Some Things will Just Never Change


There are some things I can adjust to in this city, while there are many others that I just cannot fathom. Two things that really get on my nerves are sound pollution and open manholes!

Let’s start with the noise. Picture this: dawn approaches, you are still snuggled in bed, while the first rays of sunlight seep in. The sparrows greet the morning sun; ah…such music to my ears. You check your phone and it’s only 6:45 am. You are delighted to find the baby is still asleep and find that you can stay in bed a little longer. And just as you doze back into slumber land, you are reminded that quiet moments in Mumbai are only an illusion. You begin to hear people talking and cackling as they make their way to the train station, there is an irritating croak in the air, as a man shouts out “fresh coconut water for sale” (In Hindi); large trucks are still on the roads, with their radios blaring in order to keep the truck driver awake, and the sounds of cars, bicycles, and motorbikes, add to the cacophony. It’s horrendous! And as your lying in bed thinking, “can I ever get up with some peace of mind?”, the door bell rings and it’s the person who collects the trash asking for the bin.

And this is how my day starts……the noise only builds up over the next few hours, and I find myself wincing at every horn I hear. It’s like an instant reaction. And what is worse, I now find myself cursing the driver who honks, wishing he or she would meet her death or ram into a pole or fall into an open manhole (more on that later). I know I need to not put out such negative energy, but come on! A big part of me still misses waking up to wind chimes and birds in my back yard in San Francisco. I have put several wind chimes in my balcony, but I live in a concrete jungle and there is no passage of wind to allow the wind chimes to do their job. The noise continues, through out the day, and only really subsides by around 10 pm at night.

I guess this is one part of Mumbai, that after 2.5 years, I have just not been able to get used to. I think my next home project will be to research effectiveness and costing for double glazed windows. If I have to continue to stay sane in this city, I have to be serious about reducing the extraneous and painfully irritating auditory stimuli that I am exposed to, every freakin day.

Whilst there is no dearth of sound pollution in Mumbai, there is also no dearth of open manholes as well. The city is littered with them, and with the monsoon season approaching, it is scary to think of how many people are going to get severely injured and even end up dead.

I walk along a certain route, and I have been walking that route for almost a year now. And these images are a constant reminder of the apathy of this city when it comes to people’s safety:

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Such open manholes make walking in Mumbai and even more unpleasant experience; with the uneven pavements, trash every where, beggars squatting on the street, walking in Mumbai, especially the suburbs, is quite a challenge.

I guess my only solution to my irritation with the noise and gaping manholes is not be affected by them as much, and try to accept that these aspects of the city will never change….perhaps only get worse, and I need to re-calibrate my expectations for sane living in Mumbai. 

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Of Colors and Hooliganism


Yes, it is that time of the year when people in Mumbai celebrate the festival of color: Holi. In all honesty, there is no Hindu religion, that I am aware of, that is not colorful. However, Holi, in particular, is all about color, and is celebrated in all parts of India.

March 17th marked the Hindu festival of Holi (coincidentally, it is also happens to be St. Patrick’s Day). This is a day where I will dare not leave the house until late evening. This is also the day that people wear white clothes if they wish to attract color their way. This also happens to be one of the days in which people tend to drink too much, get rowdy, and end up behind bars.

There is a long explanation for the festival and the mythological origins, and as with any Hindu festival, are quite fascinating and complex. But in a nutshell, Holi is celebrated on a full moon, and signifies the victory of good over evil, and a welcoming of the summer season in India. That’s right, typically around this time, temperatures are going to peak until we hit the monsoon season, and I will be on slow marinade for the next 3 months!

A face adorned with the colors of Holi

A face adorned with the colors of Holi

 

The various colors that are sold in the market (courtesy Google)

The various colors that are sold in the market (courtesy Google)

 

And with every festival, especially Holi, there is the abuse of alcohol and other intoxicants, such as bhang, ganja, etc. Today, I was witness to people drinking and smoking up, publicly. Mind you, today is one of those “dry days”, where the sale of alcohol, state-wide, is banned. And it was disgusting to see animalistic behaviors, more so if you are a woman! But as one of my neighbors mentioned, in a rather dry and satirical tone, “This is Indian culture for you.”

I also saw, first hand, a police van stop bang in front of my building, and publicly hit a few men who were misbehaving. They showed no mercy, and after the hitting, ordered the men to get into the van, and drove away. It was a pretty disturbing sight and people just gathered around and watched.

But what I love and appreciate most about Holi, is not the riot of colors or the melodrama on the streets. No, sir! What I love is the deafening silence when you wake up in the mornings. On this day, people dare not leave their house for the fear that they will be randomly splashed with color; vehicles tend to ply the streets only after sunset; most people tend to stay in, silent observers of the cacophony of sounds and colors that plague the streets of the city. I can safely say that Holi is the quietest day of the year, in Mumbai; a much welcome change to the noise and distress I experience on a daily level!

 

The Frailties of Life


Living in Mumbai has taught me a few many precious lessons (I can always count on this city for some deep learnings 🙂 ). One of these lessons is the idea that, at the end of it all, no matter how rich or poor, educated or not, we are all vulnerable creatures; we are all prey to the claws of suffering, be it on an emotional, psychological, physical, and/or spiritual level. And what do I mean by “vulnerable”? I think the Oxford Dictionary describes it best in the following sentence: “Exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally.”

Mumbai is a city of stark differences, in all realms and respects. Think about it: you have the biggest slum in Asia – Dharavi – that is housed withing Mumbai, inhabited by approximately 1 million people. In the same breath, the city is also home to thee most expensive house in the world – Antilia – a 27 storey building that is estimated at US $ 1 billion. Talk about stark differences! But it is through these differences that I am becoming increasingly aware of the common thread that links one Mumbaiker to another, and that is our susceptibility to vulnerability. The differences in lifestyles, access to monetary income and gain, access to basic facilities, and opportunities for a better life…these differences are not ignorable and sometimes leave a heavy dent in how I live in and what I think of this city.

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                      Dharavi (picture taken from Google search)

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Antilia – (picture taken from Google)

 

Beneath all the hoo haa of living and surviving in Mumbai, there is a certain fragility that lies in the fabric of the human psyche. One tug of the fabric, and under certain circumstances, the human mind can collapse. And no matter how rich or poor, educated or illiterate, civilized or uncultured you may be, you are still susceptible to this fragility. I may be talking in circles, and perhaps this is a reflection of my own fragility and state of mind, but I hope I am coherent in what I am saying.

What I am noticing, through my work with my clients, my interactions with my help at home, and through my friends and relatives, that nobody is free from being vulnerable; everybody is exposed to suffering, at one point or the other. However, what I am curious about is not the cause of or the amount of suffering, but what we chose to do with it in our lives. Do we allow ourselves to sit with the sense of fragility and vulnerability and be with the discomfort? Do we look at it deeper and try to make meaning of the discomfort? Or do we look the other way and pretend it does not exist? Do we ignore the discomfort of vulnerability by distracting ourselves through media and social interactions? Does allowing ourselves to be vulnerable mean that we are weak? Do we allow the vulnerability to make us “tough people” or do we allow it to soften us around the edges? The possibilities are endless.

At the end of the day, we are all vulnerable creatures, some of us trying to live, and most others trying to survive. Mumbai is a tough city, and the perils of making a life here does make one vulnerable at different phases in their life. Let’s aim to flip the discomfort into a creative process, whether it is blogging, cooking, exercising, spending more time with friends and family…. and however you may chose to deal with it, remember to not push the discomfort away.

 

 

It’s been a year since my last post….


…. and a lot has happened! I recognize that I have not been blogging for a year now, and there have been several reasons for the silence. It’s been an eventful year, and I have seen many faces of Mumbai, and am now gradually accepting that I am a Mumbaikar, having lived here for almost 3 years.

Let’s see….the last time I blogged, which was in March 2013, I was 7 months pregnant. Yes, in April 2013, I had a lovely, angelic, baby boy, and life has turned a different corner, ever since then! I have to relate that being pregnant in India has many silver linings. For instance, when I was traveling at the airports, there were several allowances made for me to jump the line, and even stand in VIP lines, even though I was only 4 months pregnant. Family wanted to nurture me and take care of me during my pregnancy. Post delivery, I had a masseuse come in every day, and got a 30 minute massage, and so did my baby! Now I have two maids that come in and help with the baby and the house work, making life a little more simpler for me.

Apart from motherhood, my private practice is also flourishing and I feel like I am creating a name in my field and there is a lot more recognition of the work that I do. More importantly, I am no longer working from my home office. I am now renting a private space in Mumbai, and have created a haven for my clients, both mentally and visually. It’s a really empowering feeling to know that you have your own private office in the heart of Mumbai.

I feel like I am also more adjusted to Mumbai and getting closer to fully accepting it, for all its flaws and perfections. I do feel that a lot more can be done, where the city’s infrastructure is concerned (but that post I shall save for another day). But when I reflect on the journey that I have gone through in the last 2.5 years of living, breathing, and existing in Mumbai, I come up with only one conclusion: how resilient the human being is, and how benevolent is the divine. There is a grace that accompanies you in every journey, whether you wish to recognize it or not. Because if there weren’t any grace, I do not believe that I would have made it through so many life changing events with most of my sanity in tact. I am aware of what some of my limitations are, and if it weren’t for this grace, perhaps I would not have pushed my limits the way I am doing so now. And through this process, I believe I am gaining an acute awareness of the infinite possibilities that lie ahead of me, as long as I stay open to the unknown and embrace the impossible. For there in lies my approach to the pursuit of “happiness”, life long as it may be.