My mentor and “international mother”, a maternal figure I adopted during my early years in San Francisco (actually, we both adopted each other in a blink of an eye), says that Mumbai must be a city of miracles. Why? Because she is shocked to hear that I have decided to “slow down” and “take it easy”……something she has been asking me to do in the past few years. This is the only city, in all my life, that is making me slow down and really take one day at a time. This is no exaggeration. You see, I am one of those personalities that wants to get things done immediately, that wants to go places, see things, etc……and it has to happen at a pace that is fast and furious; it has to happen at my pace. Some people may call it ambitiousness, others talk about me being impatient and not slowing down. Whatever one calls it, I am certainly not one to sit back and simply watch life go by. Oh, no! Not me.
However, this city has the power to change things around. And amongst the many things that I have had to change and adjust to in my life, slowing down my pace is one of them. I have learned, even in the piddly 1.5 months of being here, that being in the present moment is all that we have. I have also observed, day in and day out, that the Indian people are always living in the present moment; like existential gurus who have mastered the art of being in the here and now, the Indian way has a sure-fire way of making you live one day at a time, a concept I am only beginning to re-discover.
Two examples come to mind. A few weeks ago, a family member mentioned that she was having her 4th wedding anniversary party and was planing for it and looking around for decorations and caterers. I was a little surprised that she did not invite me for the shindig. After all, it was only 2 weeks before the party, and what if I had other plans? I would need enough notice to re-schedule everything and make arrangements to attend the function. I was bummed, but then I was happy when she called me on Tuesday night and invited me for the party on the following Saturday. I was really in awe with the fact that, a) she only gave me 4 days notice and b) she was certain that I would be there for the party with this measly 4 day notice. And I was there.
Second example: I was on the phone with my great aunt this evening (Tuesday) and she asked me to let her know when me and my husband were free for dinner in the next couple of weeks. I immediately told her that Sunday evening would work for us. Her response was (to my amazement), “Sunday is too far away and I can’t commit to Sunday right now. Call me on Friday night and we can see what Sunday looks like.” I was taken a little aback, thinking to myself, ‘On which planet is Tuesday sooooo far off from Sunday that the lady can’t figure out if she is available to do dinner with me or not.’ For the love of god, even my maid reminds me that we can only figure out things for today because, after all, and she is right, “kal kisne dekha” (who has seen tomorrow)?
This kind of philosophy, and planing, and attitude is starkly different from the one I was used to in San Francisco. My experience has been that my friends and I would plan in advance because we all had such busy lives and seldom would we just do things on a whim. I am not suggesting that such spontaneity was completely absent. I did have my fair share of it in SF, but am finding there is a lot more of it in Mumbai, and possibly in the rest of India.
I am also finding that in order to be an integral part of this culture, I have to start embracing this “one day at a time” mentality. I have to be in the present moment and not get sucked into this rat race that most people are a part of. In a remarkable poem that aptly describes my state of mind, Joyce Sutphen says:
From Out the Cave
When you have been
“From Out the Cave” by Joyce Sutphen, from Straight Out of View. © Beacon Press, 1995
I am hoping that I continue coming out of my cave and truly immerse myself in Mother India and the many lessons of patience, fortitude, acceptance, and hope she has yet to teach me.