A little Sojourn to Colaba

Colaba! Colaba! Colaba! How I love Colaba, a touristy part of Mumbai that is a prized gem of South Mumbai. Every one who comes to Mumbai, young or old, Black, White or Brown, rich or poor, all of them take a gander through the bustling streets and alleys of Colaba. There are many reasons to visit this boisterous part of the city: shopping for nick-knacks and little treasures that are ubiquitous at Colaba Causeway, visiting the grand old Taj Mahal hotel (now even more famous for the terrorist shooting that occurred a few years ago), paying homage to the Gateway of India (a famous monument of Mumbai, used as a landing place for British governors since 1924), and hanging out at cafes, bars, and restaurants that line up the streets and lanes of Colaba.

As a young college gal, I would often frequent this part of the city, hunting for bargains and refining my skills and tactics of negotiations with the shop keepers that eagerly looked forward to indulging in this social game of give and take. In other words, I love bargaining and my experience shows that a lot of shop keepers get a kick out of it too!

A few weeks ago, I went to visit the art work of a friend of mine at the “Galerie Mirchandani + Steinruecke” in Colaba. While we were on our way, after we got out from the cab right behind the Taj Hotel, I was thrilled to be amongst the crowds, a sublime combination of tourists and locals. I happened to see a cobbler, the traditional Indian cobbler that one will always find in any part of this city. My husband needed to get his shoes polished and parts of his soles replaced, and we decided to give this cobbler a try. Of course, he quoted Rs. 20 for polishing the two shoes (which is approximately $0.40). I thought it was decent and did not make a fuss about it. When we inquired about the cost for replacing the soles of both the shoes, you should have seen the look on my face. I was alarmed! Alarmed because we were quoted Rs. 80 ($1.60) for the shoe repair. Now, this look of alarm is one of the tactics that is often used as part of the negotiation process. Rs. 80 is, in essence, peanuts to get shoes repaired where I am concerned. But, there were two reasons for me to get into the negotiation process with the cobbler:

1. The sheer thrill of bargaining, knowing that my skills are not rusty, and will probably get even better with time.

2. If I were visiting from the USA, like I used to, I would probably not bat an eye for Rs. 80. But now that I am a local, or at least trying to be one, it feels like it is in my blood to bargain at every given opportunity.

So what happened? We got the cobbler to reduce his rates from Rs. 80 to Rs. 50 ($1.00). Here are pictures of the cobbler at work:

He did a good job and we were satisfied with the shoes, and it is quite comfortable for my husband to walk in them!

Whilst I was waiting for the cobbler to do his job, I was taking in all the sights and sounds that I was surrounded by. There were vendors selling all kinds of things, right from peacock feathers, to cold drinks, to peanuts, and artificial jewellery. I was amused by the guys selling huge balloons that were as tall as me:

It was also interesting to see a cop in action, talking to a vendor selling juice/ water. Only god knows what they were chatting about:

Believe you me, everywhere I turned, there was something or someone who was exciting to watch and observe and the 20 minutes of hanging out with the cobbler was worth it. It was a thoughtful reminder of how much life and exuberance this city possesses. Right from its people to its rodents, at least this part of the city was a treat, even if it was for a short while. Here is a final picture: a decent size rat sniffing for its next meal. Even he/she has a stake in all of this!


The American Women’s Club

A non-profit organization in Mumbai, the American Women’s Club (AWC) is a prominent forum for expat women that aims to provide support and assistance to their members, as well as assist the  wider expat community (Non- American, but foreign passport holders) in Mumbai, through social, cultural and philanthropic activities. It was created in 1983 and has been going strong ever since then.

This morning I attended a “coffee morning” that is hosted on every other Wednesday at AWC, where I spoke to about 25 women on how to cope with cultural transition. I was invited, as a psychologist, to educate and equip members with some of the tools required to go through the acculturation process in a smooth and healthy manner. The women I spoke to come from many walks of life: most of them are spouses of husbands who work in huge multinational companies and are temporarily based in Mumbai, some of the women are involved in charitable organizations that they have either founded on their own or have collaborated with existing organizations, while other women are employed themselves by national and international companies in India.

This morning I arrived at the host’s house at about 10:30 am, which was in Bandra West, and I thought I was in heaven (I usually think I am in heaven when I go to my expat friends’/ colleagues’ homes because of the sheer size of their homes). The house was palatial, with Italian marble tiles all over (including the 4 bathrooms), and there were huge cup cakes and Oreo cookies and ginger-carrot bread that were served (and that I stayed away from) . It was certainly a spread that was familiar to the ones I have seen in the USA. While the spread was not a feast for my palate, it certainly was a feast for my eyes! It was also a pleasure to meet and talk to several expat women who came from all parts of the world such as the USA, Canada, Australia, England, etc.

Around 11:15 am, everyone gathered their coffee and eats and we all took our places for the talk to begin. I had prepared a few points to share with the audience, but threw it all out the window when I began to talk. I spoke from my heart and not from my head, and it ended up being a lively, interactive session, one that involved my audience who began sharing their experiences as well. But what was intriguing for me was listening to myself as I spoke about the process of “acculturation” and “assimilation”, where an individual adjusts into the dominant culture where customs and attitudes are acquired through contact and communication. As  I heard myself talk, I felt like I was dissociating and there was a part of me hovering above me, listening intently to what I was saying.

The dissociated Rochelle heard herself say things like:

1. You have to learn to stop complaining; if you can’t beat them, join them.

2. Have compassion on yourself and be kind to yourself.

3. Do not feel like you have to go through all this by yourself, and reach out to people who you feel can support you.

4. Know what triggers you about life in India so you know how to prepare for that particular situation.

5. It is all about your attitude and the way you look at things.

On some level, I know that I practice and believe in the above statements to a great extent. On another level, it was empowering to hear myself say these things to other women who were going through similar struggles, empowering them to roll with the punches and to enjoy the process as much as possible. The acculturation process, in any country, can be really hard and challenging, but at the same time can pose great opportunities to re-discover yourself, your strengths, and your weakness, as well as opportunities to realize that there can be different and creative approaches to cultural challenges, and life in general.

It was a great and heartwarming experience for me to talk to the women of AWC and it was lovely to hear that they enjoyed my talk and were able to take a few gems from them.

Teaching in Mumbai, a whole new concept

I have been waiting to write this post for sometime now only because I have been itching to share my experiences of how different and respectful my teaching experience in Mumbai has been, thus far.

In the last few months, I have been conducting an extensive training course on the fundamentals in counseling and psychology to psychiatry resident students at a prominent medical college in Mumbai. This was my first teaching stint in Mumbai, or in India, as a matter of fact. I was nervous and did not know what to expect in terms of how the students would respond and how I would handle a whole new teaching culture and environment.

I have been a student in India, and I have been a student in Indian schools in Dubai, and studying within the Indian system makes education dull and boring. I have also studied in the British and American school systems which have made me discover a new found love and respect for education, so much so, I would be happy and willing to do a second Doctoral degree! It’s no wonder then, that for the most part, students in Indian schools hate studying because it is a mundane, cumbersome process that relies very heavily on mugging up text books and leaves very little for the imagination. On another note, I have to also say that despite the over pressured educational system, where at least I felt I really never learned anything at school, Indians do well for themselves in any profession. But that’s a conversation for another day.

First day of class, I knew that I would be faced with 25 doctors who would look at me as if I were talking a completely different language. I was prepared to be greeted by stone-faced students because, as far as I remember, the learning process in India was and probably still is, anything but an interactive process; a process where students can engage a teacher in a meaningful dialogue or even challenge the teacher regarding certain ideas or concepts. In India, the teacher talks and the student listens. Just last week, I spoke to my 13 year old cousin who explicitly stated, “School is so boring. All we do is lug around big text books from school to home and back and we sit in class and the teacher will explain something on a basic level and we are expected to study the rest all by ourselves.” I guess not much has changed where the education system is concerned.

So there I was, playing the quintessential role of an “Indian teacher or professor” who was expected to talk “at” her students rather than “to” them. I just wouldn’t have it that way. In the last 10 years of living in the USA, I have acquired a new taste for academia that allowed me to express my views in class, as well as foster multidimensional ways of learning. I wanted to share that with this batch of students, and although they were quite resistant and uncomfortable with this pedagogy at first, they quickly learned to warm up to it. For instance, in the first few classes, I would ask the students questions or try to elicit their thoughts on the topic, and was showered with a deafening silence. I would even try to interject humor in saying that  “it’s OK to answer, I don’t bite”, but would inevitably end up answering my own questions. It was tough to be in a completely different position as a professor, sometimes leading me to doubt my teaching skills and knowledge.

But things eventually turned around, like they usually do with most things in life, and the students started warming up to my teaching style, engaging me in dialogue, asking questions more frequently, and sometimes even challenging what I was saying. They became more involved in the process, and with each class, we looked forward to each other and were excited to engage in academic scholarship.

While this (initial) attitude of the student’s bothered me, they made up for it by their respect and reverence to me and the teaching profession. I have to say, one of my biggest culture shocks in the USA was the expectation that I was to call my professor by their first name. It was really challenging for me to do that because it was alien to my Indian culture and background. I was horrified when I called my first professor “Anne”, although it was the academic norm. In India, we call our teachers “Mam” or “Sir” as a sign of respect. It also creates a professional boundary between the teacher and the student, which I believe, instills certain values in the students. Of course, the idea that in a lot of cases teachers will abuse and exploit this distinctive boundary, is yet another story for another blog post.

At my first class with these students, I heard the word “Mam” precede a question and I did not respond to it because I thought it was targeted to someone behind me. So I did a double take: I turned around (to look behind me) and immediately turned back and responded to the student realizing that the question was meant for me! It took me a few classes to get used to the idea of being referred to as “Mam” instead of Rochelle.

Another example of the level of reverence that I am referring to could be seen every time we had a little tea break. One of the students would prepare a little plate for me with a snack and get me a glass of chai or cold drink to my seat. That I chose to mingle with the students and poke around the snacks, is a different matter. On the last day of class, I could see the hospitable and respectful nature of the students shine through as they insisted that I “hand out completion certificates” to each one of them and one of the students gave a small speech thanking me for my time and knowledge. I was touched.

When I did my second teaching gig, as a guest lecturer for one class at Sophia College – an esteemed all girls college in Mumbai – I was once again referred to as Mam. This time, I was almost expecting it, but still not used to it. I observed a mix of students, some of whom were very interactive with me and curious about everything I said about Family Counseling; but most of the students just stared at me, probably thinking what a quack I was for wanting them to be more engaged in my lecture.

This experience has been so different with the one in the USA, where sometimes, it would be uncomfortable to teach to graduate students because they felt so free to express themselves, even to the point of being rude or disrespectful to the professor. I do not know if it was this particular college per se, but there were some days that I did not look forward to teaching. Political drama, on part of the students (because they were at so much liberty to express themselves), was some thing that was allowed to occur.

In any case, as someone who has taught in the USA and is now teaching in Mumbai, I can see a vast difference in the role and contribution of the professor. In a couple of weeks I will be doing a workshop on Pre-mprital counseling and I am hopeful that I will have a better idea of how to prepare and what to expect from within the academic culture.

On a another note, the noise pollution in Mumbai continues to kill me because there are many days where I can seldom hear my own thoughts. Where is my return ticket to San Francisco?

“It’s so cold today, isn’t it?”

I hear this statement every single day my maid walks into the house. She is beyond belief about how “cold” it is in Mumbai and how it never used to be so cold. And I often respond saying that it’s pleasant in Mumbai, and not cold at all. She looks at me dumbfounded, thinking that I am from another planet. I look at her astounded, thinking she probably feels cold because she has not an ounce of fat on her body, unlike me…Of course she would be cold. She is like a stick!

I really cannot say if it is cold or not in Mumbai as I have not lived through the winters of Mumbai in the last 10 years. To me, it is not winter because it does not feel like winter, at least the winter I was used to where you had to wear gloves, boots, and be constantly bundled up in a warm jacket with a chill factor that hit your bones.

I must say that I am able to sit in a room without a fan on, on most days. That is certainly an indication that the weather is pleasant during the day, and quite cool at night…but not cold. I know that I am comparing the winter of San Francisco to that of Mumbai and I am probably not the best person to determine how winter is defined in Mumbai. I must ask the people I see, on a daily basis from my window, who wear ear muffs, people who are clad in sweaters and shawls, and those people who sit on the streets huddled up in front of make-shift fires made from scarp, what winter in Mumbai actually is like. They are probably the best judge on the winter temperatures of Mumbai.

I just spoke to someone who said she is wearing a sweater and stockings in the middle of the day because she was feeling cold. It is 29 degrees Celsius (84 degrees Fahrenheit), and that is cold for her! Now, I suspect that a lot of people in Mumbai would say 29 degrees is cold when they are accustomed to 36 to 38 degrees Celsius in the summer with 100% humidity. Or, it could just be that people realize that, on a logical level, we are in the winter season, and are trying to fit their wardrobes and actions to mirror the concept of “winter”? Not sure what to make of all of this.

An Affair to Remember

Indian weddings, especially Hindu weddings, are generally a week long affair, and this week we were invited to an Indian wedding by friends who we met on the Bombay expat list serve. This wedding was a 4 day affair and we only attended 2 days and I will never forget how beautiful and magical everything was.

This is a young couple where the groom is a Sindhi (from the province of Sindh which is in Pakistan) and the bride is from Shiraz, Iran. A handsome couple, these two have only met us a couple of times and still welcomed us to their wedding, something that my husband and I were really touched by. If there is one quality about Mumbaikers, and Indians in general, it is their willingness to bring you and welcome you into their fold, even if they do not know you from Adam. So, we were very honored to witness this couple’s ceremonies and participated in the festivities which occurred in the suburbs of Mumbai.

January 17th marked the Hindu ceremony which took place at this esoteric and stunning cottage by the sea called Kino Cottage. I will leave details for that later, but want to share a rather amusing experience right now. The  pheras ( a feature that is constant in all Hindu weddings; it is the tradition of taking pheras (rounds) around the sacred fire and can be akin to taking sacred marital vows) were supposed to start at 6:30 pm, followed by cocktails and dinner at 8:30 pm, as indicated on the invitation card. 17th was a working day and by the time we got dressed and after sitting through 1.5 hours in traffic to get to Versova, we finally reached Kino Cottage at 8 pm. I thought to myself, “Well, at least we will participate in the last 30 minutes of the pheras and it will be nice to witness this sacred ceremony. We got there and I saw only one other couple sitting by the table. I was shocked and bummed that the ceremony may have all gotten over. But no, that was not the case, and I was relieved that I did not get to the cottage at 6:30 pm (as I wanted to) because otherwise, I would have been waiting for 3 hours until the ceremony began. The couple only arrived at 9 pm and the ceremony commenced at 9:30 pm! Of course, in anticipation of these very expected and normal delays, guests were treated to a “snack station” where there were chefs preparing a ton of snack foods to whet the appetite and perhaps, to pacify those people who got tired of waiting.

However, all of this waiting was compensated by the serenity and magnificence of the cottage that was nestled on the beach of the Arabian sea: waves crashing on the shore, the mandap (special dome or square like structure with 4 pillars in which the ceremony is conducted) was stunning, tall coconut trees dotting the cottage skyline, tikis that were placed all around the front and back of the cottage, as well as the Indian musicians, all made for a dramatic effect that kept the guest occupied and enthralled even while playing the long waiting game.

Here are some of the pictures that hopefully capture what I am trying to describe above:

Entrance to Kino Cottage (with the security gaurd)

Entrance to Kino Cottage (with the security guard)

The flower arrangements at the entrance itself were exquisite and so tastefully done. When we entered this high profile cottage (were incidentally a lot of celebrities host parties), I could not believe I was in Mumbai. Just could not believe that I was in the heart of a crowded, over polluted, chaotic city. And hopefully, you will see why.

As you enter the cottage, with a little bar behind you (the bar was stocked with premium, top of the mark stuff!)

Main interior of the cottage which was used as the dance floor

Main interior of the cottage which was used as the dance floor

Another lounge section of the cottage

Another lounge section of the cottage

As we got into the backyard of the cottage, which hosted the mandap, we were equally amazed by the manicured lawns and the exteriors which were so magical and surreal.

The swimming pool.

The swimming pool.

We were also greeted by musicians who played Indian classical music as the guests arrived and post ceremony. Due to bad lighting, I could not get a very good picture, but here it is anyhow:

The tabla and sitar players

The tabla and sitar players

The following pictures are those of the mandap itself that was constructed in a dome like structure and adorned with carnations, roses, lillies, candles, and other vibrant accessories that made me feel as if I was on another planet:

The wedding mandup with the two seats for the bride and groom.

The wedding mandup with the two seats for the bride and groom.

The Hindu priests preparing for the rituals

The Hindu priests preparing for the rituals

What complemented the whole evening was the array and shades of different colors and fabrics that the women were wearing, right from chiffon, to silk, to georgette, and crepe and the colors were mesmerizing because there was virtually ever shade of a blue, purple, red, orange, yellows and browns. It has been a long long time since I saw so many colors under one roof, and was appreciative of the richness and diversity in colors, fabrics, and designs in India.

Close up of the top half of the mandup

Close up of the top half of the mandup

Bride and groom with their respective families

Bride and groom with their respective families

After the ceremony, which eventually ended by 10:30 pm, guests were treated to a grand feast with food, cocktails, and desert that were fit for a royal family. Of course, the party and dancing went on till 4 am, or that’s what i was told, but after all the waiting and eating, we were off to get some much needed rest for the Persian ceremony that was to follow the next day.

Come January 18th and I continue to be excited at what treats I can expect at the Persian wedding, an event I had never witnessed. This time, the wedding and reception were hosted at the Champagne Ballroom of the Novotel Hotel in Juhu. Again, as with the previous day, we rushed to the ceremony, which was supposed to start at 9 pm, and only got to the ballroom by 10:15 pm. Thanks to traffic, even so late in the evening, we were delayed and I was convinced that we had missed the ceremony. When we got to the place, people were drinking and mingling about. But, I should have known that, in Indian Standard Time (IST) or as the locals says, Indian Stretchable Time, the ceremony would start much later than expected. It started at 11:30 pm.

Here are some pictures of the area that was decorated for the Persian ceremony. Don’t miss the white satin, candles. roses and lilies that sparkled and glittered through out the evening:

White satin, candles, and white flowers

The area highlighted for the Persian Ceremony


Bride and Groom seated for the ceremony to begin

Bride and Groom seated for the ceremony to begin

As with the Hindu ceremony, this time, in addition to the array of colors and fabrics, I noticed an array of jewellery and stones, some of which I could not believe or get my eyes off. Never before I have seen so many stones and so many sizes, ranging from 2 to 3 carats, and you name it: sapphires, rubies, diamonds, emeralds, topaz, the list is endless. Every woman had at least 2-3 precious stones on her body and some women even had 4-5 big stones on their fingers. It was quite ostentatious and there were many times in the night where I was almost blinded by the sparkles of these jewels.

I have been to many a weddings in the USA and all of them pale in comparison to one single wedding in India. I do recognize that this wedding was of a family from a different social status, but I am also aware that people in India really dress up and there is a big glamor factor which, for most part, makes the wedding and ceremony feel very special and an occasion for immense celebration. This wedding catered to 250 guests and it was a joy to be a part of such a celebration!

And What does you Husband do?

Every time I get asked that question, I flint a little, not knowing the intention of the person asking that question. And it happens in the most unexpected situations: when I am meeting a psychologist for the first time, or when I am at a yoga retreat, when I attending a conference, when I am at a job interview, and/or when I am talking to a professional from another field about psychology. Every time, without fail, I get asked the very same question by different people, “And what does your husband do?” In the first few times of being asked this question, I was stunned and would feel very odd at the prospect of answering this question, wondering what it had to do with my academic and professional background. I am not sure if this is just a Mumbai thing or if it is pan-India…but it sure seems bizarre and inappropriate to me; it seems very normal to the people asking it.

However, I am not surprised that this question is asked on almost a routine basis. I think the concept of “personal space” is still alien to the Indian psyche, where we are deeply rooted in a very collectivist and familial system, making others space, others business, our own. Although as a culture Indians are gradually drifting from this collectivist attitude, this concept of personal space has yet to seep into the personal and professional realms of people’s lives. This concept of personal space is absent even in the physical realm. To give you a simple example, every time I am standing in line either to buy a train ticket or what not, I find that the person behind me is unable to maintain a decent distance from me. Either their hands are touching my back or their bag is nudging my side, or they are so close to me I can feel their breath or smell the coconut oil from their hair. It is annoying!

In the USA, when I was networking with psychiatrists or psychologists, if I was a job interview, if I was at a conference, I was never asked what my husband did for a living. Even more interesting, now that I think about it, I was never even asked if I was married! My interactions with professionals were strictly professional and people never crossed the boundary between personal and professional. Was it that people in the USA did not inquire about what my husband did for a living because they did not care? Was it because it did not matter to them whether I was married or not? No and No! The people I met on a professional basis only focused on me, on my credentials, and what I could bring to the table as a professional.

I can’t help but wonder why I am routinely asked the question about my husband’s job and what he does. Is it because knowing what my husband does will reflect on me and my social status? Is it because people think I, as a private practitioner, I will not be able to stand on my two feet and will require the financial backing of my husband? Is it the case that, by knowing what my husband does, people will develop of certain opinion about me, irrespective of my own merit and experience? I have no clue.

However, these days when I am asked, with all sincerity and curiosity, “And what does your husband do?”, I respond and tell them exactly what he does with great pride, whilst also wondering that if Rochelle Suri were a man and was talking to a professional in India, would she be asked, “And what does your wife do?” I really have to wonder…

Sorry…. we do not have that….

For anyone living in Mumbai, how many times have you gone to a restaurant or a cafe or a wine lounge or some kind of eatery and have ordered something and the response from the waiter is: “Sorry, we do not have that.” He says it with a half a smile and an expression on his face that you cannot help but just want to smack him upside down, over his head!

I have heard this statement so many times and it drives me nuts. I do not know if this is just a Mumbai phenomenon or a common theme all over India, but I do not care. All I know is that when I am starving and I go to a restaurant to have a nice meal and I cannot get want I would like to have,and it’s on the menu,  it is the most frustrating and irritating experience. I shouldn’t say “most”, because god knows in Mumbai, I have experienced far worse. But, it is quite irritating.

This has happened to me at wine lounges, at cafes, and little eateries, all of whom exhibit an extensive and sumptuous menu, but when you see something you really like and you order it, 25% of the times, it is “not available.” And this has happened in all calibers of restaurants – from the expensive ones to the cheap ones. So why is it on your menu?

A month ago, I went to a fancy restaurant and asked for an item on the menu and was told it was not available. A little irritated, I scanned the menu again and when I ordered something else, was told that was not available too. So I looked point-blank at the waiter and asked him, “Can you tell me what is available today in the vegetarian options?” He gives me some options, I place my order, and he scoots off. It’s amazing how there isn’t an apology for, what literally is, false advertising on the menu nor is there any acknowledgement for the inconvenience it may cause the customer. I swear to god, I have never experienced this in any other part of the world that I have visited, at least not on a regular basis. I go to a restaurant, I place my order, and I get what I order. How simple is that?

I guess I just have to get used to the idea that this is just how it is in Mumbai and know that, when I sit down for a meal, I should expect that what I chose from the menu will not be available, and if it is, it will be a nice treat for me. I know I am exaggerating this above notion, and I cannot help it sometimes. It bothers me how tough living in this city can be. I still have to fight with cabs who will stop when I hail for one, but will not go to my destination when it is inconvenient for them; I still have to fight with the garbage lady who tries to get money from me at every opportunity she finds, despite the fact that she gets paid; I still have to go through hoops to get anything done in Mumbai…..the list is endless. But, I hope that in time, although the list may continue to be endless, I would have gained the strength and the know-how to deal with life in Mumbai.

Trudging through Traffic in Mumbai

The thought of getting to any appointment on time, via a taxi or a bus, kills me. For someone who loves using the bus, and was accustomed to taking the bus virtually anywhere in San Francisco, I have had to make some adjustments to my mode of transportation in Mumbai, thanks to the amount of traffic that hampers the fantasy of arriving anywhere on time. And yes, it is a “fantasy” because the reality of traveling by road and reaching your destination on time seldom occurs. That explains and redefines the whole notion of “time”, its value in India, and how it makes no sense in this country, but that’s a story for another day.

Check out the traffic at Haji Ali on a Thursday evening at around 6:30 pm. It was bumper to bumper for a huge portion of the ride:

Traffic at Haji Ali

Traffic in Mumbai is a killer, with each family owning between 1-2 cars on average.  And I am talking about the middle class families, which occupy and compose a significant proportion of Mumbai’s population.  I have tried, time and time again, to leave early enough to get to my destination in a timely fashion, but in vain. And it used to really bother me that I would be late for an appointment, until I slowly came to the realization that people expect you to not be on time, even if it is an appointment that is scheduled in advance. I used to fret and get frustrated that I would not be punctual, worrying myself to death about what the other person would think. But 9 out of 10 times, the fretting and worrying was just a waste of time. Now, I still leave on time, and when I find myself in a pickle, not making it on time for my appointment, I just say to myself, “Yeah, the appointment’s for 11 am, but I am sure if I turn up at 11:20 am, it’s no big deal.” And rightly so, it isn’t.

I guess one of the good things that have surfaced from my displeasure with traveling by road in Mumbai, are my appreciation and value of the local train system. I may have mentioned this before, and if so, then the trains in Mumbai deserve a second mention! The local trains are so well-connected to every nook and corner of this metropolis, that you could get to and from most parts of the city without much difficulty. I really value traveling by train, and although it is not the most comfortable mode of transportation (only because the trains that are now functioning have been going strong for at least the last 15 years that I know of, and are in need of a serious makeover), they are the most reliable mode of transportation. I know that if I need to get to point B, 99% of the time, I will get there in a timely manner. Punctuality is the hallmark of trains in Mumbai.

People often ask me how I, someone who is not used to traveling in crowded trains, manage and even enjoy using them. I simply tell them, matter of fact, that I’d rather be squashed among hundreds of bodies and get to my destination on time, than spend an hour or so sitting in traffic, breathing the pollution of which there is no dearth of in Mumbai. I have to say, though, that I have tried to look at the positives, even in sitting in an hour of traffic. I have found some interesting pictures that capture the diversity and colors of this city. I am sharing some of them below:

A man made/ temporary entrance to a Hindu wedding ceremony. Obviously this wedding was well financed, gauging from just the entrance!

A man made/ temporary entrance to a Hindu wedding ceremony. Obviously this wedding was well financed, gauging from just the entrance!


Haji Ali Dargah - A place of pilgrimage for the Muslims situated in the Arabian Sea. It is very famous and visited year round by people of various faiths and denominations.


This picture freaks me out a little because it is an image of one of Mumbai’s skylines and you can see how the buildings are shrouded in smog and the buildings look like they are (literally) in a haze:

Hazy Mumbai

So, traveling by road, though a royal pain, allows me to get some interesting glimpses of this city and my gratitude for this opportunity to take in the scenes and images that I would probably have missed if I was not sitting (and most times baking) in traffic!

Not making sense…but feeling a li’l better about life.

Yes, we are now officially in our 4th month mark of life in Mumbai. It is  crazy how fast 4 months have passed by, as we are still trying to make sense of life in India. My husband and I are still trying to find our bearings and very soon we will be embarking on a house renovation project. Oh yes! Our 30-year-old apartment, that looks like it belongs to the dinosaur age, is very shortly going to be getting a make over. And it’s about time! But that story I shall leave for another day, as we are still looking out for a temporary apartment to rent out for about 3-4 months.

I know I have neglected to talk about my work life in Mumbai, and that’s the aspect of my life that is making me feel a li’l better and a lot more at ease with my new life in a harsh city. A psychotherapist/ Marriage and Family Therapist by profession, I decided that I would set up a private practice in Mumbai, where I know, from speaking to other professionals in the field, that the sky is the limit. And that’s exactly what I set out to do in week 1 of landing in Mumbai. Almost everyday, I would meet the city’s most influential and respected senior psychiatrists and introduce myself and my area of expertise, traveling distances that even I could not imagine doing. For those of you familiar with Mumbai, I am talking about going as far as Powai to meet psychiatrists. I have also met people who run psychology and counseling centers in Mumbai, talking about workshops and trainings that I could and have conducted in psychology. I have advertised my practice in newsletters and have distributed my biz cards as if there were no tomorrow. Meetings with department heads of medical colleges that have a psychiatric residency program, meetings with hospitals that have massive psych units,  and meetings with school and college principles and vice-principals, were some of the other activities on my list of “I want to get a private practice going.” Not a single day was wasted or spent wiling time away or taking it easy. Well, that’s not entirely true. I did take it easy only because things in India move at such a slow pace.

4 months later, and I am still doing all of the above in an attempt to connect and network with people in my field in Mumbai. However, I am proud to say that I have a petty decent private practice in Mumbai where I love the work that I do; I have psychiatrists, who I networked with, referring clients to me; I am teaching psychiatry resident students on the fundamentals of counseling and psychotherapy, and soon I will be conducting  a couple of workshops and presenting a handful of lectures to students at a renowned college in South Mumbai. I don’t know how all of this happened so quickly, because as much as things do take their time to happen in Mumbai, I know that my skills and expertise is much-needed in a city that is deprived of ethical and competent psychotherapists. At least that is what I have been hearing from many of my colleagues. It makes me feel so good and proud knowing that I have opened up the gates to a whole new world and my gratitude to this city for making that possible is immense. I know that I will continue to have professional fulfillment as I pave my path for continued success and love for the work that I do.

On that note, I shall end with a New Year message that someone texted me in the last week of December. This kind of short messages, which are quite cheesy and bizarre, seem to be a popular trend in the city. People seem to think they are funny and pass them around like wild fire. I tend to get irritated with the content of these messages, though I appreciate the sentiment behind it. So….here goes:

May Ur Happiness Increase like Petrol Prices.

May Ur Sorrows Fall like the Indian Rupee.

And Joy fill Ur Heart like Corruption in India.

Happy New Year in Advance!

It is the 4th day of the 1st month of the year, and the whole world has stepped into 2012. This New Years was my first one in Mumbai after 10 years. My husband and I did not have any fancy plans to bring in the new year and decided to just hang out with a couple of our friends at their house. I have been dealing with a bad cold and cough since December 28th and I thought that I would be over and done with it by New Year’s Eve. But did that happen? No!

New Year’s eve rolled around and my sneezing and coughing and whining and irritability (a great recipe for disaster) got worse. By 8 pm I decided to call it quits and retire for the evening. Greatly disappointed with the fact that I would not have a “fun” New Year’s Eve, I resigned to my destiny of going to sleep by 11 pm. I convinced my husband to carry on, and although disgruntled by my lack of energy due to my illness, he went ahead, realizing that it would be more painful for him to be at home with an irritable wife than celebrating new years without her. So there I was, me and my cat, with a bunch of tissues in one hand and a glass of warm water in another, when the phone rang.  It was my neighbor asking me if I wanted to join her for a party that was happening in the compound of our building. I said, “What party?” She said, “The one where all the children of the building have gotten together, collected money from all the tenants, and have organized a New Year’s party loaded with music, games, dinner and cake.” I was intrigued and was not sure if I wanted to hang out with my neighbors and their teenage kids. The last “party” I went to ended up being dead boring because the kids did their own thing and my husband and I were stuck chatting or attempting to chat with the older folk. Anyhow, I relented and never regretted my decision.

10:15 pm, my neighbor and I landed in the building compound and the music was blasting and people were just getting there. There weren’t too many of the building neighbors that showed up, and I was beginning to feel out-of-place hanging out with a bunch of teenagers and their parents. But, as more people got together, the fun and games began full throttle. It was so impressive to see the building kids get together and organize games, which included the adults as well, and also rally people into participating in them. Snacks were served in the first hour and, despite my dead taste buds from my cold, I gorged on chips and coke. Then, as we neared midnight, I was pleasantly surprised when the children brought the “old man” out. He was this tall, well dressed old man, stuffed with tons of fire crackers (which I did not appreciate), and they dragged him outside the compound, threw kerosene on him, and set him ablaze. I wish I had a picture of all the neighbors surrounding the old man, burning the old and welcoming the new. As I watched Old Man 2011 wither in flames, I reflected on my own life in 2011 and how in 1 year, I have gone from living in the USA to India. I gazed into the flames and saw the past year fly by: how our plans for moving to India materialized into reality; I looked back on our attempts to pull ourselves together knowing that with every passing day, we were getting closer to our departure date; how we commiserated with our friends and they with us and how we spent sleepless nights working out the nitty-gritty details of closing an entire chapter of our lives in the USA and opening a whole new one in Mumbai. Time does fly, and here I am in 2012 still trying to get settled in the rigmarole of life in Mumbai.

new year wishes were a plenty among the neighbors who greeted each other, after which dinner was served. Yes, if there is one things to get used to in India, amongst others, is the culture of eating late…..very late. I had my dinner by about 12:30 am. Again, with my dead taste buds, I could relish much, but I am sure it must have been delicious. It was such a nice feeling being with community and gathering with people I had not seen in over 10 years and sharing this moment with them. It was uplifting to see the children of my building taking such initiative to organize and conduct such festivity. I felt blessed.

Here’s hoping that 2012 brings more light, joy, and blessings in my new year in Mumbai and I wish the very same for you, wherever you may live.