Saturday, February 26, 2011

Arriving in Mumbai - Part 1

The beginning of my journey started in Mumbai.  I arrived very late at night, and after weeks of anticipation, I was pumped full of energy.  My friend Tushar was to meet me at the airport, otherwise I had no idea where I was to go.

Fortunately my friend was there to greet me when I exited the gate, and another one of his friend Omkar also arrived at the same time.  Tushar himself got to Mumbai only a few days before, but he was already all settled in his cousin's home, which was where Omkar and I were to stay as well.

Tushar and I go way back for more than ten years now, we met in the university dorms while he was in med school and I was in my freshman year as an engineering student.   Over the years, he often accused me of having a biased opinion of him:

"You only see a part of me Jackie."  He often says, and his Indian roots was mainly that hidden blind spot he was referring to.  So this trip ought to bridge that gap yeah?

We arrived at his cousin's home; it was a two bedroom apartment, and I was surprised to find his cousins an elderly couple as I had expected someone our age.  It was very late at night, and after appropriate formalities of greeting our hosts, we soon went to bed.

And only after a few hours I opened my eyes to warm yellow sunlight fusing into my room, and when I looked out the window, I saw a long red colored sari flying off the side of a wall.

"I am in India."  I mused.

I stepped over where the boys slept on the living room marbled floor and watched them snore under thin pink mosquitoes nets, and then I tip toed out into the balcony for a looksie.

You know how you've just arrived in a new country and you had imagined this place for a while, and then you see it for the first time and that is the impression that stays with you, well, this is mine:

Autorickshaws spewing black fumes, cows with flowers on their heads pulling a buggy, smoke from garbage piles burning next to the road, men dressed in white cloth walking barefoot to the Jain temple, boys playing cricket, a pink temple at the entrance of a slum next door, a wedding procession blocking the street, men in orange turbans, DDT spraying, women in saris, water puddles, cars honking, little boys in school uniforms...all in one visual frame.

"Doesn't this place make you feel alive?"  Tushar asked me from behind, he then took an exaggerated deep breath, held it in for good measure, and then belt out,

"Yup, the natural and unnatural scents of a whole lotta life."

"You mean all that life over there?"  I pointed to the direction of the slum next door, thus began the first of my series of judgmental outbursts in India.

But Tushar knows me well, he simply ordered me back inside to take a cold bath with a bucket of water, the standard showering method in India.

When I came out the boys were stuffing their sleeping bags away, and Tushar was in the middle of a passionate speech.

"... people here [India] live in harmony, they are not depressed like people in the west.  That is because people in the west are so isolated, no family around, they only think of themselves.  People here look out for each other.  Look at this family for example, my cousin has two sons, and their wives, and their toddler son, everyone living under one roof together...happily.  You should hear how they laugh in this apartment, all this would be unthinkable in the west."

I sat down on the floor to have a listen, my wet hair swooped up and wrapped in a towel.

"...There is a community here, and so people do not need things like they do in the west.  You see way less of the problems like drugs, alienated youths, and depression and such as you do in America."

It must be noted that Tushar is Canadian.

Despite my natural skepticism, at that moment, with the scented air coursing through my lungs, my mind did take on his sweeping generalizations rather favorably.

Breakfast was served on the floor in the kitchen, and immediately I saw tiny cockroaches scurrying across.  I pretended not to notice.

Cookies for breakfast, plus spiced chai with raw milk.

Like I mentioned in other posts, I had been an avid traveler for about a decade, but I had never been on a trip like this.  You have to understand, there was tremendous buildup for my recent embarkment.  I had quit my job for one, then there was the comparatively ambitious itinerary in India, plus the length of my journey...all adds up to bring on a considerable amount of dread in me once I began.  On top of that, there was the usual trepidation of traveling in India:  are the toilets going to be clean?  what happens if little kids steal my stuff?  Oh Slumdog Millionaire really brought up some visuals here.  I know I will get sick, what if I shit my pants in a long train ride with a toilet that is only a hole on the floor and I fall on my ass?

Such thoughts can drive a sane girl nuts.

A little boy of about two, grinning from side to side, and bottomless, came running into the kitchen.

"Good morning little one."  We all did a little cutsie talk.  He basked in the attention for a while, and then he turned around and took a piss.

His grandmother ushered him into the bathroom, and his mother wiped the floor, the marble floors covering the entire apartment now made sense.

"In the west, it is ridiculous how much diapers we throw out.  Here [India], mothers just know when their kid will take a dump."  Tushar remarked.

I too think it is freaking ridiculous the amount of diapers are used in the west, I am just not sure about anyone peeing so close to my chai.

But I was very ready to accept new norms, at least for the duration of my journey.



  1. Fantastic piece and amazing journey, can't wait to hear the rest of it!

  2. Thank you Stocker. I promise the stories gets better and better. :)

  3. I worked for some English/American people once, posh ageing hippies really, but they went to Goa most years and used to rely on it as the time to get their kids out of nappies (diapers0, because it was so warm they could go about bare-bottomed and it didn't matter if they peed or pooed on the floors!

  4. That scene- it sounds so colorful! I wish we could see it. Do you have any pictures you could post for us?