Ganapati Fever


It’s that time of the year again, where India pays homage to the Hindu elephant god – Ganesh or Ganapati, a festival that is especially celebrated in Maharashtra. One of the most favorite of all Hindu gods, because of his charm and playfulness, Ganesh is given special importance on Ganesh Chaturthi, a religious festival in Hinduism.

I know I have already elaborated, in past posts, about the festival and how it is celebrated in the city of Mumbai. While the intention of the festival is meant to be religious and fervent, it has turned out to be a glamor show, with most people making a Bollywood-like spectacle of the elephant god. Right now, as I am typing, there is music blaring from 1000 KW speakers that are house in multiple trucks around the city, blasting till kingdom come, with people drinking and dancing on the streets, all headed to the Arabian sea, where it is expected that 2 lakh (2,00,000) idols will be immersed. Poor sea….she is going to be choked with a gazillion idols, most of them made from plaster of Paris, all in the name of god!

That aside, on Sunday, I decided to go a local tour of some of the Ganesh statues that are renowned in the city. The entire city is dotted with “pandals” or man made shrines, that are temporarily erected for 11 days and house the Ganesh statues. Some of these pandals and statues are so elaborate and impressive, they are sponsored by some major businesses in the city, that get free advertising in return.

I thought I would share some of the pictures of them, so you may have a sense of what a big deal this festival is to Mumbaikers.

Interiors of one of the temporary shrines

Interiors of one of the temporary shrines

 

Inside the panadal

Inside the panadal

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This mouse (the vehicle of Lord Ganesh) is made of pure silver!!

This mouse (the vehicle of Lord Ganesh) is made of pure silver!!

Every year, the prestigious Indian newspaper, The Times of India, awards the most creative and beautiful Ganesh, in all of Mumbai. The above idol has been given this honor, on several occasions, which is why people generally go to great lengths to have elaborate and magnificent statues. This plaque was displayed near the statue:

20140907_101937Moving on, I saw some very innovative Ganesh statues. This one is half Shiva (the cream colored part) and half Krishna (the blue color part). It is certainly beautifully done, when you see it up close and in person:

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One statue was actually made of food, such as nuts and spices. Again, another ingenious idea, though my super-ego cant help but think of the amount of money and resources that are spent on all these statues:

List of all the ingredients the idol is made of

List of all the ingredients the idol is made of

 

This statue is completely made of food materials from the above list

This statue is completely made of food materials from the above list

 

Mind you, all these idols are made from Plaster of Paris, a material that is not eco-friendly and very hazardous to the environment. So, when I came across the idol below, it was a sight for sore eyes. This particular idol was made from clay, and easily dissolves into the sea:

20140907_105357Many of the statues also had social and environmental, as well as political messages, echoing through and through. The one below is clearly an environmental message and well portrayed, if I can say so myself. The irony and disappointment is that the idol was made of Plaster of Paris!!

20140907_110632This was another magnificent idol. The magenta pink was stunning:

20140907_111708The next one was a little weird for me. I don’t think I fully quite got the message. I see Ganesh destroying a rakshasa or demon, and I also see him surrounded by a band…..very strange, I say:

 

20140907_114457 Have a look at the musicians:

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I could have walked on for hours and hours, visiting the thousands of pandals in Mumbai. But after two hours of looking around, I decided to make my way home.

Tomorrow morning, when the city is just waking up to another day, the sea, having been engulfed by over two hundred thousand idols, will be scoffing up the remains, only to be haunted by the thought that this mayhem and religious fanfare (more commercial than anything) will be repeated next year.

 

 

From Out of the Cave


Today I feel inspired to share one of the many poems that has touched my life; a remembrance that everything is transitory and transient, and an ode to life itself!

I hope you enjoy it as much as I do. Thank you.

From Out the Cave

by Joyce Sutphen

When you have been
at war with yourself
for so many years that
you have forgotten why,
when you have been driving
for hours and only
gradually begin to realize
that you have lost the way,
when you have cut
hastily into the fabric,
when you have signed
papers in distraction,
when it has been centuries
since you watched the sun set
or the rain fall, and the clouds,
drifting overhead, pass as flat
as anything on a postcard;
when, in the midst of these
everyday nightmares, you
understand that you could
wake up,
you could turn
and go back
to the last thing you
remember doing
with your whole heart:
that passionate kiss,
the brilliant drop of love
rolling along the tongue of a green leaf,
then you wake,
you stumble from your cave,
blinking in the sun,
naming every shadow
as it slips.

“From Out the Cave” by Joyce Sutphen, from Straight Out of View. © Beacon Press, 1995

Reality check!


Because Mumbai is a city of disparity, and ridiculous amounts of disparity, I sometimes find myself living in a self-created bubble, one that seldom gets burst, except on rare occasions. Soon it will be three years since I have moved to Mumbai, and I can say in all fairness, that I am pretty well adjusted to this maximum city. Yes, I am not absolved of my bouts of complaining and angst around Mumbai, but I have certainly come a long, long, way in terms of the acculturation process.

In the time that I have lived here, I have been mostly successful in creating the life that I seek; in other words, creating my bubble. I live in a relatively modernized and comfortable apartment (which we renovated within a year of our arrival), I have established myself as a psychotherapist in Mumbai, I have a decent private practice, and my therapy office is in the same building that I live in!! And when you live in Mumbai, anyone will tell you that half your insanity is caused by the massive commute hours and traffic jams that only seem to be getting worse. So it only makes sense that, because I live in this bubble, I am sometimes blind to the realities of Mumbai. And then, as fate would have it, something hits me in the face, once in a while, and I wake up and smell the coffee.

A simple example may illustrate my point: I have my house help who lives in the “chawls” (a Hindi word that means ghettos). It’s a tough life, living in these chawls, where every house is no more than a 100 square feet, crammed with families, all trying to make it through the night in one piece. A few days ago, I was teaching my maid to use the vacuum cleaner, a device so common in Mumbai. When I pulled the vacuum cleaner out of the closet, she looked puzzled, and I irritatingly asked her, “Don’t you know what this is? Everybody uses a vacuum cleaner.” With a sorry look on her face she responded, “No madam, I live in the chawl. I may have seen one on TV, but I don’t know what it is.” For a minute I flinched,and did not know how to respond, feeling bad about my expectation that she should be aware of modern day gadgets and devices. It was a good reminder of how some people have to live and make do….never even having seen or known many a things in life.

This same maid was in awe when, after coming from my evening walk, I hurriedly asked her to turn the water geyser on so I could have a warm shower. She looked confused, but this time I was more understanding. I showed her what the geyser was, and then put my foot in mouth by asking her, “Don’t you have one in your house?” And then I wanted to kick myself for asking her that question. Her response was, “No we don’t have one. We have to shower with cold water, no matter what the weather is like. There is no option to have a warm shower.” My heart sank.

So there you have it! While it’s great to live in my cozy bubble, shielded from the disparity and (sometimes) inhumanity of life in Mumbai,I am also thankful for the gentle (and some blatant) reminders that the universe sends me, helping me realize and appreciate that life ain’t fair. And, having gratitude for what I have, will take me a long, long, way.

Rude Awakenings


Every morning I wake up, grateful for what I have in my life: a cozy bed to snuggle in, a roof over my head, a job that I love doing, a home that feels like my sanctuary, caring friends, family, and my cat! There is gratitude for all that I have and all that I continue to have. And I wish it were the same for some of the people that surround me.

It’s a tough life, for some folks in this city, especially for the children….I mean the street children. They beg all day, do not get any schooling or education, have to deal with the elements (all types – from human to environmental), and at the end of the day, are not guaranteed a warm meal and cozy home to return to. Yes, these are the street children of Mumbai, who will perhaps never know what a “normal” life is. This thought hits home, every time I see my own child, how he plays in the comfort of his mother’s lap, when he rolls around in his crib at night, and how he will never know what it is like to beg for your own supper.

It gets even tougher in the monsoons, when children are still begging, day in and day out, even in the harsh rains. Some of them do try to make an honest living by selling little trinkets, or books, or even fancy umbrellas. But how many of those can one buy to help these little souls out? Heartbreaking and pathetic.

This evening I was out in the neighborhood and I chanced upon this 4 year old boy, who’s home was clearly the sidewalks of Mumbai. I noticed him kicking something around, and on close inspection, saw that he was trying to play footsie with the branches of a tree (that had probably crashed to the ground because of the heavy rains). I took a picture of him, and as I was leaving, he flashed such a haunting smile, I was almost in tears:

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As I was walking along, I came across another sight that moved me. It was an old, decrepit man, sleeping on the sidewalk, a dog for his companion. Both were in deep slumber, oblivious to the noise and foot traffic during peak hours. What is this man’s story? How did he end up this way? Perhaps he is better of in this situation than in some home?

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It was a tough walk, going back home. These two sights reminded me of the importance of gratitude and appreciation. When it rains, I run into the comfort of my home, shut all the windows, and slip into a hot bath or make myself a warm cup of tea. What do the little boy and old man do when the heavens belt out a storm? What is their comfort? Who is their comfort?

Sometimes I think this city can kill my spirit, when I am faced with these glaring situations and existential challenges. I hope it does not harden me more than I have been, in the last 3 years. I suppose it is only natural that, on some level, you learn to develop a thick skin; you learn to look the other way and thank your stars that you did, because sometimes, it is a cruel city that I live in. And on the other hand, you pray that Mumbai does not kill your humanity and kindness, for what are we if we without them?

So tonight when you go to bed, you may want to give a hug to the person sleeping next to you and be grateful for all the you have.

Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry


The storms have brought with them a deluge of rain and muck, infiltrating every street, nook, and corner of the city. Heaven has flung her doors open and has poured her heart out, apparent from the continuous rains for the past two weeks. It’s marvelous, it’s wonderful, and it’s dirty.

I love the rains, and how it affects the city. Everything is so much greener and brighter; buildings look cleaner, and people seems more relaxed and at ease. There is a crisp smell in the air, as the beating rain cuts into the smog and aerial filth that envelopes the metropolis we call Mumbai. The sound of the rain, beating against the windows, reminds me of an earlier time; a time of frivolity and carelessness. It reminds me of a time of simple things, where life did not overwhelm you with all its miseries and complaints.

I watch from my window how people huddle around the “chai wala” or the tea stall, sipping their concoction of sugar, milk, tea, watching the rain unleash itself on the city. At the corner of the street, some of the street urchins are taking a shower in the rain, cleansing themselves of all the grime that has accumulated during their time, begging on the streets, in the humid summer. They have not a care in the world. Down the road, people are trying to shelter themselves from the rain, clutching their umbrellas as close to their bodies as possible. It’s a harmony of visuals.

This time around, the Mumbai rains have churned something inside of me. There is a certain restlessness, an existential angst, you may say, that is making me more comfortable with this city. I do not how to explain it. It’s as if the rains are like water to a plant, nurturing the plant in a very rich and significant way. With every drop that hits the ground, I am being asked to stay more grounded and dig my heels deeper into life in Mumbai. And I am graciously learning to do so…

On another note, I am struggling with all the filth that is ever so present, and more so accentuated by the rain. The mosquito population seems to have risen to a gazillion mosquitoes a square foot; and mosquito bites are just not fun!! The number of houseflies that invade every inch of the road, and eventually enter your home (when you keep the windows open to enjoy that nice, cool, wind) have quadrupled. Tree branches and other debris scatter the city, piled up for ages, before the municipality can get to them. Check out the few pictures I took:

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It’s tough to be walking down a street with all this debris, being attacked my mosquitoes and what not. But the good news is, unlike last year, these things do not bother me so much. I guess I am beginning to accept these annoyances as the shadow side of the rain. I suppose with every positive, there is also a negative, an unpleasant side. And we all have our shadows, and the more they are explored and embraced, the brighter we can shine and emerge.

It’s a Maid’s World


Ever since I had the baby, my life and world have been transformed in some very incredible ways! I have had to deal and work with multiple life changes, one of them being dealing with domestic help. Before the baby, I just had one maid who would come in and do the basic cleaning. After the baby, I had to employ another maid who would do the cooking, helping with the baby, and other household chores. And having the second maid, while it’s a major blessing, is also a pain in the you know where!

Now I have to manage the baby, the house, and the two maids! But that’s not the bad part. I have had a rude awakening to the politics and drama of hiring maids in 21st century Mumbai, where the demand for maids are so high and the supply is beginning to dwindle. Beginning to dwindle because a lot more of the older maids are aggressively educating their children, wanting them to not continue in the same line of profession. Dwindling also because, maids are now marrying into families where the husband (even if he is from a lower class), can still put food on the table and a roof over his family’s head. Thus, the generation of maids that I grew up with, who were loyal, faithful, hard working, and ethical, are now only a rarity. The maids of today, are mostly entitled, aloof, arrogant, and sometimes even outright obnoxious. For example, I had a maid, last year, who had the audacity to accuse me of talking on the phone, in my own house, when I called her out on her being on the phone multiple times in the day, because of which her work was suffering. My jaw dropped when she opened her mouth to say that I had no right to tell her off, when I am talking on the phone. I got rid of her, the very same day. Another maid I called, to inquire if she was interested in working for me, outright told me, “I don’t work for Indians, only for foreigner families.”

Finding the right maid, is like finding a diamond in the rough. It’s a process of trial and error, and it’s not an easy process. In the last one month, I have had to look for a maid, after firing the cocky one. It’s been a nightmare. When my grandmother asked me how the interviewing was going with the maids, i retorted with the response, “It does not look like I am interviewing them, they are interviewing me!” And I am not kidding; they want to know what holidays they will get off, what paid time off they have, when can they expect a bonus, what other perks will they get…..it’s amazing how the tables have turned, and how today’s Mumbai maids are calling the shots.

This is one of the sad and painful realities of life in Mumbai. While having two maids may sound glamorous and exciting, the average Mumbaiker is constantly faced with the agony of dealing and managing maids……and if you have more than one, the internal politics is another layer of complexity to deal with…..that story for another day!

It’s Raining, It’s Pouring!!!!


Hoorah, for the rains have finally made their appearance,and in full gusto, may I say. This morning, the city took a beating. And I mean a beating! Around 6 am, I could hear the down pour…at first I thought I was dreaming, because I usually hear the chirpy sparrows talking to each other, welcoming the dawn. But when I opened my eyes, I couldn’t believe my ears!! What I was praying for, had finally manifested itself.

I got out of bed, the baby in my arms, and like a woman who had lost all her senses, I ran from room to room, opening all the windows, as wide as possible. The whiffs of that musky scent that permeates the air, with the first showers, blew me away. I could not believe how excited I was to see and hear the rain; thunderstorms accompanied the showers, setting the stage for the monsoon seasons.

There was also a drop in the temperature, making it feel as if a natural air conditioner was on. It was really cool, and not humid and sultry, as it has been for the last one month.

If there is a god almighty, I thank him/her/it for some compassion and mercy that has been showered on this city. Mucho thank you, and welcome home, Mumbai rains!

Why, oh why, Is is not Raining in Mumbai?


I cannot begin to describe the despair and frustration I feel, daily, because it is so god damn hot in Mumbai, still! Yes, it’s been progressively hot since March, and there seems to be no hope in sight. The Indian Meteorological Department had predicted heavy rains, with its descent around mid-June. They were right about the date, but had no idea that the rains were going to be so scant in its arrival.

It has rained for a few days, in mid-June, and the heavenly skies have left us high and dry since the last two weeks. Mumbaikers look forward to June, when they pray and hope for relief from the scorching Indian summer, waiting for the rains to cool them down. We also depend on the rains as a major source of water, without which, the city can expect a 20% water cut on a daily basis. That’s really going to force me to re-think having my 4 showers in a day. But what can I do? It is sticky, humid, sweaty, and just plain yuck! And for how many hours in a day can you have the air conditioning on? It’s unnatural and can end up being very expensive.

For the first time in my life in Mumbai, I feel for this city. If we do not get any rains this year, it is going to create havoc. People are already edgy and irritated, having to deal with the temperatures that only keep rising. With the rains not in sight, crops and produce have gotten a lot more expensive. Staples, such as sugar and rice, are also predicted to increase in price, drastically. There is an edginess amongst the people of the city; a lot more snappiness and a little less kindness, is what I am observing, when I am out and about.

I am really scared that we may be faced with a drought situation, and so is the government, who is seriously considering cloud seeding, a very clever way of manipulating the rain. It has been done a few many times in the past, and has worked. For those who are not aware, cloud seeding is a process of artificially inseminating the clouds with a chemical that produces a kind of precipitation (either snow or rain). This might be our only resort.

Of course, when I discuss the rain situation (or lack of it, may I say), with my grandmother and elders of the family, it somehow ends up in a Biblical discussion; a lamentation of how evil and corrupt this city is turning out to be, how upset God is with us, and how this is his way of “punishing us” for our sins.

Whatever the cause, natural or supernatural, the skies need to show some benevolence on Mumbai and her people, and give us the lashing, menacing, rains that Mumbai is infamous for…..without our rains, I know that the next few months will only burn me alive.

Can I get a Package?


The Indian psyche never ceases to amaze me. And I am literally talking about the “psyche”, as my recent experiences are very relevant to my work and private practice. As with any regular sessions and appointments that a professional conducts in his/her practice, he or she usually bills the client on an hourly basis. And so it is with me. I like to keep things, especially when related to money, simple, clean, and transparent. And so I like to charge, by the hour, and I am always upfront about my hourly fees.

In the last few years of private practice in Mumbai, I have come across a variety of people, as you can imagine. Most of my clients are decent people, who pay in a timely manner, who are punctual and conscientious about time, and who are respectful of the administrative aspects of the therapeutic process. But once in a while, you get the odd one, here and there, who tend to make peculiar demands on how I should charge them.

I have had a few instances where a client has asked me for a “package price” for our hourly sessions. I don’t know about others, but I have never experienced this kind of question in any other part of the world I have lived. Yes, I am aware of the “sliding scale” concept and happily apply it to some of my clients who cannot afford therapy. But never have I come across a client who has asked for a package deal. Is it just me or the Indian mentality?

Clients who ask for “packages” want to have a number of particular sessions, at a particular price, so that they can lock in their therapy sessions at a particular rate. I think it’s rather bizarre and a little uncivilized. What shocks me the most, is that these demands are being made by well-to-do clients, who do have the money and luxury to pay for therapy. Perhaps, it is the Indian mentality that is always seeking more for less, and I have seen this attitude across all spheres of life in India and with most Indians.

Initially, I used to completely refrain from yielding to this “package deal” policy. But it is becoming more apparent to me that it is the done thing in Mumbai. I am slowly beginning to come around and make some adjustments in my desire and abilities to negotiate these packages. I guess, when in Rome, do as the Romans do?

But the most bizarre client experience was today. I had a couple come in for therapy, hailing from the upper crust of society. Our sessions are usually an hour long, but today it went over 30 minutes. When I told them the final amount, the wife insisted on not paying for the extra 30 minutes, claiming that they come often to me and I can ignore the extra amount. I was stunned, but played cool, and decided to let it slip, this time. In all fairness, in this week alone, I saw the husband twice and the wife once, and the both as a couple. So they did shell out a lot of dough, in this week alone. But still! The gall of just demanding and blatantly expecting that I should ignore the last 30 minutes of my hard work, really took me by surprise!

I realize that I will see a lot more of such clients in my practice, and can chose to get upset and frustrated by them. But instead, I am grateful that I only have a few of such clients, and that the rest of my clients are mindful of my work, my dedication to them, and it is because of them that I especially love what I do.

 

 

Pitter Patter, Pitter Patter


This morning saw the arrival of the first showers, the onset of the monsoon season which brings with it a riot of colors, sounds, and smells. It is also a time when schools re-open; and while it’s a warm feeling knowing that there will be children out and about, scuttling to school and back, to after school activities, to the play ground, and the like, it is also an irritating feeling knowing that there will be more commotion on the roads and more noise pollution, in the early hours of the morning.

May is a conflicting month for me, and has been for the last 2 years. While the temperatures are at their peak, the humidity leaving you drenched and drained by the end of the day, the quietude that I experience in my neighborhood, is a much needed break to the senses. In the mornings, it is deafeningly quiet till about 8 am, and I enjoy the morning chattering of the birds, as I wake up to a new morn. I know all of this is going to come to an end, come mid-June, and I will have to mentally and physically prepare myself for the inevitable.

I guess the only panacea for the onslaught of auditory pollution is to pray that the rain gods make their visit every early morning, so that I wake up not to the hustle and bustle of children going to school, but to the pitter patter of the Mumbai rains. Mumbai is notorious for its rains, and the thought of waking up to the splatter of rain, beating down on this maddening city, as I welcome the new day, leaves me with a warm and fuzzy feeling.

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