Mumbai Dilemmas

There are many dilemmas of living in Mumbai; dilemmas and situations that make you want to pull your hair out and wonder if you are losing your mind. There are subtle dilemmas, and then there are not so subtle ones, both of which are infuriating and confusing. The not so subtle and blatant dilemmas include the following: do I pay a bribe or not, do I give money to the beggars on the road or just roll up my window and pretend they do not exist, do I walk past a gaping manhole everyday and not do anything about it, and/or, do I help the old or handicapped person cross the street or do I ignore him/her because I am too busy and need to get somewhere? These are some of the obvious dilemmas that I am constantly faced with over and over again.

And then you have some subtle dilemmas, dilemmas that just blind side you in a very unassuming way. These include situations such as: do i deliberately avoid the lady (daily) who collects the building garbage or give her the money she has been hinting at (due to my new house renovations), do I dress conservatively or just be myself when I am out and about Mumbai, and my most recent dilemma, who do I invite for my house-warming get together?

Living in Mumbai, especially if you are from the city, comes with a lot of baggage – one of them being “family”. Yes, the dearly beloved family whose lineage seems endless and most apparent when it’s time to have people over. Don’t get me wrong,  family is important and an integral part of life, but the idea of family can also be cumbersome when one has a big extended family and has to decide who to invite!

It’s been a few weeks now that I have been consulting my grandmother on who to invite for lunch and what the menu should be and blah, blah, blah. We decided on the guest list, and I thought it wise to follow her advise on inviting those people who have invited my husband and I for meals to their house. So we zoned in on the list and I was pleased with our selection. This afternoon, however, I got a call from grandma, delicately suggesting two more people to my guest list, and I was not pleased with it at all. In all fairness, the two extra guests had invited us for lunch to their place, and I informed grandma that I would invite them at a later time as it would be too many guests to manage in one go. But the old lady was insistent that “adding two more guests would not be a big deal”, when in fact, I know it would. And her reason for inviting them was, really bizarre, at least to me. She informed me, “You never know when you will need these people…” I almost lost it, but kept my cool.

And I thought about this episode for a few minutes and it dawned on me that, back in the USA, I never had to deal with this family business, of whom to invite, and whose feelings will be hurt, and (I quote my grandma) “what people will think and say”, and all that jazz. I didn’t have to bat an eye! It was a relatively hassle free life without having to consider all these social conundrums and implications regarding family. Since it was just my husband and I, it was a relatively simple and uncomplicated life. Now it seems a little more messy than I like.

Just like many other things I am getting accustomed to in Mumbai, co-existing with family and understanding its social and cultural expectations and implications, is also something I need to learn to deal with. The list of lessons and life-tests never end, and I am still trying to keep up with the many lessons that Mumbai so consistently throws my way. Some days I am prepared for them and most days I am not. And life still goes on. I salute the human resiliency that is potent in me and in every other human being.


Feeling Troubled

Although I have much acclimated to the humdrum of life in Mumbai, and I know that I still have a long way to go, there is a certain restlessness that is haunting me, eating into my spirit everyday. I think a great deal of it has to do with the noise pollution that is incessant, and I am exposed to a lot more of it in my new place. The constant nagging background of loud honking and people chattering, drives me crazy. One year later, I still yearn for the silence that many a times brought my soul peace, in San Francisco.

I just can’t put my finger on it, but there is also something else that is stirring inside of me, making me feel even more alienated and strange. Perhaps I have some inkling as to what it is, but do not have the courage to admit it. Whatever it is, there are some days where I just feel down.

Perhaps all this has to do with the fact that I have spent 1 year in Mumbai? Maybe I am being triggered by all the recent memories of our departure from the USA, my wounds resurfacing, as if it were only yesterday? Maybe I miss all my friends and my life in San Francisco?

I am not entirely sure what is going on. I do know that I am not going to give in to this feeling, but be hopeful that I will come out of this gloom. I am wishing on a star tonight – thought it would be appropriate to post the pictures of a string of stars that were hanging during last Christmas at a university campus.

Lord Gana is in Town!

It’s true! The elephant god, Lord Ganesha, is very much in town and he is here to stay (at least till the end of the month!) There are hundreds of stalls across the city that are homes to the magnificent idol. Yes, Mumbai is in full swing preparing for the much awaited festival of the year, the festival that kicks of the season of festivals in India – Ganesh Chaturthi (Ganesh birthday) or Ganeshotsav (festival of Ganesha), which marks the birthday of Lord Ganesha. This year, Ganesh Chaturthi will begin on the 19th of September. The festivities and celebrations last for 10 days and culminate on the last day with the Ganesh Visarjan, where Ganeshas of all shapes and sizes will be lead in procession and taken to the several beaches that dot the West coast of Mumbai for submergence into the sea.

Although the festival only begins on the 19th, the actual creation and mass production of the Ganesha idols begin at least a month in advance, and each masterpiece is proudly displayed in the many stalls across Mumbai. This festival is of great significance in Maharashtra, home to the city of Mumbai, as Ganesh is one of the highly favored and worshiped gods in this part of the county. Briefly touching on the symbolism of Ganesh, he is the son of Lord Shiva and Parvathi, and is also referred to as the Elephant god, amongst many other names. There are many stories and legends as to why this god has a human body and the head of an elephant. One such legend insists that Parvathi had created Ganesh out of sandalwood, breathed life into him, with Lord Shiva having no idea about his new off spring. On the day of his creation, Parvathi made Ganesh stand guard while she was bathing around which time, Shiva came home. Shiva wanted to enter the house which Ganesh prohibited (not knowing Shiva was his father), as a result of which he had to deal with Shiva’s wrath. In a fit of anger, Shiva severed the head of Ganesh, much to Parvathi’s dismay. When she realized what had happened and explained it to Shiva, he quickly tried to save his child; an elephant was passing by and Shiva sliced off the head of the animal and placed it on Ganesh’s body. Parvathi was satisfied and thus was born the “elephant god”.

Ganesh Chaturthi is always celebrated with great pomp and fare in Mumbai, involving a lot of music, money, processions, and some nonreligious activities (I shall give more updates when the festival begins). Here are some pictures I took of some of the recent idols on display for sale in Mumbai:

Here's one with an Indian turban

Here’s one with an Indian turban (notice the others in the background)

Lord Ganehsa, in Hindu mythology, is considered the “remover of obstacles”, the god you pray to fervently before you start a new project or buy a new object (flat, car, etc), asking him to eliminate and destroy any spiritual and material hindrances to your success. He is one of the most favorite and well known gods in Mumbai and the world, one that is revered for his wisdom and knowledge. It is truly amazing to see how this god will be revered and celebrated for 10 straight days, although I am not too pleased in the manner in which it is done (more on that later).

In the meantime, I ask Lord Ganesha to remove all obstacles that my be placed in the way of my readers’ success; to shower us and the planet with infinite wisdom and mercy as we traverse difficult and challenging times:

Happy First Anniversary Rochelle & Mumbai

Indeed, it is my first anniversary of moving to Mumbai. September 5th, 2011, is a day I fondly describe in the words of ex-president George Bush as being in “shock and awe”. I clearly recall the day I landed in Mumbai – it is crystal clear, a memory that is etched in the recesses of my mind. It was about 2:30 am when we landed at the international airport, tired from all the exhaustion of traveling and saying goodbye to our old life. We had our cat in hand and luckily for us, immigration was quick. We got out of the airport and were greeted by cool winds, silence, and a whiff of tar. I was still in a daze, wondering, what next? It’s been one heck of a ride ever since.

The last 12 months have been incredible, some good and some, well, not so good. But more importantly, this last year has been an important learning experience, a testimony to human resilience and strength, a true test of fortitude, self-belief, and faith: faith in oneself and in one’s relationship with others. The city and I have romanced each other this last year, finding out what the other is made of, appreciating each others strengths and trying to change what we do not like about the other. So far it feels like we are yet undecided on how we feel about each other, and so the affair continues; the status of our relationship will be a mystery for now.

It is hard to fathom all that I have achieved in Mumbai in the span of 12 months: traveled to China and Bangalore to teach and present at conferences, visited Kashmir and Delhi/Agra for sightseeing, started a private practice in a matter of one month on arrival, started and completed the house renovations, and more importantly, did a pretty good job in maintaining my sanity through all of my trials and tribulations. I have discovered in my time so far, that Mumbai is a city that can provide an impetus or be the catalyst if you really have a fire burning within you. I discovered this when I lived here in my college days and I am rediscovering it again. Somewhere, somehow, knowing this fact, brings me some joy.

One year later, I am still in shock and awe of two facts, though: that one year has flown by so quickly, like a bolt of lightning, ripping every fiber and shred of humanness in me. Secondly, that some days I am still in disbelief that I have left the USA and have started a new chapter in my life in Mumbai. Perhaps you need to be in my shoes to really understand what I am trying to say – it’s never easy to just move base from one culture to another, especially when you feel like a stranger in your own back yard.

I’d like to share a poem by one of my favorite authors, Robert Frost. It speaks to the ambivalence I have often faced in my decision to move to Mumbai. I hope you enjoy it.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveller, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference

…Robert Frost


While I love, just love, being in my new place and reveling in its charms and comfort, I am in great disdain of the street noise that I just cannot seem to escape from! And it does not feel right, because my paradise should not just be confined to my four walls. I believe I am in a rather precarious situation where I have gotten so used to the silence and demure street noises of San Francisco, that any sound that has a sound decibel of 2 irks me. Even worse, when we moved to our rental apartment where we set camp for 5 months during our recent house renovations, we happened to live on one of the inner most streets in a building that was a sanctuary to my ears and my soul. At the most, I would hear a couple of cars honk or speed by if it got really, really quiet. Otherwise, it was so pleasant living in such peace; the silence was deafening indeed. Moving back to my original place, I am having to come back to the reality of Mumbai, where the incessant honking and chatter of people never seems to end (at all times of the day).

One may think that I am whining, making a big deal about something trivial. Some of my friends may even have the thought cross their mind as they are reading this post, “Such a princess” (you know who you are). But imagine this, every time I am taking a much needed nap or trying to find some time to meditate or focus on y work, there is someone honking his a** off, or some procession going by, or some people having a useless argument on the street because they have nothing better to do…the list goes on. It’s really frustrating when you are trying to create a peaceful surrounding for yourself, especially during nap time, and someone or something is hell bent on making your life miserable. There are days where I have cursed the person to death (in my mind of course) because I am so irritated by the constant noise, noise of all types.

So I have decided that the next phase of house renovations, which I hope will be sooner than later, is to get double glazed windows and soundproof my house as much as possible. I do not care how much it costs or how much my pockets will bleed to cover this expense. But I am sure it will be a small price to pay for the silence and auditory peace that I will be able to obtain in my many more years in Mumbai. One can only hope and pray!

Approaching our First Anniversary

On September 3rd, 2011, my husband and I left the safe, homely confines of San Francisco, ready with our passports, air tickets, and cat to board LH 455 from San Francisco to Frankfurt to Mumbai. With extreme heaviness in our hearts, we embarked on our journey, fully knowing that it will be sometime before we visit/return our city by the bay. Fast forward, and it’s one year that we took flight from San Francisco, making our way to the new and strange city by the bay, Mumbai.

When I think of “journeys”, this was a road less traveled, both for my husband and I, none of whom knew what we were getting into and how our lives would change radically. All I knew was that it was time to move on to the motherland and there was no looking back. I still vividly remember that afternoon at SFO International Airport, trying to spend every last minute we could with our friends who dropped us off at the airport, wondering if we would ever see them again. I tried not to cry and even managed to hold myself together, believing that I was headed for a positive turn in my life, welcoming and trying to embrace the opportunity to grow and change as an individual. We had our last meal together and talked of all the reasons Hanz and Amanda should visit us in Mumbai and how much fun it would be. We took pictures of our selves at the airport, praying that every moment with them would get extended a wee bit longer, that our flight would be delayed, or would be bumped of our existing flight onto the next one. That never happened.

Incidentally, I got about thinking of the significance of “September 3rd” when I sat in my house looking at the down pour that did not cease. While my heart was heavy with fond memories of our last day in San Francisco, the Mumbai skies were dense and heavy with rain, shamelessly falling down with great force for a good 4-5 hours. It was an uncanny experience thinking of the two parallels, both glum and gloomy, yet very important enough to effect change in one’s environment.

The heavy rains I witnessed today for hours on end

The heavy rains I witnessed today for hours on end

September 5th, 2012, will mark our first anniversary of our arrival in Mumbai. I wonder what surprises the Mumbai skies will hold then. There is a certain anticipation about what the first day of my second year in Mumbai will look like, a curiosity of sorts… only time will tell. And so far, time has proved to be a great teacher and friend.