench at Santacruz Station.  She insisted I take it, with a smile that would melt anyones heart.  I insisted we share.

* The young boy who carefully read the sign on the outside of my train car which reads "Women Only", then with wider eyes he read out loud,  "First Class," when his friends urged him to hop on to the "illegal" car.

* The old blind beggar man, no glasses, no eyes.  Walking stick in one hand.  The other hand held out.  He walked slowly and steadily forward, forward, forward.

* The Muslim women in long black burkas.  They have a gait that is always serene and steady.  Perhaps its because they can't see where they are going.  I wonder if its because they can't be seen.

* The street markets.  I could never get up the nerve to pull out my camera and snap away.  It was so busy, so many people living their lives.  It felt invasive to just start capturing them at their most ordinary, at least when I would clearly be caught doing it.

* The many kindnesses like a group of men telling me I'd dropped my glasses or the gent who gave me such specific directions to Mani Bhavan.

* The sudden beauty of Rajiv and Payel when they decide to laugh.

* Looking into a neighboring auto-rickshaw and seeing someone calmly reading while they were jostled and rattled towards their destination.

* The cows.  The huge huge cows.  Just hanging out in parking spaces.  They could pop up at any time, anywhere.  It always surprised me and amused me.  Harish just told me that women bring them to the streets everyday because in Hindu practice it is good luck to feed a cow, so why not have plenty of cows around for feeding?

You can go see my Mumbai photo collection of actual pictures.  You'll notice a lot of Window View shots...it's one of my eccentricities---I love pictures taken out of windows.  They aren't the most elegant, but they feel lived in.

Till I get settled in Kerala, I send you all wishes for many many chances to feed a cow!

"And The Tree Was Happy."

Yesterday started with music.  Normally, drums and flutes outside my bedroom window at 8 in the morning would probably send me into a lather, but I'd been awake since six or seven and the advent of such a boisterous and joyful noise after the inner sturm und strang of the day before was most welcome.  It felt like a very good omen.  I'm sure the bride and groom whose wedding continues apace in the back courtyard hope so too.

I got up and dressed and waited patiently for Gary's friend, Ranjeet to call.  I'd received an email from him the night before saying that it would indeed be possible for me to go to an orphanage that works with the Bookwallah Organization and read to the kids.  I expected a call around 9 or 10.

While I waited, listening to the music, my friend Tina started a chat on facebook.  When I told her what was going on, she wanted to hear.  So, we switched to gmail video chat.  What a thrill, chatting from the other side of the planet.  However, she couldn't really hear for some reason.  So, I had to type anyway.  Eventually, I stopped even trying to talk.  So, she would talk.  I would listen.  I would type.  She would read.  It was like she was deaf and I was mute ~ a fun, lovely shift in perspective.

When the call finally came for me to rendez-vous with the Bookwhallah folks, it was Ranjeet's wife, Shilpa, who called.  She explained that she was already on her way to Sister Eliza's and could I meet her there in an hour.

"Sure," I said.

"Great.  I'll just sms you the directions, call from the auto when you are on your way, or if you need any help talking to the driver."

After waiting for 10 or 15 minutes for Shilpa's text which wasn't arriving, I started to wonder if I'd mis-understood.  Was I to get in the auto-rickshaw and then call her for directions?  I texted her trying not to sound too addled, though I felt like a silly, impatient goose.  The truth is, I find Indian dialects a bit difficult to understand and after a day spent thoroughly culture shocked, some residual feelings of insecurity still permeated my psyche; I was sure I was never going to understand this place, it's people, or even simple communication.

As soon as I sent my text, Shilpa's directions came through: Ask for the landmark-Sahar Cargo Complex.  Take the GTC Road.  GTC is cigarette factory.  Call me whenever you want. :)

Whew.  Ok.  Game on.  I started to dash out the door.  But something called me back in.  That morning I had put on my other new Punjabi shirt, but decided to wear my own skirt underneath, instead of the pants.  "Sahar Cargo Complex....hmmm....I don't know...I think maybe I want to be wearing pants."  I changed quickly and then re-dashed to the corner for a rickshaw.

I had been going south all week; now the rickshaw careened northward.  I discovered little warrens of shops and a huge stall filled with yaks for milking.  It was a hive of activity.  Soon we headed east to the highway, which is quite something in an auto rickshaw, let me tell you.

I think often of the English and their legendary stoic nature when I'm in an auto rickshaw hurtling down a road, millimeters from trucks, cars, motor-bikes, bicycles, cows, humans.  Once you choose to get into an auto-rickshaw all you can do is sit there and hope you make it to your destination.  There's no point getting into a panic, or asking the driver to slow down.  I try to not even hold on.  But rather, sitting calmly, with an open, neutral face lest the driver catch me wincing, I challenge myself to keep cool under impossibly strange and harrowing circumstances.  Rather British, don't you think?

After 15 minutes or so, we exited the highway and I thought it might be time to call Shilpa for the next set of instructions.  That's when I discovered that my phone had no reception.  I let a little panic slip in.  But then I thought, maybe it's just this little hill I'm next too, I'll get bars in a minute.  Sure enough, we turned a corner and, voila, bars.  Ok.  But then it looked like we were getting on another sort of highway, so I thought I better wait till we got off that major road to call Shilpa ~ no point trying to convey nuanced instructions to the driver while we were on the interstate, right?

You can all groan together now.

That's right.  The bars went away again.

They did not return.

Shortly after we ended up side-tracking the highway entrance where I should have called, we approached the end of a cul-de-sac.  We had reached Sahar Cargo Complex.  It was a large gated place with hundreds and hundred of people milling about out front.  Most of them men.  To the right of the front doors was a police station and the entrance to Sahar Village, yet another warren of stalls and tiny homes and people.  I leaned forward and tried to explain to my driver that I had no reception on my phone to call for further directions, did he know of an orphanage?  Sister Eliza?  He just looked at me.  A man came up to the rickshaw, he sensed that I was obviously in the wrong place, and indicated that he was ready to help.  I asked him, "I'm looking for an orphanage?  Do you know a Sister Eliza?"

In my mind, I was hoping this Sister Eliza was some famous nun, like Sister Theresa, though I actually pictured her more like some eccentric character that might be known around town for her funny-benevolent ways.  I mean, a Catholic nun has to stand out in these parts, right?

No Dice.

I sat in the Rickshaw for a moment deciding whether to just have the driver take me back to the west side, to a place I might get reception.  But then I thought, Shilpa said Sahar Cargo Complex, it can't be far.  I'll just get out and ask for directions, surely I can walk from here. I was really glad to be wearing pants.  It seemed far more likely that I'd get help wearing pants.

I went to the police station.  Outside was a large range rover filled with very important looking men.  I leaned in and asked them, "Do you know of an orphanage?  Sister Eliza?"

One of the officers waved me away and said, "Go ask in there."  He indicated a door on the ground floor.

I went inside and found a room partitioned in half.  A front half and a back half.  There was no elegance to the room.  It was a haphazard affair, furnished with old office bits and pieces from God knows when.  Straight ahead was a very large desk with a man behind it who was obviously in charge.  There was nothing on his desk.  He had no phone, no journal, no nothing.  He appeared to just sit behind the desk, being in charge.  Against the wall to my right, facing into the room, were two smaller desks with men working diligently in journals and the likes, keeping tabs.  To the left was another desk facing my direction with a man on a phone, also writing in a large journal as he spoke.  There was another non-uniformed gent sitting opposite, ostensibly waiting for information being passed from the other side of the line.

I approached the man with nothing to do. The Man in Charge.

"Excuse me.  I'm looking for an orphanage around here run by Sister Eliza?  Do you know it?"

"Orphanage?"

"Yes, for children.  An orphanage.  Sister Eliza runs it."

"No.  No orphanage in all of this area.  None."

Uh-oh.

"Well, do you have a phone I could use.  My phone doesn't work.  I need to call someone."

"You need to call?"

"Yes.  My phone is not working.  Could I use one of your phones?"

A long pause ensued.  Maybe he hoped I would just go away.  I waited patiently.

"Ok.  Use that one."  He gestured to the land-line his co-worker was on at the next desk.  "Sit.  Wait." Here he motioned for me to stay right there at his desk.

I did as I was told.  He then opened a drawer and pulled out a ringing cell phone.  He answered it.  He closed it. He put it back in the drawer.  I waited for the other phone.

The Man in Charge leaned back in his chair.  Put his hands behind his head, looked down his nose at me.  (Do they teach that posture in "Man in Charge" school? ) "You are working at this place? This orphanage", he asks.

"No."

"You are visiting your sister?"

"No, I am seeing the orphanage."

"Huh."  Then he turned to someone walking in and I was left alone.

Eventually, the other man, the Phone Man hung up, dispensed his information to the civilian who up and left and I went over and asked if I could make a call.  Phone Man scooted the phone over for me to dial.  I did.  It didn't work.  I was unsure exactly where to start dialing the number that came up on my call log.  I think there are different prefixes for land and mobile phones or something.  So, I asked Phone Man to help.  He took my phone and very precisely wrote the number from my call log in his book.  Then he carefully picked up his phone and dialed.  He listened.  He looked at me and nodded.  The call was going through; he handed me the phone.

Shilpa answered, "Morgan I have been trying to call you."

"My phone has no service.  I am at the police station at Sahar."

"The traffic Police or regular police?"

"Regular, I think."

"Let me talk to someone there."

I gave the phone to Phone Man.  He explained where I was, where we were.  He hung up.  "She will be here.  Ten minutes.  Not far."

"Thank You."

I went out to wait on the front steps.  I found a spot out of the flow of traffic and started to take a defensive pose, arms crossed over my heart.  I stopped myself.  I lowered my arms and grounded my feet instead.  I was completely safe.  Standing outside a police station in India.  Waiting for someone I don't know to take me to an orphanage so that I can read to kids.

People stared.  I just stood.  Letting the circumstances be as normal as any other.  Of course I should be standing there.  Of course.

As promised, ten minutes went by and up buzzed an auto-rickshaw.  Instead of one lady, two ladies stepped out, waving.  Shilpa and her co-Bookwallah volunteer, Sujaya.

Sujaya and Shilpa
They ran up to meet me, we exchanged hellos and stories of trying to call each other and realizing at the same time that my phone had gone out of service.  Shilpa went in to tell the police that they had collected me.  Then off we buzzed to the orphanage, which was not in walking distance to the station as I had imagined it to be.

While we rode, Shilpa and Sujaya told me that in India the Police station is actually the last place they would have chosen to go for help.  Strangers, shop keepers first.  This didn't surprise me.  I think if I had not been somewhat persistent about using a phone, the Man in Charge would probably have let me walk back out into the crazy streets without a second thought for my well being.  Ah well, it turned out fine and that's what matters.

Soon we arrived at a tiny hamlet of Sahar Village.  The streets became too narrow for the rickshaw to carry us further, so we disembarked and wove our way towards The Blessed Handmaidens of the Holy Trinity School and Orphanage.  Though the pathways were torn up for plumbing work, the little enclave was quite lovely and clean.  Tiny houses were kept spic and span, walkways swept; the fruit and veg stands were all inviting and well tended.  There was a real sense of care, a solid feeling that spoke of family and custody and civility.  Though the homes were no more than the size of a one car garage, they all had an aura of expanse, they issued invitations to peek in, to wonder what it would be like to nestle into them for an hour, a day, a year, a lifetime.

The moment we approached our ultimate destination I was thoroughly enchanted.  Imagine twisting and turning your way through narrow alley ways, after days of feeling lost and alone, a sort of darkness enveloping you, then finding yourself emerging into a wee courtyard, no "courtyard" is too big, just an open corner in a closely situated hive of homes, and seeing a place that radiated light and energy and hope.

The school was actually founded by a Sister Paulette in 1990 as a place for under-privileged kids to get an education.  They raise funds for tuition for a handful of students who could not afford to go to another school.  The cost per child for this school, if I understood correctly, is 250rs.  That's 5 bucks.  In addition to the school, Sister Paulette, along with Sister Eliza, house and care for roughly 15 orphans.  That's who I came to read to.

I have no idea how big the school and orphanage is, but I suspect it is not very big at all.  I was led over the threshold into a lovely room about 10 feet by 12 feet.  The floors were a bright white and red marble, gleaming.  Inside 5 girls were practicing a dance for Republic Day celebrations which are coming up on Wednesday.  I met Sister Eliza who I could tell is clearly a character though we only had brief interactions.  She took my hand to shake it, then deposited two brisk kisses, one to each cheek, a gesture I had not encountered, nor expected to encounter, in India.

Shilpa, Sujaya and I were deposited in the corner to watch the dance rehearsals.  This was the only room big enough for the practice to take place.  So we would have to wait for all the girls to get their turn.  Then the teachers would rehearse their song.  Then the orphans would get their book.

I couldn't have been happier to wait and watch the dancing.  Simply Beautiful.  If that had been all I'd seen yesterday I would have been thrilled.





But then the orphans arrived.


I'm just gonna say it.  The word "orphan" has certain connotations.  With it, I associate other words like "dour", "depressed", "sullen".  These kids are having none of that.  They are curious, affectionate, playful, bright, and full of love.

We played a bit of peek a boo with the camera while the teachers went over their song.






Then it was time to read.  Bookwallah was started by my friend Gary Mills, who writes plays and books for children, along with his friends Seena and Ranjit as a way to get kids interested in reading and learning, kids who, until Bookwallah came into their lives, might never have held a book of their own.  Waiting for me on the table were four stories for me to choose from.  I started with the one on top.  One of my favorite books of all time: The Giving Tree.

As I'm typing I am suddenly over come with tears.  The Giving Tree is so poignant all on its own.  A story about a tree and a boy who love each other.  Over the years the tree gives everything it can to the boy, who, once his youth of playing with and swinging in the branches of the tree is over, only comes to visit when he needs something: Money~the tree gives apples, A House~the tree gives its branches, A Boat~The tree gives it's trunk.  After each visit from the boy and gift given by the tree, the book reads, "And the Tree was happy."  Except when it gives up it's trunk and the boy goes off leaving the once glorious tree as a stump, then the book reads "And the tree was happy.  But not really."  At the end, the boy comes back, now an old old man.  The tree explains it has nothing left to give.  The boy-man explains that he is very old, all he needs is someplace to sit and rest.  The tree straightens up and says that old stumps are good for sitting.  The boy sits.  "And the tree was happy."

Poignant, right?  Now imagine reading such a love-story to a group of wide-eyed beauties who are all motherless and fatherless?

Now hear, if you will, one tall boy saying with you, each time the refrain appeared: And the Tree was Happy.

I cannot contain that much love, the too muchness of love that came with hearing that boy say repeatedly, "And the Tree was Happy."

I went on to read three more books.  The Gingerbread Boy, Tisket-a-Tasket which is an illustrated version of the song, and a book by Spike-Lee called, "Please, baby, please" where a mother tries to get her baby to do all sorts of things that babies aren't inclined to do: sleep, share, etc.  At the end, the tables get turned and as the mother turns out the light the baby says something like, "one kiss, mama, please, mama, please."

Forget. About. It.

There is only one reason why I wasn't a puddle on the floor.  Because all along these kids were cuddling and vying to see and read; all they wanted was to hear the story, to be talked to, shared with.  They were not concerned with their lost kisses, their absent mothers.  They were living in the shared moment of that story.  It was such a pure illustration of the power of story-telling, of art.

When I was finished reading I asked for a favor: a picture.  While we were getting into place for a photo, I heard one particularly small child scurrying behind me say, "Please, Baby, Please."



Bliss.

When they got up to leave each orphaned child came for a touch, hug, a hand shake.  They all said, "Thank you, Didi."  Sujaya explained that "Didi" means older sister.  If you ever want to make me melt, just call me "Didi."

The day goes on, my friends.  Shilpa and Sujaya took me out for Thalis, a lunch made up of many marvelous small dishes that are eaten by hand with various breads.  We went to Shilpa and Ranjeet's neighborhood, Powai.  As Shilpa explained, this area is quite planned.  It is also more western.  It is organized and neat and filled with high-rises and air-conditioned buildings, malls, super-markets.  It was very beautiful and so unexpected after my week of inner-city exposure.

We three ladies sat at lunch discussing bookwallah, family stuff, cultural differences.  I told them how I'd taken the train at rush hour.  They were amazed.  Neither of them had taken anything but a car or auto-rickshaw in years. We laughed.  They took me to a store and Shilpa, who got my tastes instantly, started pointing out fantastic clothes.  I gave into one great billowy pair of pants.  I'm wearing them now.  Indian clothes feel a little bit like pj's.  Not a bad way to dress, if you ask me.  It felt so natural, so real, suddenly, to be in Mubai.

One of the cultural differences we'd discussed was that Indians are not huggers.  I'd been told this by several people, read it in my guide.  I related how when Payel was finally setting off for the hospital I had been flummoxed by what to do.  My American instinct was to give her a hug, but I knew that wasn't appropriate.  Finally, as I stood in the kitchen hemming and hawing, I finally said, "Payel, I know it isn't Indian, but I would so like to give you a hug before you go."  She laughed and said, "No, oh, of course you can."  And I did.

Leaving Shilpa and Sujaya I insisted on more hugs.  They willingly obliged.  I could not have ended the day without hugs.  I also said, "Thank you" as many times as I could get away with, another decidedly un-Indian thing to do.  But I don't care.  I can't say it enough for it to express the amount of gratitude I feel for the day they gave me.

But wait, there's MORE.  After the day comes night.

Following an exhausting (and exhaust filled) rickshaw ride home, I decided to head right back out to Juhu Beach and a little theatre called Prithvi.  I had half an hour to make a six o'clock curtain.  I barely made it when what should have been a 15 minute commute encountered Saturday Night in Mumbai traffic.  Holy Moly.  Juhu Beach, which had been a calm, almost deserted beach on Tuesday, was now chock a block full of thousands of people.  THOUSANDS.  It was quite a sight to see hundreds of women in saris wading into the Arabian Sea, kids playing, families out for a Saturday evening stroll.  I'd show you, but I left my camera at home.

At Privthi, I was going to The Ramaleena.  As the man at the ticket counter said, very dismissively when I enquired if I could still get a ticket, "It's a hindi play."  The premise of this particular Hindi play is that a production of The Ramayana is supposed to start, but the main actor walks out for various reasons I didn't understand.  With an impatient audience, the director has no choice but to do the play with stand-ins.  It was basically Hindu mythology meets Shakespeare's mechanicals.  Sure I couldn't catch everything.  But the physical story telling was so brilliant, crisp, clean that I got a heck of a lot.  I even managed to get the running jokes about the stand-in who played the bad guy not being able to pronounce the big words.  I didn't need to know what the words were to begin with to know that he was really messing them up.  Another instance of the power of good story-telling.

When I emerged from the theater the city was teeming with people.  It was insane.  People EVERYWHERE.  I tried three times to get a rickshaw to take me to Santa Cruz Station.  No one would take my money.

I thought, here I am, I've made it through this day of police stations and harrowing rickshaw rides across town and now, NOW I am finally going to hit an impasse.  I had started to fall asleep in the theater from sheer exhaustion and now I was looking at either walking for an hour through hordes of people or calling Ranjiv at the hospital for help.  Finally, phone in my hand ready to dial, I made one last attempt at getting myself out of trouble and I asked a cab driver if he would take me to Santa Cruz station, thinking maybe a cab might be different from a rickshaw.  Sure enough he would, but at three times the fare I'd paid to come to Prithve.

"Sold", I said.

At that high price, I was determined to ask him to take me right to my door instead of dropping me off at the usual spot three blocks away by the farmers market.  I soon discovered, however, why so many people had refused my fare.  A thousand vehicles seemed to be going to Santa Cruz Station.  It took forever.  When we did make it to my neighborhood I got out even before the usual spot, just to be out of the car.

Lucky I did, otherwise I would have missed the fact that contrary to the rest of the cities I know of, in Mumbai farmers markets and street vendors are even more busy and packed at nine o'clock at night than they are at nine in the morning.  My neighborhood was as bustling as I've ever seen it.  Through the haze of mind-boggling fatigue I navigated the Christmas lights and candy sellers and mango carts, the men leading kids around on ponies, women shopping for saris, the cars, the rickshaws, the dogs, to my quiet little home away from home.

I washed.  I changed into actual pjs.  I crawled into bed.

And this tree was happy.

"A Genuine Indian Home"

I've had a rather large day, filled with adventure and stories.  It's left me with a meager energy supply.  So, for todays post, I've decided to honor a request to see pictures of my real-deal Mumbai digs. and leave the real writing till tomorrow.

Let's start with my bedroom.  Ranjiv explained when I checked in that the colorful spreads you see on the beds are to be slept on, not under.  There is a thin cotton blanket you can see on the foot of the bed on the right, it's under my dark scarf and white shawl, for sleeping under.
My favorite things might be the orange bolsters that move around for easy lounging.  Very practical.


 My Guardian.


Now the all important all-in-one bathroom.  Notable features include the shower head in the middle of the room.  The sprayer for cleaning oneself up after using the loo.  The giant bucket which I have used to soak my feet at the end of the day and also as a basin for shaving my legs.


I adore the kitchen especially.  So does Rajiv, I think he likes what it says about Indian practicality and color.  Or maybe that's what I like about it.


I know it's dorky, but I just love that the micro-wave settings are country specific.  Of course they would be.  So, ethnocentric to imagine otherwise.


And one fullllll course Indian Breakfast.  Ranjiv expected me to eat it all.  I think he was distracted by Payel being at the hospital so he just threw everything he could at me.
I ate as much as I could, put some in a little baggie for later and still had to apologize for not being able to finish it. 

I can't figure out how to turn this....oh well.
Finally, Payel and I in the living room, which I believe doubles as a bedroom for the family when there are guests.  I'm not sure. But, as you can see we are wearing our Punjabi suits.  When I look at this I see how beautiful Payel is and how exhausted I am.  That's not me fishing for compliments, just an observation on what it felt like to be me yesterday.


That's the tour.  Pay your nickel on the way out.  Be sure to tune in tomorrow when I fill you in on the harrowing adventure to the other sides of Mumbai.

Culture Shock~Part Two: Why It's Often Better to Just Sit and Wait.

Three Posts in 12 hours.  There's a whole lot of processing going on.

I couldn't go out today.  I tried.  I headed for the train, hoping to make my way to the Chor Bazaar, which some call the greatest flea market in the world....THE WORLD, think about it.  How could I miss that.  Fridays are the best day, too, because that's apparently when all the Muslim men open their stalls and I guess that makes for even better picking.

But after hemming and hawing and writing all morning, I made a late start of getting ready and by the time I walked outside, the heat and my own nervous energy had grown too great.  No big deal, I thought.  I never go out every day at home, why should I be worried about needing down time here.

Then the realization that I was in full blown Culture Shock started to set in.

I spent the day either in my room or talking with Payel who was meant to go into the hospital this morning for some tests.  When she arrived they told her that she had no bed, she would have to reschedule.

"That's India," she said.

Though she was a bit flippant, I could tell that she was quietly, but obviously, upset.  Usually helpful Rajiv could hardly answer a question.  Concern permeated the house.  There were many people working on her behalf to get her into a bed.  She thought her chances were good since, "well, my husband is a famous human rights advocate".  Through our language differences I think she was basically saying, "wait till the papers get ahold of this."

As the day went on and she waited for the hospital to call, I sifted through my disconcerting array of emotions.  Finally, come dinner time, we both found ourselves in the kitchen having spent our days waiting and wading through some of the harder and more frustrating realities of living in India.  I asked her if she had any news from the hospital.  She had none.  "But," she said, "everyone has something that they are dealing with.  Nobody's life goes smoothly."

I got up the nerve to ask her how she and Rajiv, who volunteer all their free time to help ease other people's suffering, deal with the beggars, do they ever give them anything.  She said, like everyone else I know who's been to Mumbai, "No.  You Can't."  Instead She and Rajiv give to a charity that helps with education for the poor and to another that helps the elderly in Mumbai.  She says it is the government refusing to control the population, like they do in China, that is the problem.  There are just too many people.

In the back courtyard, a group of women had started chanting under a homemade tent.  The songs were sort of familiar, haunting.  I thought they reminded me of the song the children sing at the end of Out of Africa.  While I listened to the women sing, my friend Gary and I started chatting on-line.  He didn't know the full extent of my Culture Shock, but he sensed that I might need something uplifting so he put into process the possibility that I might go tomorrow to an orphanage and read to kids.  Gary and some friends have a charity called Bookwallah.org that gives books to orphanages, one of which is nearby.

As Gary organized from the other side of the planet, I asked Payel another question, "What might all the chanting in the back yard be about."  She told me it was a pre-wedding celebration where all the women from the community come together to bless the impending union.

While she explained this, the phone rang.  It was the hospital calling to say Payel had a bed and that she must go right away.  It was almost 8 o'clock in the evening.

When I returned to my room it hit me why the chants coming from the back yard were so familiar...they were eerily similar to the chant sung in my dream last week, the dream about weddings.

I was overcome with relief.  I knew then that I was, that I am, exactly where I'm supposed to be.

It's not easy.  My heart and my soul are cracking and shifting and lashing a bit with all the new information that is flooding every one of my senses.  But whatever it is that I am meant to learn from India, I am learning it.

I just have no frame-work yet to make sense of it.


Culture Shock~Part One: When Trust Might Not Be Enough

I hesitate to send this post onto the inter-web for fear that it will cause concern.  So, before you read on, know that I trust the process that comes with learning about a new culture and these feelings were to be expected.

I think I have honest to goodness Culture Shock.  Apparently it is a real thing.  Like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

It's only a mild case.  I hope.  But I have many of the signs.  I don't want to go outside.  Every ache and pain makes me think I've caught some terrible travel disease.  I kind of want to go home.

I have this strange sort of shake in my left arm.  It's not visible.  It's an internal thing. Like a small tremor, the way a person shakes when they are scared.  Just now as I was lying in bed trying to relax I asked my body what was wrong, why was I feeling ever so vulnerable and frightened.  I've been far from home, alone, before.  I've had bad days in foreign lands before.  I've even thought about going home early when times got tough.  But this is different.  This angst is deeper.  It is more than wanting toilets with seats and sidewalks without people spitting and peeing on them as I walk by.  I've had days where I've yearned for the the very same things while I was in Paris, and nowhere feels closer to home away from home to me than Paris.  This gnawing dis-ease is less superficial, it is a soul ache.

I keep thinking of the little boy who came up to me yesterday as I was buying my dinner at a street side restaurant.  This kid was eating a plum from the shallow pit in the stump of his right arm.  His left arm was even shorter, less existent.  He was tapping against me and smiled every time I looked at him.  I ignored him.  The man cooking my dinner, pointed to the boy and smiled.  Was he expecting me to buy the child some dinner as well?  I don't know.  I soldiered on, waiting for my meal to be wrapped up.  Paying.  Leaving with my fried rice which cost $1.54.  There was enough of it that I had some for lunch today and will probably have more later.  I did not give into to the boy.

I tried to feel proud of my resolve.  All day I had been ignoring small dirt encrusted urchins who had been pawing me, smiles on their faces.  They asked me for my bottled water, my half drunk soda, they wanted my pen caps.  A friend suggested that if I felt overwhelmed by the beggars when I got here that I should buy some dried fruit to hand out.  I have thought about it.  But then how would I decide when to reach into my purse for the bag of fruit and when to be cautious.  Sometimes it appears that there is just one beggar, but suddenly there can be three, four, a whole family of beggars and I sense that an open purse in that situation could quickly become an empty purse....no matter how many hidden pockets I have.

The truth is I am not proud.  I am shocked by how "easily" I walked away from that little armless boy without buying him dinner.  I am mad at myself for taking my water bottle back out of the hands of a child no more than 5 earlier in the day.  Especially since I then couldn't drink from the bottle for fear of germs that had been left by her filthy hands.

When I was trying to decide what do when I came to India, where I would go, I looked into different volunteer organizations.  I wrote to a few several months ago that seemed to fit the bill of what I could afford and where I could use my skills.  I only heard back from one, but not until the day before I took off for Mumbai.  It was too late.  To volunteer I would have had to have a work visa, not a tourist visa, references, a police background check.  I could get none of these with only 24 weekend hours before my plane departed.

So, here I am laying about in India.  Seeing the sights.  My "pockets" are relatively full.  It seems like constant bad karma to walk away from so many people in need, but more than my future spiritual well-being, it just plain sucks in the here and now.  Poor planning on my part.  I should have tried harder to have some purpose here, something that I could do that would at least give me the feeling that I could make a difference.

I want to sweep up every small child I see wallowing in the dirt.  Except I also don't.  Their filthiness repulses me.  My own repulsion infuriates me.  These are human beings, small beautiful human beings and I cannot let myself love them because if I love them I might disintegrate right on into the dirt at their feet.  There are too many of them.

And that's just the children.  There are also all the grown-up people sleeping on stones, raising their families without walls, or potable drinking water surrounded by sewage and disease carrying mosquitoes while I have two beds in my air conditioned room, deet, medicine and filtered water.

I see now why India could make one mad.  It is incomprehensible, this kind of living, but the brain still wants to try and understand.  One can't help feeling like one of the zillions of Mumbai dogs chasing it's tail, focused on something it cannot catch, missing the rest of the picture while it runs in circles.



I have taken to chanting mantras to Ganesha as he is the guardian in the corner of my room.  Asking him to remove any obstacles to my well-being and safety.  It is a helpful way to begin the day.

Who knows, I may end up in an ashram after all, chanting for some kind of understanding, or for a way to free myself from the relentless chasing of my tale that could take hold if I don't find a way to relax into this place.

I know that I have been here less than a week, but if this kind of poverty and constant begging follows me to Kerala on Monday I might not be able to handle it.  I suspect that that is not going to be the case.  I mean it may follow me, but I trust that the way will unfold for me to break through this disquiet that is enveloping me just now, Ganesha willing.  But it feels important to own that, for the moment, I am uncertain.

Lumbering Together Towards Home

I was glad to make it home last night.  Don't be alarmed.  Nothing bad happened.  The day, however, carried a fragility I have not experienced before, a tenderness which opened the edges of my experience a little wider, like a camera slowly expanding it's lens and my view from a small point to a larger frame of reference.

I decided to return to the tourist hub and have a gander at the old majestic buildings from the days of the Raj, and to check out the Colaba Street Market.  It meant another long journey on the train.  As I set out, I stopped to say my "good-days" to Rajiv, this is when I noticed the first flutter of nervousness, like I could be leaving an old friend for the last time.  Such a delicate way to start the day.  Part of what made me uncomfortable was that I had chosen to wear a blouse without a camisole.  It was the first time I had not had layers and I felt perhaps that I was too exposed.  Which, if you saw me, I think would make you laugh; I'm sure I looked rather frumpy.  Regardless, I promptly went to the little market at the end of the street and bought a long scarf to drape about me.  I felt a little better.

At the station, I encountered many small children who started to reach into my bag for my water bottle, or my bright orange security whistle which hangs on my purse, anything that was exposed.  Only later did I realize that they had managed to take the caps of both my pens.  Waiting in line, I watched three young kids, one girl around 5 with two boys closer to 3.  She had a little plastic phone that made music and she was cradling the smaller boys head in her lap, holding the phone to his ear so he could listen to the tune it played.  She held him so lovingly, tenderly, like a small mother would hold a large baby.  She smiled softly, genuinely when he would smile.  Then she looked up and saw me; like a movie star when the camera turns on, her smile became radiant.  Both boys turned to see what she was looking at.  The boys started to come towards me, reaching into my bag.  The larger boy reached for the same thing the younger boy went for, there was an altercation.  The big boy hit the little boy on the nose, the girl smacked the big boy on the top of his head, the little boy began to cry.  The small mother picked up her large child, gave the big boy a stare that would melt ice, and walked away in a huff.  The large boy stayed to try and win something from me.  I bought my ticket and got on the train.

Getting on the train was a relative breeze. The stairs were less daunting than the day before.  I had left later, and many school kids were on their way home for the day, so I shared the car with several groups of both girls and boys.  Where my tender edges had been frayed earlier, they started to breath and expand.  One of the girls smiled at me with such genuine warmth and curiosity.  I smiled back.  I pulled out my camera and the boys really perked up, swarming to see it.  I started taking pictures and showing them to the kids.  The first girl who'd said "hello" with her eyes did not want her picture taken, but changed her mind when she saw the other photos.  Here she is, the tall one holding the very old school primer.

And one of the boys:
When the girls left the car, they all waved or said, "Good-bye."  There was such tenderness....tenderness meeting tenderness.

It wasn't just kids either.  One mother wanted me to take a picture of her children.


Another woman riding in the second-class car behind mine, saw my spying camera, and subtly, warmly posed.

 It was like drinking water on a hot day, these connections.

Downtown was more harrowing.  Even more than the day before, the streets were buzzing with noise and people and beggars.


I have tried taking so many pictures of the streets trying to capture, I think, the pure cacophony of sound and movement.
It's impossible.

But trust me when I tell you that not even New York can compare to the sound and chaos and color of Mumbai.  I imagine Tokyo, maybe, with all its technicolor neon might hold its own, but somehow I don't envisage Tokyo carrying with it such an assortment of crumbling mansions and troops of armed police and groups of people sleeping in the middle of busy thoroughfares.  It's amazing what kind of emotional noise and light all of those things add to the experience of a city.


I gave into one family of beggars.  A mother who managed to tie a bracelet of flowers on my wrist, saying, "no money, no money" then wanted powdered milk for her baby.  I bought her a can of formula.  I wish I could carry around cans of formula.  This makes sense to me.

I decided to invest in a couple of traditional Punjabi suits, you know the long flowy shirts that can be worn with leggings or billowy pants.  I chose billowy.  I am not feeling brave enough for a sari yet....but I'm sure the time will come.  In one shop, I was helped by the oldest man in the store.  He was 85 if he was a day.  He pulled out top after top after top, a measuring tape for me to make sure I had the right size.  He spoke little English, but understood enough to say, when I said I had to think for a minute, "Thinking?  Don't think.  Thinking not good for you."  We haggled over prices.  He let me feel I'd gotten the better of him.  Connection.

Back out on the streets there was too much connection.  I was hounded by vendors and beggars and even one grumpy British expat who was annoyed by my "pre-occupation".  I was trying to get away from a particularly persistent vendor, but doing a poor job of it, my politeness getting the better of me.  I realize now, I need to follow that old Brit's lead next time and just barrel down the sidewalk with little consideration for anyone else's feelings.

Shortly after the encounter with the Grump, I crossed the street to seek refuge in a tiny Methodist Church.
Looking out at the noisy world

Looking into quiet and peace.
With it's open air windows, fans, wicker pews, it was not hard to imagine English missionary ladies in white linen dresses congregating on a Sunday morning.  I sank thankfully into a chair and closed my eyes and just breathed for a few minutes.  I was reminded of a similar refuge in a different city, St. Ethelburga's Centre for Reconciliation and Peace.   That was a magical Bedouin tent in the middle of the financial district in London.

As I sat now in Mumbai, aware that at some point I would have to go back out into the noise and traffic and mass of humanity, I began to understand the role a Christian God might play in a place like India.  It was suddenly very clear why a person who lived in the chaos of such heat, both environmental and emotional, navigating the harsh societal chasms between the wealthy and the untouchables, vying for space amidst the pure press of so many souls crowded into one place at the same time would be drawn into the quiet calm of a properly ordered Christian sanctuary.  If Jesus' Father could make the noise stop for twenty minutes or an hour a day in the little house on the corner, what kind of eternal peace might he be able to grant at the end of one's days?

Eventually I tore myself from the Church, but sought a different kind of refuge a few blocks away in a Western Style cafe.  Even after a delightfully bland lunch, I was unsure I could carry on in the city.  I was truly shaky at this point.  Feeling almost threatened by everyone I encountered, the cars, the noise, I ordered a cup of tea just to stay in the cafe a little longer.

Here's where I learned about a good strong cup of tea.  Geez Louise, did that tea both perk me up and fortify me.  After just a wee cup, with three sugars, no cream, I was ready to try and find the last landmark that called to me in the major downtown area: The Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue.  The guidebook told me it was "an impossibly blue", old building "lovingly maintained by the city's dwindling Jewish Community."  I knew from the map, that it had to be somewhere close by in the warren of streets shooting off from the large round-about just outside my cafe doors.

I set off in the late afternoon sun, dodging traffic, stares, peeing men, in search of my synagogue.  Yes, I had a map, but as street signs are impossible to find, I was going on instinct.  This being the case, and as I was feeling so tender, edgy, and therefore vulnerable to God knows what, and let me tell you my brain started creeping in all sorts of bad ideas about what that "what" might be, I felt certain I wouldn't find the building.

You see, I have a theory that I developed while traveling in Europe.  I began to understand that I would either love or hate a place depending on how easily I could navigate it.  Rome...I got lost for hours, even though my map and the street signs were very easy to follow.  I did not care for Rome. Paris, on the other hand, I always seem to know which way to go.  Paris and I have an understanding.

I went in the direction I thought sure the map wanted me to, but suddenly knew it was the wrong way.  I turned around and, almost like a hound dog, I circled large museums, stopped in a little art bazaar, hesitated when my fear and the fading light began to alarm me, and then just as I was about to give up, something told me to walk a few steps forward, look to the left, and voila: peeking out from a tiny corner of an alley was an "impossibly blue" edge of a building.  I made my way over, got through security and went upstairs to yet another of God's sanctuaries.

Did I ever tell you that I've wanted to be Jewish since I was a little little girl.  It's true.  It's not just that I think Jewish men are kind of the dreamiest, the culture, it's people, just calls to me, speaks of a kind of home.  Like this beautiful little sacred hall.  I wondered as soon as I set foot in it if I hadn't been there before, if I hadn't known it like an old friend you'd forgotten but remember suddenly when you meet again years later at a reunion.  It was not gut punching, shake me to my core familiar, but it was known to me, warm.


When I left, I found my way easily to Churchgate Station and the train home.  Based on my personal Theory of Navigation, Mumbai and I must be better friends than I had first supposed us to be.

At evening time I spoke at length with Rajiv and Payel.  Or should I say, I listened at length while they told me why they love running the B & B.  They have made friends all over the world, many of whom return again and again when they could easily stay in five star hotels.  Their guests love them and have featured them in magazine articles from around the planet.

Turns out, Rajiv and Payel also have second and third jobs as social workers in their "spare time." Rajiv is interviewed for tv every few days on some matter pertaining to social justice which they relate to running the B & B.  They explained that when the government gives them a license to have people stay in their home, it requires them to introduce travelers to a genuine Indian home and experience, right down to the bedding, the cooking, the all-in-one bathrooms.  But Rajiv and Payel take it further.  They often host medical tourists, some of whom have needed rushing to the hospital in the middle of the night.  They have saved one guest's life by making calls at three a.m. to friends in order to track down a rare blood type when the guest needed a blood transfusion to survive the night.

Rajiv said, "This, too, is part of the Indian culture.  It is what our forefathers expected of us.  Mumbai has become so commercialized.  Other hotels will kick you out at the first sign of sickness, of trouble.  That is not our way.  They have forgotten what it is to be truly Indian, to be part of humanity."

This reminded me of the train ride home.

If you ever make it to Mumbai and you have occasion to ride the train, you might want to follow some advice that I didn't follow: don't ride the train at rush hour.  If you do ride the train at rush hour and you are a woman who has bought a first class ticket, then you might want to at least wait for the first class car to appear.  Don't think, "oh, here is a second-class women's only car, it is not too crowded, I will just take this one, how different can it be from first-class".

Sardines, I think, have more room to move in a can filled with other sardines.

I was in awe of the amount of human beings that can cram themselves onto a single train car.  As the car filled and filled and filled and I debated wether I should get off and wait for a first-class train, I pressed myself up against a partition and let myself be held in place by the sheer weight of people a few of which exchanged themselves while departing with new passengers coming on.  Sweat poured down the backs of my legs.  I couldn't move one arm which was wedged firmly against my body.  I covered my face from time to time with the sleeve of my other arm when women would cough in my direction.  (There is a cough here in Mumbai that is prevalent, a deep and raspy cough.  What it speaks of, I do not know.  I do hope, whatever it is, that I got that particular vaccination.)

Despite the fact that it was so exhausting to be surrounded by that many people, there was something wonderful about it too.  There was one particular woman who stood sometimes next to me, sometimes a person or two away from me, depending on how other folks pushed and pulled their way into "our" space; she kept checking in.  We would see each other and smile, as if to say at the same time, "can you believe we live like this.  Isn't this absurd?"  She was not comforting me, or apologizing.  I was with her.  I was part of the "we".  One of the mass.  I felt so deeply in the thick of it.  Wholly myself and wholly of the great wide world all at the same time.

It was amazing to see women who just stood in the car with their eyes closed, peacefully held up by their "sisters,"seemingly oblivious to the angst of some of the other women who pushed and argued and vied for a quarter of an inch here or there.  A couple of ladies managed to carry on long conversations on their mobiles.  This was a regular part of their days.  Life was simply being lived while we all held each other up with the weights of our bodies; the train lumbering us towards home.

Mumbai's Backstreet Boys

Ladies and Gents, I spent almost 7 hours out and about in Mumbai yesterday.  I even took public transportation.

I decided that I wanted to start with the most basic tourist traps: The Gateway of India and Elephanta Island.  To get to the Gateway I had to take a train.

Taking the train in Mumbai is a bit like taking the train in Manhattan at rush hour, only it's always rush hour, there are a zillion more people, and all the signs appear to be in Hindi.  The signs are actually also in English, but it is in very very small print which is not helpful when one is nervous.  Also, I should reiterate that I am living in a very working class part of Mumbai which means that as far as I can tell, I am the only white woman who is bound to take the train from Santacruz Station anytime this winter.  If I were to calculate the ratio of men to women of any color standing in line for train tickets I'd say there were approximately 20 men to each woman.

It is not so much that Mumbai men seem to dislike women, or me in particular, but there is a certain overt sexism that permeates the streets, add to that that I was a cog in the smooth running line at the ticket window in that I didn't know how much my ticket would be and so had to ask a question and wait for an answer and I felt a bit unwelcome.  Men were trying to jump in front of me in line and one even subtly tried to take my change at the ticket window.  Thankfully the man behind the counter smacked the would be thief on the hand and had me take my 4rs, which is about 9 cents.  It was one of many moments where I was (and, I'm sure, will be) torn about money in this country.  That man needed my nine cents, nine cents mattered to him.  At home, I might be inclined to leave that kind of change in the "Take a Penny" tray, or, most certainly, in the Charity of Choice box on the counter.  But here, it felt important to not let myself be taken for that 9 cents.  So, I took it back from the man.

After asking for directions to the right platform, I descended the steps to wait for a train.  It was in those few minutes of navigating the stairs that I felt for the first time how truly crowded this country is and how people here just move through the throngs seemingly without any care for the other humans around them.  I understood why people so often get trampled in India.  I was, I admit, very nervous walking down the steps.  I was aware of how much adrenaline I must have been using just to have gotten that far without having a panic attack.

On the up side to train travel in Mumbai, are the Women Only cars.  Here, at least, there is a sense of ease.  For an hour I stood in the door of the train, which was wide open to the world and watched the city flash by.  I saw families bathing in sewer water on the edge of the tracks, men naked and defecating, rats playing, children sorting through layers of trash that seemed to be limitless.  Warrens of homes built out of corrugated steel sheets and tarp and, well, all those things you've probably seen in Slumdog Millionaire.  I wanted to take pictures, but thought the native women on the train might think it rude.  Eventually, though, I pulled out my camera, when the city started to get a little more "pulled together" and snapped away through my moving window.



Before I go any further, I should tell you about Harish and Zeeshan.  Harish is a young friend of my dear college buddy, Gary.  The two met several years ago when Gary started coming over to India for work.  Harish friended me on facebook a while ago and we have exchanged brief "hellos".  We spoke for the first time yesterday morning and when I told him that I wanted to go to Elephanta he arranged for his friend Zeeshan to meet me at the Gateway to accompany me on my journey.

Thank goodness for my Indian mobile.  As you can see, even though this was a slow day, the Gateway is a bit of a mob scene.

The famous Taj Hotel is right behind the Gateway

Even the dogs hang out at the Gateway
Through various phone calls, I found Zeeshan.  Turns out Zeeshan is part of a very large Muslim family (his grandfather had four wives, his father has two) that run several of the ferry boats that go to Elephanta.  He met me, whisked me on board past the long lines and sat and chatted with me for the 1 hour ride.  He also introduced me to his cousin, Assam, who was the captain of the boat and would also be my escort.  I sensed it was important for me to be accompanied by two men, for appearances.  Though I think if Zeeshan had not been under strict orders from Harish to treat me with the utmost care and respect....well, lets just say that at one point Zeeshan placed his phone on the seat between us, turned on his "special mix of favorite (love) songs", and obviously hoped that I would be impressed.  I tried to explain to him as gently as I could that though Enrique Iglesias was a guilty pleasure, that the Backstreet Boys and Justin Bieber were never gonna quite do it for me.
Zeeshan and Assam
One of the things I learned about Zeeshan is that he finds the Hindu wall carvings of Elephanta Island to be a bore.  Which meant it was gonna be a quick trip to my first Hindu shrine.  The second reason we breezed through the elaborate carved Shiva temples was that Zeeshan and Assam were trailed by security all the way through the grounds.  There was a lot of yelling in Hindi.  I tried to pay for my ticket, thinking that the problem was my getting escorted through scott free by the ferry boat captain.  But Assam wouldn't hear of it and paid for my ticket himself.  Zeeshan explained that the guards thought I had hired them as my guides and so I was not following ticket protocol.  I told them that I was happy to inform the authorities that my nice Muslim friends obviously had no interest about or knowledge of the Hindu caves, so they were utterly useless as guides.  I said it nicely, of course.

When we returned to the boat I told Zeeshan I was exhausted and needed to return home; they stayed on the island and we went our separate ways.  On the boat, a man came up to me who had been in authority on the Island.  He asked me if "those boys" were my guide.  I said, "no, they were friends of a friend and they were escorting me as a courtesy."  He said, "Oh, friend of a friend is okay.  But you see, lately these boys are meeting young women at the gateway and offering to be their guide and then touching them.  I tell them it is bad for India.  These tourists will not come back."  I assured him nothing like that happened.  I also wondered if he meant Zeeshan and Assam in particular when he said, "these boys," or if he meant, "some boys."  I guess I'll never know.  I was glad, however, to have been under the protective watch of Harish.  Though, if Harish had not insisted I let him help, I would have happily gone on my own and not have thought of having a "guide".

For Harish's sake, I told him the trip had been wonderful and uneventful.  I did not want to embarrass him.  He said, "I am glad." When I told him how thankful I was for his help he said, "It is my duty."

This is another thing about India that I am getting wind of, "Duty".  The confusing thing is that I do not understand what my duty is.  Was it my duty to absolutely insist that I pay for the ticket that Zeeshan and Assam ended up paying for?  I tried to pay them back several times, to no avail.  "Duty" is such a strange concept.  "Respect", "gratitude", "going dutch", "tipping," are all things I get, but the Indian concept of "Duty" is murky.

I guess I'll add it to the list of things to investigate.

Needless to say, after I got the train home, tried haggling for a few tangerines at the farmers market at the foot of the station, I was spent.  I whiled away the evening watching tv and trying to stay awake long enough that I wouldn't be up at 2 a.m.  It didn't work.  I was up at 2.  Thankfully, I was also so deeply tired that after a half hour or so, I went right on back to sleep.

A couple of the monkeys that "guard" Elephanta Island


Lord Shiva's most sacred form.  This Linga is representative of his fierce masculine power.  And, yes, it represents what it looks like.  Zeeshan got quite a kick out of trying to explain to me what I already knew.

Jet Lag and Morning Thoughts

I woke up about an hour ago, 6 a.m. Mumbai time, 5:30 in the evening, yesterday in Seattle.  It's fair to say that my body doesn't yet know where it is, but I feel more rested.

My mind turned on quickly and thought over my post from last night and instantly threw this at me: Think from the Heart?  That's gonna be impossible, we are using our head here because once we start really using the heart, you are going to fall apart.

Don't you like it how my head gangs up on me?

But, my mind has a point.

I don't have a fear of wanting to go home, not really, only a fear that when I completely allow myself to feel, I will be overwhelmed by confusion and sadness and helplessness.

My mind threw me one little bone though.  It keeps telling me that the use of the words "desperation" and "despair" don't seem quite right.  The conditions I am witnessing would cause me despair were I to live like so many people here do.  But I do not actually know if I correctly perceive "desperation" from the folks who are actually living here on the streets.  It seems crazy to think that they would not be desperate to change their lot, but there is a different flavor, a different spice to their emotional quality that I cannot grasp yet; maybe I never will.

I am positioned, it seems to me, at the fulcrum of a see-saw and on one end is the task of trying to understand how people live in this culture that is so very very very foreign to me.  On the other end is the job of understanding how to be myself and to hold myself peacefully and joyfully no matter how far from home I am.  Somewhere between the two lies a perfect balance of experience.  For now, though, I think I cannot hold both steady at the same time.

In My Head

I ventured out into Mumbai today for all of, oh, about 3 hours.

This morning Rajiv walked me past the giant cow eating in the street, several blocks to the Nokia store where we decided the prices were too high for my cheap India mobile phone.  We found a simpler model Nokia down the block (the keys have Hindi on them).  He set me up with one of his sim cards because tourists can no longer buy sim cards for fear that they will use cell phones to detonate bombs.  He made me call him, so I was sure he could be reached at any moment and then he announced, "You are independent now, so you can go out."

I felt like a baby bird being thrown out of the nest.

I managed to fly.  I navigated the streets where sidewalks seem to be passe.  Absolutely everyone walks in the street, with cars and auto-rickshaws whizzing by.  I used my Rome street-crossing skills and waited till natives started walking and then I piggy-backed on their tail-wind.  I cannot even tell you right now which side of the street Indians drive on because I was so hyper vigilant about crossing with somebody that I didn't even bother to pay attention to which way the cars were coming from.

Cars and rickshaws are everywhere, people are everywhere, dogs are everywhere.  Mumbai is a city of people, motors and dogs.  Add to that an incredible array of buildings, many falling down and yet inhabited, trash, large farm animals living in what would be a parking space in Seattle, and I definitely don't feel like I'm in "kansas" anymore.  I passed a stream that ran under the street I was walking on and this stream was filled with garbage the likes of which I'd never seen.  Men lie in the middle of the sidewalk covered head to tow in blankets, seemingly sound asleep while throngs of other men and a few women walk towards work or home for lunch.  I wanted to take pictures, but I wasn't feeling brave enough yet.

My destination for the day was Juhu Beach which runs along the Arabian Sea. I chose Juhu because it is close to my B & B and because my guidebook said I should check it out.  When I found the sea it was a relief to step from the bustling road to the wide expanse of sand and light; yet, because it is unsafe to walk barefoot or to wade in the water, it felt a bit like being offered an icy beverage on a hot day when you've been told you are not allowed to drink.

I saw my first guru under a tattered tent, a long line of women in colorful saris waiting to pay their respects.  They eyed me with suspicion when I walked close-by.  It is a feeling I am going to have to get used to, being eyed with suspicion and confusion.

Kids, though, are very friendly and curious.  I encountered two groups of boys playing cricket who almost seemed to swarm in my direction when they saw me.  I was a little unsure of what was happening so I veered out of their path and pretended not to hear them when they said "Hello."  Later, when they caught me snapping photos of them, they posed playfully, but kept their distance, which was a great relief.

In retrospect, I think those boys just wanted to introduce themselves and to find out what a crazy American lady was doing walking by herself down Juhu Beach in Mumbai.  They did not have the sort of cunning energy or desperation of these three, who I met later near the big tourist hotels.  These three wanted backsheesh for their photo after they insisted I take it.  I informed them that I had no backsheesh, because the amount of beggars would have quadrupled in size if I had so much as winked in the direction of my purse.

It was shortly after this picture that I realized I needed a respite.  I'd had very little sleep over the last two days and the culture differences were starting to wear on my nerves.  So I ducked into the Ramada, a bastion of western hospitality, sit down toilets, air-conditioning and musak.  I had an Indian buffet lunch and two, yes two, bottles of Coca-cola each of which were presented to me like fine wines, I assume to prove to me that they were indeed Coke and that they were cold, as evidenced by the condensation.

I then got my first auto-rickshaw back to my neighborhood.  Rajiv explained to me that I would have to tell the driver to take me to Santacruz Railway Station because the driver would not be able to read the address or probably to find it, so I would get dropped off there and walk right up the road to my rooms which are on the same street.  Rajiv neglected to tell me that, really, the station was off a side-street, and the driver opted to leave me in the middle of a farmers market, so I had to trust my sense of direction to get myself back home.  I thought, "I know, if I see the cow, then I'll know I'm on the right track".  The cow had mysteriously disappeared but he had left a large pile of dung, so I stayed my course and found my door; then I slept.  For four hours.

When I pried myself awake I tried to grapple with Mumbai, with India, with what I've gotten myself into.  Though I've only seen a small part of it, India is everything I was told it would be: dirty, full of despair and destitution, relentless, smelly in the worst kind of ways, ways that speak of human waste and desperation.  It occurred to me that if someone made me go home tomorrow with a return ticket in a month or so, that I might not come back even though I know there is so much more to see.  I might just say, "I've seen enough.  Thanks very much.  I'll just stay home in my nice comfy life."

But something that Rajiv said to me this morning sits in my thoughts as I try to navigate my own feelings, which include hesitation, loneliness, indecision, home-sickness.  He was telling me how he used to be an engineer, but with his second child, and here I think he indicated an illness afflicting his son, Rajiv had abandoned his career to stay home and run the B &B.  He said, "In India we think from here (he tapped his heart), not so much from here (he tapped his head.)  Family is everything, and so, I have given up my career.  It is good.  It is important."

I have no idea why he volunteered this story.  But it seems to me that all day long I have been seeing Mumbai with my head and my mind is overwhelmed by so much that it thinks is bad, or slightly dangerous.  I think that in order to really understand this place I will have to learn how to think from my heart, not just to feel with my heart, but to THINK from it.  I will have to be gentle with myself, take baby steps.  Maybe tomorrow I will try to be out for 4 hours, or five.  And if that goes well.....I may be spending the whole day out and about, oh, sometime next week.  That's ok.  I've got time.  That's why I scheduled the trip for 3 1/2 months, so that I could acclimatize.

I didn't think, however, that it would actually take so long.