Home, at Last!


Last weekend was one of the most exciting weekends of my life. Exciting and nerve-wracking, all the same. My husband and I spent all of Saturday moving our stuff from our rental apartment to our renovated one. Man, do we have a lot of stuff or what! By the time we were done with hauling our stuff, we were dog tired. We knew we’d have to wake up the next morning and unpack all of it, as much as possible. But the move was smooth and the movers were efficient, trust worthy, and very obliging, a welcome change from some of the shoddy experiences we have had so far.

It was daunting to be in our new place. I was thrilled and nervous, all at once. I could get the strong smell of freshly painted walls and struggled to keep my eyes open as the paint stung my eyes to tears. Added to that, the dust and fur (I love my cat, but I could open a fur factory with the amount she sheds!) led to my sinuses acting up; the next two days I was sneezing galore.

But I tell you something. There is nothing like being in a place you like to call home. Now I feel I have finally arrived; I have landed on my feet and am ready to plant roots deep into Mother India’s soil. One year it will be on September 5th, and I feel like I have come full circle. I now feel at peace in my new abode, happy with my newly attained luxuries, reveling in the pain and efforts of creating and co-creating a new sanctuary for my self – a place I am happy to call home.

I wish I could say the same about my cat, though. While I am enjoying the pleasures of my new house, Maitri has been having a hard time adjusting to yet another new place. She has been hiding behind boxes, howling in the middle of the night and in the early dawn, and following me around the house, as if in desperation to go back to the rental place. This morning I found her sleeping in the bath tub, perhaps a new discovery for her, a stronger source for solace.

I am still living amongst boxes and am surrounded by them. Everyday, I attack 1-2 boxes and try to unpack as much as possible. My goal is to clear up the mess completely by this weekend.

It’s good to be at home and I am now feeling more comfortable with life in Mumbai. So watch out, Mumbai. Here I come!

Did you know about “Dry Days”?


I had my first encounter of a “dry day” on August 15, 2012 (Independence Day). I am sure I was aware of this concept when I was living for that 4 year period in Mumbai, but clearly have been oblivious to it since my return to India. A Dry Day is a specific day in which the sale of alcohol is banned in restaurants and shops. There is absolutely no access to alcohol on these days, days that the government deems important enough to not invite, even a hint of trouble, in the city. For instance, a dry day is observed on days when there are political or legislative elections in the state/ country, so as to not incite any kind of violence or riots amongst the peoples of many faiths, religions and traditions.

I also learned that a Dry Day is maintained out of respect for the significance of the day. Many religious festivals and the birthdays of important people, are dry days. There are some days, such as Independence Day (August 15), Republic Day (January 26) and Mahatma Jaynthi (Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday – October 2nd) that are considered dry days, nationwide. There are other days, such as certain festivals, that my be made a dry day by one state, but not another. So for instance, while Christmas is considered a dry day in Maharashtra, it is not in Karnataka.

More interestingly, I recently discovered that the age limit for the consumption of alcohol, in the sate of Maharashtra (where in Mumbai exists) is a bizarre formula for different spirits. I was a little bewildered when a friend of my told me the following:

21 and above  – to legally consume beer
25 and above – to legally consume “other” alcoholic beverages

Now how they came up with this formula is anyone’s guess! As if someone cannot get completely messed up on just beer! It’s no surprise then, that so many people have house parties, especially teenagers. Also, for all the party animals who may think that Mumbai, being such a cosmopolitan city, has a wild night life, think again. If you are not aware, it is a fact that the city’s bars, pubs, and night clubs shut down between 12:30 and 1:00 am. Only hand full of clubs, those that are part of 5 star hotels, are legally permitted to stay open till the wee hours of the morning. Of course, when you get your bill, be prepared to pay a 40% sales tax, twice the amount in a regular bar/club. In my college days, the night was young, even at 4 am. Now, the state has gotten really strict, and rightly so, and has taken preventative measures to curb the Mumbaikers from partying too hard (and some of the irresponsible behaviors that accompany it). It has been this way for years and it does not look like it’s going to change. Luckily, it does not matter to me one way or the other!

 

Happy Independce Day!


65 years ago, India got her Independence from the British sovereign. Once a possession of the magnificent British Empire, India is now liberated from colonialism and has found her place in the free world. The largest democracy in the world, India is one of the leading economic giants of the 21st century.

It was only 65 years ago that India got her independence, even though after living here for almost a year, it feels that her independence has come with a price. The increasing levels of corruption, the lack of order and sanity, poor infrastructure, poverty, and low governmental provisions for education and health, are the quintessential hallmarks of a country that was once colonized and ruled over. Is it me or is it fair to say that all countries that have been colonized and whose people have been systematically disenfranchised, bare the above hallmarks which are common to all? And if so, why? That’s a topic not meant for this blog.

On a more personal note, Mumbai’s celebrations of Independence Day was mellow and peaceful. I am sure the celebrations in the country’s capital was done with pomp and fanfare. It is traditional in the big housing societies in Mumbai (and I suppose in the rest of the country) to conduct the hoisting of the flag in a particular way: residents of the society gather around, the national anthem is sung, and the flag is hoisted, after which, every one proceeds to partake in a little celebration.

It is an amazing sight to see the hoisting of the flag, because in the Indian culture, the flag is noted up and in it are bunch of flowers such as marigolds and carnations and perhaps, rose petals as well. Once the flag is released, a riot of colors emerge from the flag, a sight to behold. Here is an image of the flag containing the flowers:

Here’s Google’s tribute to the Indian Independence day which includes the peacock, the national bird of India:

I have to say, I have mixed feelings about Independence Day. What are we really independent from? What have we gained that we did not have under the British rule? Back then, I am sure we were treated like slaves….and, we also had good infrastructure, stability, education and basic health. Has our independence come with a big price? Some days, I feel so!

In the meantime, I leave you with the profound and moving words of Rabindranath Tagore, one of India’s finest poet and writer. This is a poem from his renowned book Geetanjali:

“Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;
Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been
broken up into fragments by
narrow domestic walls;
Where words come out from
the depth of truth;
Where tireless striving stretches
its arms towards perfection;
Where the clear stream of reason
has not lost its way into the dreary
desert sand of dead habit;
Where the mind is lead forward by thee
into ever-widening thought and action-
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father,
let my country awake.”
“Geetanjali”

Gods, galore!


When I first moved to India, in the Fall last year, I had completely forgotten of how religious a country India was; not necessarily spiritual, but religious. Over the last few months, I have been walking around the city, amazed by the level of reverence and emphasis placed on “god”. I am a believer of god myself, but when you see pictures and idols of god planted in trees on the streets, it takes the idea of god, to a whole new level.

It is strange to think that Mumbai, the mega metropolis, consumed by materialism and modernity, has such a religious streak to it. And it’s interesting to note that of all the gods that I see in the trees, all of them are Hindu gods. I have yet to find a symbol or relic from Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, and Islam (all fervently practiced religions in India). I do not wish to get too much into the psychological nuances of religion, as perceived and practiced in India. However, I think the Indian psychoanalyst Kakar (1982) helps explain the phenomena of  a grave emphasis on religion in the following words: “There is a God for every psychic season, a myth for every hidden wish and a legend for every concealed anxiety.” There are indeed, and I will explain more below.

Most of these holy images/ idols are fastened or dwell within the Banyan or People tree, both of which are considered to be sacred in Hinduism:

 plethora of gods and goddesses adorning this People Tree

A plethora of gods and goddesses adorning this People Tree

 

h the images Shirdi Sai and Lord Ganesh (the elephant god) housed in a Banyan Tree

An altar with the images Shirdi Sai and Lord Ganesh (the elephant god) housed in a Banyan Tree

I wanted to share how much of an influence the gods/goddesses have on every aspect of an individual’s life. To give you a practical example, if a student was starting a new semester at school or embarking on her first year at University, then a pooja or Hindu ritual is conducted to the Goddess Saraswati (the goddess of the arts and literature) in order to bring forth abundance of intellect and wisdom upon the student. No wonder there are various types of gods rooted all around the city, perhaps a blatant reminder to the mere mortals of god’s place in one’s life.

 

Another alter dedicated to Shirdi Sai and Lord Gnaesh (two prominenet gods in the state of Maharashtra)

Another altar dedicated to Shirdi Sai and Lord Ganesha (two prominent gods in the state of Maharashtra)

And this is the most interesting of them all. Images of the Goddess Kali and Lord Shiva being juxtaposed against a mural of Daisy Duck, a true depiction of East meets West:

Once again, Incredible Mumbai, I say!

You will be walking down the streets of Mumbai, be it the poshest area of the city or the most down trodden, and you will be sure to find a make shift altar, either in a tree or a wall. Like poverty and corruption, the blatant reminder of religion is one thing you cannot escape or over look in Mumbai.

 

 

Incredible Mumbai!


This weekend, I was walking down the street in my neighborhood and I heard a cockerel crow. It was five in the evening and I was amazed to hear this sound in the middle of no where. I scanned the environment and found the most amazing sight: right in the middle of a large tree, were 1 cockerel and 2 hens comfortably perched, looking mighty proud of themselves. I was fascinated and charmed by the level of comfort they possessed in the mega city, rather envious of them. I quickly pulled out my phone and clicked a snap:

Of course, nobody else on the street batted an eye and I was the only one who appeared to be so enamored by the vision above. I mean, who in San Francisco has seen first hand one cockerel and two hens perched on a tree, without a care in the world? Only in Mumbai would you expect to see something like that!

So I thought to myself, things can’t get any more strange, and I continued to make my way to my house, when I noticed a few people scattered around, all eyes gazing in one direction. Following their gaze, I was met by a bunch of monkeys hanging out in the balconies of a building, scoring for food. I noticed one even get into the kitchen of a house, grab some food, and munch on it. Here is evidence of the monkey business that was the focus of entertainment of many a people on a Sunday afternoon:

Apparently, a bunch of monkeys have infested my neighborhood and have  made my neighborhood their home since the last 4-5 months, scouring buildings and roof tops in search of food and shelter. Again, I was mesmerized by what I was seeing, smack in the middle of a bustling city. As if seeing cows, bullocks, stray dogs, cats, and rodents, were not enough!

The next day, I made my usual trip to the bazaar for my veggie shopping and happened to look at the tree tops. What do you think I saw? There was a family of monkeys hanging out right above the stall of a vegetable vendor, looking downwards toward the food. I asked the vendor if he was concerned about the monkeys or if he was bothered by them in anyway. He was not. Not in the least bit! Au contraiare! In fact, the vendor took a tiny plastic bag, filled it with sprouted chick peas, and threw a couple of such packets to the monkeys who immediately grabbed them and started devouring the goodies:

I was amazed by the fearlessness and conviction of the vegetable vendor, until I reminded myself that in Hinduism, the monkey is symbolic of the Hindu God, Hanuman. Considered one of the major deities in Hinduism, Hanuman is revered (colloquially) as the “monkey god”, one that plays a major role in the Hindu epic called the Ramayana. Since Hanuman is so ardently worshiped by the Hindus, the vendor feeding the monkeys came as no surprise to me.

Hanuman

Hanuman

However, I was concerned that the feeding of these wild monkeys may make them get habituated to the city life and they would lose their natural and predatory skills of the wild.

So far, as far as I have heard, the municipality has not taken any affirmative action around this monkey business, and I have a feeling that this is the last thing on their mind.

One often hears the slogan, “Incredible India” as a means of marketing and advertising the many splendors of India. But I say, to hell with that! Welcome to “Incredible Mumbai”, a city of milk and honey, cows and monkeys, and many other stupendous sights that promises to take your breath way!

Krishna Janmashtami


This was my first Krishna Janmashtami after a long, long time and it was intriguing to be reminded of how important this day is in the Hindu calender, and how uniquely it is celebrated in Mumbai. Lord Krishna is one of the main gods in Hinduism, among several others. The word Janmashtami means “birthday”. This year, Krishna’s birthday was celebrated on August 10th.

In the state of Maharastra, Krishna Janmashtami is celebrated with great gusto and fervor. Krishna was believed to have stolen butter thereby harassing his mother, Yashoda, on several occasions. He would also steal buttermilk from his mother’s kitchen as a little child. In Mumbai, they commemorate this characteristic of Krishna’s life by engaging in the procurement of dahi handi (A clay pot filled with buttermilk). This clay pot is strategically positioned at a height, which is convenient enough to reach, but also high enough that one needs to build a human pyramid to break the pot.

This was the dahi handi that was hanging in front of my building this afternoon. It is suspended by rope that is tied on either side of the pot and requires people to create a human pyramid and crack the pot open. These handis are set up all over Mumbai:

Dahi Handi

Dahi Handi

The person right at the top of the pyramid cracks open the handi, preferably with a dry coconut (a symbol of purity) and out flows the buttermilk, showering the group with blessings. The modern version of dahi handi not only includes the usual religious paraphernalia, such as flowers and buttermilk, but hundreds of thousands of rupees as well. Yes, people from big business communities contribute lakhs of rupees and each handi is a treasure on its own. It’s such a treasure that young boys from all over  the city and beyond, create teams and come in huge trucks and try to go for the most prized handis in the city.

Here is an image of a boy breaking the handi:

Here is a mass human pyramid in the famous business area of Dadar (Mumbai):

The city is still in revelry. I tried to stay off the streets as much as possible. In the evening, I was invited to a Krishna bhakt’s (devotee) house where they were performing the abhishekam (the pouring of blessed liquids – such as milk, water, honey – on the deity with chanting) of Krishna and Radha (Krishna’s consort). The abhishekam was performed in my friend’s house which was adorned with flowers and several statues of Krishna and filled with about a 100 people, all standing in line to perform the abhishekam. There was a certain vibe in the air that was constantly fueled by the zealous singing and chanting of Krishna’s name. I tried to take a picture of the priest standing near the idols at my friend’s house:

It was lovely observing one of the many religious traditions in Mumbai and participating in it in such an active way. I am sure I will be around to see many more of these in the years to come…

 

Are you Vegetarian?


If so, India takes it to a whole new level! As a vegetarian myself, I have had a relatively easy time living in San Francisco, where the city was vegetarian and vegan friendly. I never had a problem where food was concerned, because SF caters to every dietary needs. When I moved to Mumbai, I was in vegetarian heaven, because there is still a strong inclination toward vegetarianism in India. However, the icing on the cake was when I started noticing that almost every food item that was sold in stores and supermarkets had a certain emblem that clearly indicated if it was a vegetarian product or not. This emblem is a bright green dot that is strategically placed near the ingredients section of the packet.

At first, I was very impressed, and later began to feel quite amused. Impressed, because I saw how seriously vegetarianism  was being taken and how people’s sentiments were being honored and respected. It was refreshing to see that the Indian government was taking great responsibility in ensuring that consumers were aware of what they were purchasing. The “being impressed” gradually turned into “being amused”, as I started noticing the vegetarian symbol on products that I found were bizarre to indicate were vegetarian. For instance, I started seeing the symbol on packets of bread, coffee, wine, even on bottles of coca-cola! Everything vegetarian, had a symbol.

Here are some images of the product, and the green symbol at the back of every product package:

Packet of Bread

Packet of Bread

Now, with the green symbol!

Now, with the green symbol!

Here is a bottle of wine:

Don't miss the green symbol, now

Don’t miss the green symbol, now

Would you like some vegetarian coffee?

Go veg coffee!

Go veg coffee!

And does anyone fancy a veg coke?

I could fill this page with pictures of products marked as vegetarian. The point is, if you are a veg, and are very particular about what you consume, especially if they affect your religious beliefs and sentiments, then know that India is a sanctuary for vegetarians, if not for anything else. It is so much a sanctuary that, in the worst case scenario, if you are ever in an altered state of consciousness, you will still know to look for the green symbol to determine if something is vegetarian or not.

Some updates!


I know, I know…..it’s been ages since I last posted and it has been driving me insane! I have so much to share, so many stories to tell, and several updates to give. This post is going to be brief and I want to share, with my readers, what I have been up to.

I am still living in a dream, wondering if this experience of moving back to Mumbai is real. It will almost be a year since our move and I am still in awe of how fast time has passed me by. Living in Mumbai is like doing a full marathon! I feel like I am constantly on the go and there isn’t a minute to spare.

House renovations: On that front, we are in the last leg of the renovations, although a deadline to move back into the house gets pushed forward by 15 days, every time we inform the contractor our plans to move in. He convinces us with a true but irritating song and dance by saying, “Since you are planing on moving on the 30th of July, another 10-15 days extra is not going to kill you.” Like hell it’s not going to kill us. Who is paying the rent for our temporary space? Not him! On another note, our new place is coming up really nicely and we are very pleased with the work done so far. Just working on the painting and wham!, life will be 50% more merry than it currently is.

Private practice: Also in awe about this and how well it is taking shape. Indeed, there is a distinct need for psychotherapy, as practiced and taught in the West, in Mumbai. I am discovering that more people are open to the idea of having a space to really explore and reflect on themselves. I also enjoy the work I do, and some days, the only thing I look forward to is working with my clients. There are times when they give me a modicum of sanity, especially on days when I feel like a chicken with its head cut off!

Weather: As always, it is schizophrenic. We are supposed to be in the monsoon season, but there are barely any rains. It is scary to think that 2 months have passed us by and our rains have been scant, at best. There is a big hue and cry, and rightly so, about the possibility of a water shortage in Mumbai if this trend continues. Every morning I wake up, the skies are overcast, as if threatening a huge pour, and by the end of the day, there are hardly any showers and dense amounts of humidity.

So that’s a wrap folks! Life in Mumbai, is like life in the fast lane. Between the house renovations, dealing with the heat, managing my practice and trying to have a life, I am surprised I am still writing this post! God save me!