Because Mumbai is a city of disparity, and ridiculous amounts of disparity, I sometimes find myself living in a self-created bubble, one that seldom gets burst, except on rare occasions. Soon it will be three years since I have moved to Mumbai, and I can say in all fairness, that I am pretty well adjusted to this maximum city. Yes, I am not absolved of my bouts of complaining and angst around Mumbai, but I have certainly come a long, long, way in terms of the acculturation process.
In the time that I have lived here, I have been mostly successful in creating the life that I seek; in other words, creating my bubble. I live in a relatively modernized and comfortable apartment (which we renovated within a year of our arrival), I have established myself as a psychotherapist in Mumbai, I have a decent private practice, and my therapy office is in the same building that I live in!! And when you live in Mumbai, anyone will tell you that half your insanity is caused by the massive commute hours and traffic jams that only seem to be getting worse. So it only makes sense that, because I live in this bubble, I am sometimes blind to the realities of Mumbai. And then, as fate would have it, something hits me in the face, once in a while, and I wake up and smell the coffee.
A simple example may illustrate my point: I have my house help who lives in the “chawls” (a Hindi word that means ghettos). It’s a tough life, living in these chawls, where every house is no more than a 100 square feet, crammed with families, all trying to make it through the night in one piece. A few days ago, I was teaching my maid to use the vacuum cleaner, a device so common in Mumbai. When I pulled the vacuum cleaner out of the closet, she looked puzzled, and I irritatingly asked her, “Don’t you know what this is? Everybody uses a vacuum cleaner.” With a sorry look on her face she responded, “No madam, I live in the chawl. I may have seen one on TV, but I don’t know what it is.” For a minute I flinched,and did not know how to respond, feeling bad about my expectation that she should be aware of modern day gadgets and devices. It was a good reminder of how some people have to live and make do….never even having seen or known many a things in life.
This same maid was in awe when, after coming from my evening walk, I hurriedly asked her to turn the water geyser on so I could have a warm shower. She looked confused, but this time I was more understanding. I showed her what the geyser was, and then put my foot in mouth by asking her, “Don’t you have one in your house?” And then I wanted to kick myself for asking her that question. Her response was, “No we don’t have one. We have to shower with cold water, no matter what the weather is like. There is no option to have a warm shower.” My heart sank.
So there you have it! While it’s great to live in my cozy bubble, shielded from the disparity and (sometimes) inhumanity of life in Mumbai,I am also thankful for the gentle (and some blatant) reminders that the universe sends me, helping me realize and appreciate that life ain’t fair. And, having gratitude for what I have, will take me a long, long, way.