Fearful for my Life!!!


It’s all over! The winter is all over! It’s dead! Last Sunday was the final day of “winter”, if you can even call it that. Ever since Monday, it has been all down hill. I am already feeling the dampness on my skin whenever I get out or even if I am at home without the air conditioner. Today was the first day that I had to turn the AC on at 5 pm, because the house was so warm! I have not turned the AC on in almost 3 months because it has been so pleasant. But that bubble has burst and I am dreading, almost scared, of the heat to come.

When I used to live in Mumbai in the late 90s, I lived through some of the worst summers of my life. So I know what is ahead of me. I know that when I wake up in the morning and walk out of my air-conditioned bedroom, the rest of the house will be warm and heavy, like a dense cloud of humidity drifted in through the night, sitting pretty in the house, waiting to consume me as soon I open my eyes.

When I walk out of the house, I know that I will be drenched with sweat; cascades of sweat gushing down my back and face, making me curse my fate and my decision to live in Mumbai. I know it, I can get a whiff of what is to come and I know that I will have to face a very harsh summer, after a long, long time. I will have to endure the warm nights, the sultry afternoons, the way my hands and feet bloat, the 100 heat boils that create a blanket over my hands, and the irritation and frustration that I often feel when I have to live in this extreme weather.

Yes, I am fearful for my life because I know how the Mumbai heat has affected me in the past, and I know how difficult it has been for me, because I hate the heat. I just hate it. Put me in an igloo and I will take that anytime. But not the heat in Mumbai. Because this heat is no simple heat…..it is a combination of humidity and air pollution all wrapped up. I really hope that this weather – 35 degrees Celsius/ 93 degrees Fahrenheit (in February!!!!) – will temper down and this is just a short spell of weather madness. But really, who am I kidding?

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Patience IS the mother of all virtues!


For someone who is impatient and is very much a Type A personality, getting things done, organized, and efficient in all that I do, my patience is perpetually being tested living in Mumbai. I can’t say it is one thing in specific that is testing my patience; it is everything and everyone, including family members, that appear to act in strangely demanding ways when you are trying to adjust to life in India.

Living in Mumbai, one has to develop a certain level of tolerance and patience, especially when relocating from a country like the USA, where more often than not, I did not need to even value the virtue of “patience”. There wasn’t a need for it as much and, over time, I lost touch with its importance. Sounds nuts? It doesn’t to me.

For instance, going to a local bank in San Francisco was a pleasurable experience and will probably still be 10 years from now: the queues are significantly short, the bank tellers are knowledgeable and efficient, and you actually get the job done in a matter of minutes. You go to a local bank in Mumbai, (and even though I am a member of an International bank I still have my old account at a local bank), and it’s a completely different story. In fact, it’s so different, it’s like day and night. Granted, this is a comparison of apples with oranges. At the same time, it also highlights how even the tiniest things, such as a visit to the bank, can require a lot of time and patience. Growing up, I often heard my grandmother tell me in all seriousness, “I have bank work to do in the morning,” and I would think she was exaggerating in implying that she needed all morning to get to the bank, go about her business, and return. Now, I know what she means.

I will admit that I am using this “living in Mumbai” business as a great opportunity to develop virtues such as patience and forbearance; to let my heart bleed a little more than I usually do, and not feel that I do not have the time or the wherewithal to go through the process of adapting to a unique lifestyle and culture.  I say “unique” because there are so many values and ideals that are endemic to the Indian culture, and I am not always understanding and accepting of them. But that’s a post for another day.

Perhaps these lessons in patience is preparing me for something, is laying the foundation for something bigger and better. Or perhaps, this is yet another one of the spiritual teachings that Mother India is imparting to me, allowing me to unfold as a more wholesome human being. You never know!

Life takes you strange places


Lately, I have been thinking about my life; reflecting on the last few decades and how it has made me who I am. I have been wondering about the order in the chaos that I experience on an almost daily basis, since living in Mumbai. It is exhausting, and yet life goes on. I feel like this post is going to be a lot of rambling. So I apologize in advance if I may not make any sense.

There comes a point in one’s life where you think and say to yourself,  “What’s it all about?”

What is it all about? This life, having a house, having a great career, possessing a car or whatever it is you fancy….what’s the big deal? Why are we here? Do I have just this one life or are there many more journeys to go on? Why do we need to pray? Why is my cat so much more adjusted to Mumbai than I am? Why? What? Why?

I feel like the hands of time are slowing down and every thing is in slow motion, as if I were stuck in a swamp that is gradually pulling me into the earth. I am helpless and not even motivated to cry out for help. In fact, not long ago, I did have a dream that I was in a hot air balloon descending on a swamp and marshy waters. I was surrounded by thick foliage; hues of greens and browns that swept across the swamp, making it darker, as if I were back in my mother’s womb. Dreams like these haunt me. They are with me more often than I can remember and I have been dreaming a lot more in the last few weeks.

I think of the many times I am in a taxi or car in Mumbai and beggars and kids come up to the car and ask for money and food and I am indifferent to them. I have to be indifferent for many reasons: if you extend your hand to one child or one beggar, you can bet your life there will be another 5 beggars surrounding your car. Also, a lot of the begging is staged by mafia rings that exploit children for monetary gains. It is disgusting, and so it makes it even harder to not give money to the beggars especially knowing that most of them are tied into these underground operations and will suffer consequences if they do not bring in some dough. However, if I do have food, I will share it with the children and older beggars. But not money.

I look outside my window and the same question rings in my ear: “What’s it all about?” Life does take me strange places….and the more I plan, the more I will feel stuck in that swamp. The more I will drown in my emotions, swallowed whole by the earth, as my soul churns and twists within her body. As I type, the following nursery rhyme comes to mind:

Row, row, row your boat; gently down the stream.

Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily; life is but a dream.

A dream it is…. a floating fantasy…an illusion that we are always chasing….a trap…..a haze….life is a dream, or at least it feels that way some times. A dream today, and perhaps tomorrow, and for the rest of my days.

“Resistance is Futile”


On Wednesday, I was on the local train traveling to one of the glitzy suburbs of Mumbai – Juhu. This was an interesting train ride because of the couple of incidents that occurred. First, I witnessed a hawker and her young child get on the train. The hawker was selling the usual: hair clips, hair bands, earrings, and nail polish, among other little trinkets. I saw her direct her daughter to sit by the entrance of the train and give her a small yellow plastic bag. The girl opened the bag and dug her hand into it, revealing lumps of rice and curry that she ate with great relief. I watched the little one eating like she had never eaten before, while her mother tried to sell her wares, while also keeping an eye on her duckling. I could see the love and concern on the mother’s face, probably wishing that she could give her daughter more to eat. The child then got up, picked up some coloring books (that were for sale) and started selling them. She must have been all of 4 years.

As I approached my station, I moved toward the door of the train. I gave the girl an orange that I bought at the station I boarded. She did not respond (facially), though she did accept the orange. Her mother did not respond either, although she did not stop me from giving her child the sweet fruit. They must have either been shocked that someone was thoughtful enough to share their food with them or they may have been unphased, thinking that all I was giving them was a measly orange. I am not sure.

I then stood by the entrance of the train, watching all the houses and streets go by. I looked up in the sky and saw an airplane taking off. That sight immediately struck me in a way that I had never experienced before. I almost choked thinking that about 5.5 months ago, my cat, husband and myself got on a plane and moved from one continent to another; that one plane ride changed our very lives, how we exist, and our perceptions of things. I had flashbacks of our time in the USA, of the wrapping up process, and of how we spent the last 10 years of our lives building ourselves, both personally and professionally. As the train sped by, so did my life. And all I could do was watch it go by and things, people, and experiences occurring just the way they are supposed to.

A few days before this incident, I read the signature of someone’s email which was the quote from Star Trek. Although I never followed Star Trek, I was astonished and moved by this quote from the leader of the Borgs, “Resistance is futile.” And indeed, it is. The leader goes on to say that one has to be “assimilated” and he further enforces that “Resistance is futile.” I am sharing with you this short video which is great because it aptly depicts what I am trying to say:

I am trying my best to not resist what is being thrown my way. Sometimes, I feel like I live in two worlds, like I am in limbo, not being fully anchored in just one world. My love and loyalty for the West coupled with my admiration and curiosity of the East, make me feel like I belong no where. Transitioning between cultures is seldom easy, especially when you feel like a foreigner in your own home; a stranger in your own backyard. But come what may, I am moving forward with this attitude of releasing the clutches of control, and trying as humanly possible, to go with the flow. Let’s see where that takes me.

 

 

Update on the Driving…


… I hate it! I hate it not so much because I have to go from driving an automatic car to a manual one, but because driving in Mumbai is not a pleasure at all. I previously mentioned how different it is driving in Mumbai when compared to San Francisco, because it had more to do with the way people drive and the lack of road discipline and blah, blah, blah. But as I have completed my 4th driving class, I am realizing that my irritation with driving in Mumbai is not so much to do with how things wok on the roads and with the cars, but with how many people and things you have to dodge when driving in this city!

For one, most pedestrians insist on walking on the roads instead of using the foot path or sidewalks. It’s like a disease. Although we do not have the best footpaths in Mumbai, because there are almost always cracks or crap on them, we still have good enough foot paths for people to utilize. Why people insist on walking on the roads is anybody’s guess. Actually, that is not entirely true. I suspect that the denizens of Mumbai walk on the roads, where cars are meant to be (than on the footpath), is because we have the hawkers who have taken over the sidewalks of Mumbai. And I am not kidding when I say that, because in most parts of Mumbai, the hawkers are like little cockroaches that have bred (and continue breeding), so that anywhere you turn or any sidewalk you are on, you will see them there. They could be selling anything from vegetables to flowers to bed sheets and underwear. You name it, they have it! I can’t say that I am innocent in all this, because I am also one of the gazillion people in Mumbai that depend on these hawkers, especially for my weekly veggies. But come on, can there be another, better way to have them carry out their operations? Can there be a more efficient, smarter way for hawkers to sell their stuff without inconveniencing pedestrians? I do not believe I will live to see that day.

In any case, it could be said that because people are used to walking on the roads instead of the sidewalks due to the hawkers, it has become a perpetual habit for them to now walk on the roads, irrespective if the footpaths are empty or not. So can you imagine trying to drive on the roads and in the by-lanes with people all around you? It is incredible how casually they walk on the fringes of the road, and yet they are in your bloody way, their arms flailing about, people on their cellular, as if they were having a stroll in the park. It frightens me every time I drive because I think I am going to knock someone down. Apart from pedestrians on the road, there are cyclists and motor cyclists that zoom in like meteor showers and it’s so hard to anticipate which side they are coming from, especially when you are too busy managing your time changing gears! Gosh, this driving is killing me and will be the number one cause of my death, I promise you!

In addition to this mayhem, there are men with hand carts and bullock carts that also own the streets and you have to compete with them as well, when trying to drive safely. There are also cats that randomly cross the street, and dogs that just park themselves where they shouldn’t and you have to be careful to not run into any of these creatures either.

I think the worst part of it all, is that I am becoming like, or at least it seems, that kind of driver who I never want to be: the one who always honks! Trust me, I have been and still am so critical and irritated by people who honk. But with every day I am in the driver’s seat, I am becoming more aware of the necessity to honk than anything else. People mostly honk to let people know they need to get out of the freakin way!! I have started doing this myself and it actually gives me great joy, because it is more a catharsis, to honk at them in the hopes that it will scare the living day lights out of them. But who am I kidding? They continue to merrily stroll, and if they move, it will be half an inch and you find yourself back where you started – muttering obscenities to yourself because most pedestrians do not have a brain!

Just this afternoon, as I was driving, some of the neighborhood kids took over half a lane to play India’s favorite sport, India’s most treasured past time – cricket. So I honk and the kids stop playing and make way for the car. A pedestrian is standing on the left corner of the street gazing at the kids and probably very involved in the game. I am about to turn left and almost into him, and so I honk. The man does not move, does not bat an eye, and continues to be enthralled in the game. So there I am making adjustments so that I do not knock him down (even though I so wish I could!).

I do not know. I am just going with it and trying to be patient with this whole “driving in Mumbai’ business. The only thing I can say is, “God help me!”

On a more positive note, I am so enjoying the pleasant and cool weather in Mumbai. Granted, it is not cold like how a “winter” should be, but this is enjoyable and loveable weather all the same. I continue to be amazed at how I can be in a room, hours on end, without the fan, let alone the air conditioner. I know these days are numbered and in the next month the heat will be so bad, it would feel like I was being charred with every bleeding moment. But until then, I thank my lucky starts that my first winter in Mumbai is a benevolent one.

A New Discovery!


Living in Mumbai is not easy on the mind, and is certainly not easy on the body. I think it is the heat and the pollution that really gets to me, and more so the pollution because, weather wise, it’s been pretty cool and pleasant in Mumbai.

One of my biggest worries when I landed in Mumbai was the drastic hair loss that I faced. People warned me that the change in water will result in hair loss and I thought they were crazy. I thought, ‘Well, maybe I will just lose a couple of strands every time I shower, and that’s not all that bad.’ If only. Every time I stepped into the shower, I lost more hair than I anticipated and it really started worrying me. However, in the last month or so, the hair falling problem has receded a great deal. I suspect I am getting used to the waters of Mumbai?

But I wish it just stopped here. In the last few weeks, I have been bothered by the fact that my hair is as dry as hay. You could light a match to my hair and I would be on fire. Dehydration! My skin is dehydrated and my hair has been looking like crap, and while I know how to take care of my skin, my hair was beginning to really annoy me.

I was thinking about what to do about it….should I get a Keratin treatment? should I just get a short hair cut? should I just go bald? And then suddenly it struck me like lightning, these memories of every time my family and I would visit India from Dubai for the summer holidays, and the time I lived in Mumbai with my grandparents when I was all of 3 or 4 years old. I would get my hair oiled with the finest coconut oil. Oh! Yes. When I was a child, every Friday was “let’s oil the children’s hair” (and make sure they do not have any lice). I have several fond memories of when my sister and I would come home from school and in the evenings, we would get our hair oiled (how I hated the smell), and our maid would take a fine-tooth comb and scope our hair for any head lice we may have gotten from the other children. It probably sounds gross when you are reading this, but it was a necessary routine and the maid would get a few critters out of our heads. We would get on a stool, sit in the balcony, and the maid would get to work. Then she would leave the oil in our heads for an hour and we would be ushered into the shower in time for dinner.

Each time we visited India, my mum would encourage me to get a “hot oil hair massage” and I would get it just for the heck of it. This time round, now that I am living in India, I have a deeper appreciation for getting the oil massage. Last Thursday when I was fretting about my hair, it suddenly dawned on me that I should get a “hot oil hair massage” and it was the best decision I had ever made. I got into the salon and my oil massage was about 45 minutes. The woman attending to me massage me started off with a rigorous massage of my head incorporating little pools of coconut oil and working from my forehead to the base of my neck. What came next was a great surprise: I guess in India a hot oil head massage also included the upper arms, upper back, and neck and shoulder muscles. I was in heaven! The woman just wouldn’t stop. Every time I thought, ‘OK, She can’t possible go beyond the shoulders’, she would work on my arms. At my arms I thought, ‘She’s gonna stop now and ask me to leave’, but she continued onto my upper back. This went on and she then wrapped a towel around my neck and put me under a steam machine where I sat there for about 20 minutes in bliss. The whole process ended with a invigorating hair wash and me paying a paltry sum of Rs. 250 ($5.00)!

My hair was as soft as silk! I could not believe the transformation – it was like night and day! I was doubtful though, thinking that this effect would only last until my next head bath. But I was wrong. My hair is still as silky and shiny, and now that I know this recipe for healthy, hydrated hair, I will make it a point to get a hot oil massage more often than before.

Yeah! One more positive thing about living in Mumbai!

My first driving lesson in Mumbai


Yes, my friends, I have “voluntarily” committed myself to 21 days of driving classes in Mumbai. Today was my first day and I HATE driving a manual car. After driving an automatic in the USA for about 6 years, where driving was a breeze, I feel like I am in the pre-historic era, trying to drive a car that operates on 5 gears, that has a clutch, an accelerator, and a break! I cant’ say that I ever enjoyed driving. I am one of those creatures that have always had some kind of aversion toward driving. While sitting behind the wheel brings great joy and pleasure to most folks I know, it induces a state of anxiety (and sometimes even comatose) in me every time I have to drive. A past life thing?

Anyhoo, I think I did OK for my first lesson in driving. For someone who is used to obeying traffic rules, giving way to pedestrians, and taking the law really seriously, driving in Mumbai is like driving in a zoo! The concept of “road discipline” does not exist and I was barraged by cars from all sides of the road and it was non-stop. I had a rude awakening today on two occasions: First, when I was approaching a main junction where there were no traffic lights, I asked the instructor if I should slow down and see if there were other cars that were already at the junction that were ready to cross. To my great surprise, I was told that there was no need to stop and I should just continue going and if there was traffic from the other side, they would stop. This made no sense to me and sounded like an unsafe practice. But hey, I figured when in Rome, do as the Romans do, even if you have to die!

Second, I was making a turn into the left lane and as I was getting into the lane, I saw some pedestrians crossing half way through. I told the instructor that I should wait until the pedestrians cross before I completely turn into the left lane. And I almost jumped out of my seat when I heard, “Why should we stop and let the pedestrians cross? Can’t they see there is a car coming? You just keep going. They will stop.” Granted, the pedestrians did stop  crossing half way through the street, even though I swear I was so close to running them over because of my instructor’s insistence to get in their way.

This whole driving lesson situation that I am in will last for another 20 days. My next lesson is on Monday. On a funny note, well, maybe not so funny, in the first 10 minutes of my driving, the instructor asked me if I was living in “America.” When I said yes, he said, “Makes sense. You keep wanting to drive onto the wrong side of the road.” Yes, indeed. I found myself driving on to incoming traffic a couple of times. Lucky me, I wasn’t driving during peak hours!

I guess it would be safe to say that, if you do not hear from me in about 4-5 days, you can be sure I was driving on the wrong side of the road.

A peek into South India


I have family in Andhra Pradesh (AP), which is in the heart of South India. Last month, I took a trip to Puttaparthi, a small village in AP, which once was the home of the revered guru, Sathya Sai Baba. I have been to many parts of the South and have frequently been to Puttaparthi. However, this time I had my “smart phone” and had the privilege of capturing some beautiful sights and scenes of my experience in the village.

Getting to Puttaparthi is not a straightforward process. The most convenient way is to land in Bengaluru (Bangalore), preferably by air, and then hire a taxi and driver to take you on a 3 hour drive through the desert of AP and into the little village that is frequented by a gazillion people a year. On the way to Puttaparthi, I was able to capture some images of the sky at dusk; the evening sky bathed in the warm, soothing colors of the sun:

The South is a different country on its own. That’s what I love about India – her culture and people are so distinct in every region of the country. In the South, my observation has been that people will prefer to speak English anytime over Hindi. For the Southerners, Hindi is the language of the North. As far as I know, Hindi has never been accepted as the national language by the South because it is a widely spoken language in the North. Long story, so won’t get into it.

One of the things I love doing when I am in Puttaparthi is to visit the Karuna Farm Sanctuary, an animal shelter and rescue operation that has been functioning and growing since 2000. I urge you to visit their heart warming and informative website: http://www.karunasociety.org/ Karuna also has an organic farm where the produce is sold in their shop and the proceeds go toward the care of the animals and the maintenance of the farms. My eyes popped when I visited the farm this time because it has blossomed into a haven for vegetable lovers, and sells produce that I would never have expected to see in a desert: Arugula (just love this salad leaf), lettuce, butternut squash (I took 1/2 kg back to Mumbai!), cherry tomatoes, basil, dil, parsley, as well as your usual suspects, such as bananas, carrots, papaya, green onions and radish.

Green Papayas

Loads of Lettuce

Bananas

Green Onions, with a pretty bug perched on it.

At Karuna, it was also endearing to see how so many working animals and animals meant for slaughter were rescued and given refuge in a stable created especially for them. It was a vision to watch the herd of buffaloes get rounded in to the stable after their afternoon stroll in the fields. These giant beauties are a sight to behold, especially knowing that they were once destined for slaughter and are now in “buffalo haven or heaven.”

Now here is what the "sacred mother" (according to Hinduism) should be doing. Enjoying her life with love and dignity.

The highlight of my trip was my the entertainment provided by the monkeys. For a desert, this village was an oasis for the monkeys that lived and moved in hoards, hanging out and playing with their babies. The house I lived in was on the 3rd floor of the building overlooking the mountains and fields. One afternoon, I made my acquaintance with 3 monkeys that decided to pay the hostess and her dogs a visit. It was an amusing sight! I watched for a good 30 minutes how the dogs were so focused on the monkeys. The monkeys merrily perched themselves on the balcony of the living room, with only the window and grills shielding them from the dogs, and kept looking at the dogs with amusement. They were probably thinking, “You fools, you can bark all you want because you know you will not be able to sink your teeth into us.” Every where the monkeys moved, the dogs moved in tandem with them. It was like the monkeys and the dogs were reflections of each other.

Notice the dog's spit (stains) on the window

My favorite - The three stooges

Here they are again

 

All in all, it was a pretty entertaining and informative trip; a good break from Mumbai, although it was nice to be back in Mumbai after a week of being in the South. I chanced upon this little shack which is the humble abode of the watchman who is taking care of some unused land. It seems quite cozy:

A final souvenir of the southern sky….makes me wanna go there again; indulge in the peace and quite of the desert:

Musings of a Mumbaikar in the making


As I embark on my 5th month in Mumbai, it is becoming more evident to me that I am here to stay; that I am in the process of going from a San Franciscan to a Mumbaikar. While there are times that I do feel I am resisting this major change in national and cultural identity, I am becoming more open to embracing this new identity. I have been thinking about what distinguishes Mumbaikars from other peoples of this country. There are many things that are endemic to this city and the following are mere observations of this city and my take on what life in Mumbai means for me:

1. “This thing” or “That one” – Gosh! How I laugh to myself as I am writing about this. Every Mumbaikar, and I mean, every Mumbaikar, will expect you to be a mind reader. When in a conversation, be it in most situations or circumstances, the person I am talking to will substitute a person’s name or a thing/object with “this thing” or “that one.” The best part is, they expect you to understand what they are talking about! For instance, if I am talking to my aunt about a shop that I want to visit and ask her for directions, she’ll say, “Take a right on Linking Road, and then keep going straight, and you will pass “this thing” on your left and keep going till you see a big brown building at the end.” Or, if I am asking my grand mother about a family member I met for the first time, she explains that X is “that one’s” daughter, and many seconds later, cares to elaborate on who “that one” is. In a day, I will hear “this thing” or “this” or “that one” at least 5 times with the expectation that I know exactly what the person is referring to. Since I have lived in Mumbai for 4 years, I am much better at decoding what people are referring to. But, it drives my husband out of his mind because he sure as hell does not get it. He wished people in Mumbai spoke English rather than some form of English where every 5th word has to be decoded. I, on the other hand, find it amusing and I am always kept guessing when I am talking to someone in Mumbai.

2. Throwing things out of the vehicle – It’s probably across all of India that people find it OK to use the streets, roads, and railway tracks as their public bins. But, it’s hard for me to deal with the fact that people in Mumbai, and I am guessing a lot of them are educated people, do not bat an eye when they throw their trash out of their vehicle, be it from a train, a car, or a rickshaw. I have even seen people throwing their trash from their windows at home! What is up with that?? I have always known that in India, in general, we lack a civic sense. We find it more important to keep our homes clean, but will not hesitate in keeping out backyards and compounds and streets unkempt. I guess the positive side to it is that it gives the public Street Sweepers a job to do!

3. “Paan” / Spit Stains – This is something that I really find disgusting not only because it is gross, but also because it is extremely unhealthy. Paan is a food item, unique to India and other parts of Asia, which consists of areca nut, slaked lime paste, and other condiments (such as tobacco, sugar, candy fruits, fennel seeds) all wrapped up in a betel leaf.

Sweet Paan

It was originally used as a digestive or a mouth freshener by the royal families. Now, it is accessible to the commoner. I have had paan occasionally and can’t say that I particularly enjoy it. But this city contains millions of people, especially men, who relish paan.  While I have nothing against paan per se, I am disgusted by the fact that most people who eat it, have no qualms in spitting out the remains of the paan, on walls or on the streets. Paan contains a red colored substance, so when a person spits it out, the stain is colored brick-red. Here are several images of how walls, stair cases, and even trains are dotted with paan stains:

On the columns of a public building

On the columns of a public building

On public stair cases

On public stair cases

Similar to paan, a lot of taxi drivers in Mumbai chew a certain kind of tobacco and are constantly spitting out of their taxi windows. The irony of it all is that their taxis display huge signs that state, “Spitting is Injurious to Health” or “Do not Spit! It is the number one cause of TB.” There may be a cure for TB, but I fear there is no a cure for this disease – the disease of spitting in public!

4. Punctual Trains – If there is one thing I love about this monstrous city, it is the fact that local trains are punctual. I know I have mentioned this before and I probably will keep harping about it till my dying day…but you can get from anywhere in this city via the trains, and you can definitely get to your destination on time.  There may come a time where everything in Mumbai may come to a stand still, but I can bet my life that the strains will still be punctual and on the dot!

5. Pedestrians do not have the right of way – No, they do not! God knows how many times I have almost seen death’s countenance thinking that, as a pedestrian, I would have the right of way when crossing the road. Silly me for extending my expectations of “road sense” from San Francisco to Mumbai, where in SF, pedestrians have the right of way and drivers can be fined if they do not adhere to this law. Be it crossing a main road or a tiny alley, the drivers in Mumbai will zoom by you (and sometimes even into you) if you are so silly as to try to cross the road. How dare you! In Mumbai, apparently, it only makes sense that drivers get to go first and then the pedestrians.

So, here it is. Month 5 and I am allowing myself to become more accustomed to the Mumbai way of life: the good, bad, and the ugly.

“This is India, for Christ’s sake…”


Indeed, this is India, and apparently in India, all things go, including the concept of time. Yesterday I was meeting a psychiatrist at the famous Hinduja hospital, where people from all over the city and country come to get treatment. The psychiatrist (psych) and I were discussing job opportunities at the hospital and he asked if I would like to observe him in action for a couple of hours. It was 11:15 am and I responded, “But you said your timings are only from 9 to 11 am. Isn’t it time for you to wind up?” To which he replied, “This is India, for Christ’s sake…things do not end on time.” The man finished working only at 12:30 pm, one and a half hour later!

It really looks like “time” is this elusive concept in India, and it kinda surprises me that in such a diverse and cosmopolitan city like Mumbai, people have no qualms about being late to an appointment or getting late into work or arriving at an event at some god forsaken hour. It’s amusing though, that at whatever time a person arrives, there is always some part of the event going on.

Last month, I was livid and stunned when I had to wait for almost 2 hours for a professional appointment I made with a psychiatrist in Juhu. I had taken the appointment weeks in advance, and made the trek to Juhu, excited to meet this highly acclaimed psych, only to be kept waiting for 2 hours. Finally, I had to go to another appointment and never got to see her and had to re-schedule the appointment for a couple of weeks later. Luckily, for me and her, she saw me only 20 minutes after my scheduled appointment.

I am guessing it is the social norm for people to arrive late or be unpunctual. Or maybe, they are not unpunctual by Indian standards, and it is my punctuality that is bizarre to the Indian person. I do not know…..there are days where I do find it convenient that I can be late to an event and will not be judged by it. On the other hand, there is a part of me that is concerned that I will become this person who is not particular about time and who does not value other people’s time, and that is the last thing I wish to imbibe and pick up from this culture.

As a psychologist, it is peculiarly interesting to me to observe and analyze my personal reactions to the external and internal stimuli that pervades every part of my being, every pore in my body. Life is strange and so unpredictable. I am still having a hard time believing that I am not in Mumbai on vacation, but here to stay. I miss San Francisco.

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