Rude Awakenings


Every morning I wake up, grateful for what I have in my life: a cozy bed to snuggle in, a roof over my head, a job that I love doing, a home that feels like my sanctuary, caring friends, family, and my cat! There is gratitude for all that I have and all that I continue to have. And I wish it were the same for some of the people that surround me.

It’s a tough life, for some folks in this city, especially for the children….I mean the street children. They beg all day, do not get any schooling or education, have to deal with the elements (all types – from human to environmental), and at the end of the day, are not guaranteed a warm meal and cozy home to return to. Yes, these are the street children of Mumbai, who will perhaps never know what a “normal” life is. This thought hits home, every time I see my own child, how he plays in the comfort of his mother’s lap, when he rolls around in his crib at night, and how he will never know what it is like to beg for your own supper.

It gets even tougher in the monsoons, when children are still begging, day in and day out, even in the harsh rains. Some of them do try to make an honest living by selling little trinkets, or books, or even fancy umbrellas. But how many of those can one buy to help these little souls out? Heartbreaking and pathetic.

This evening I was out in the neighborhood and I chanced upon this 4 year old boy, who’s home was clearly the sidewalks of Mumbai. I noticed him kicking something around, and on close inspection, saw that he was trying to play footsie with the branches of a tree (that had probably crashed to the ground because of the heavy rains). I took a picture of him, and as I was leaving, he flashed such a haunting smile, I was almost in tears:

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As I was walking along, I came across another sight that moved me. It was an old, decrepit man, sleeping on the sidewalk, a dog for his companion. Both were in deep slumber, oblivious to the noise and foot traffic during peak hours. What is this man’s story? How did he end up this way? Perhaps he is better of in this situation than in some home?

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It was a tough walk, going back home. These two sights reminded me of the importance of gratitude and appreciation. When it rains, I run into the comfort of my home, shut all the windows, and slip into a hot bath or make myself a warm cup of tea. What do the little boy and old man do when the heavens belt out a storm? What is their comfort? Who is their comfort?

Sometimes I think this city can kill my spirit, when I am faced with these glaring situations and existential challenges. I hope it does not harden me more than I have been, in the last 3 years. I suppose it is only natural that, on some level, you learn to develop a thick skin; you learn to look the other way and thank your stars that you did, because sometimes, it is a cruel city that I live in. And on the other hand, you pray that Mumbai does not kill your humanity and kindness, for what are we if we without them?

So tonight when you go to bed, you may want to give a hug to the person sleeping next to you and be grateful for all the you have.

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.

Busier than a Bee!


People often say, and I have heard it myself, that life in the USA is soooo hectic, and so not worth it; that all you do is slog and really have no time to have fun. For a long time, I strongly considered this perspective and believed that my life in the USA, was indeed a rat race…..until I moved to Mumbai, where I have now been living here for a year and a half. And I can safely say, to all of you that try to console yourself about life being less hectic in India than the USA, please get a reality check! Life in Mumbai is the mother of all rate races!

Having lived in both countries, I do believe there are pros and cons to each societal and cultural structure, each country having its own set of demands on its citizen. But there are some factors that set the “rat race” in Mumbai apart from the one in the USA. For instance, let’s consider the fact that, in India, there is no legal minimum wage that a working individual is entitled to. Yup! You are paid whatever your employer deems fit; and when the supply is more than the demand (in the workforce), you tend to grab what you get. So, what’s the common man to do? If his one job pays him a pittance,  he then needs to probably work an extra job to support his family. This same person may not have to scrounge about in the USA, where each state has a minimum hourly wage that appropriately reflects the cost of living and other economic factors, such as inflation.

Mumbai also happens to be a city where people have no patience; everyone is chasing the big dream, and anyone who gets in their way, better pray for their safety, because no one will be spared. Let me illuminate this point, if I will. Sometime last month, I was walking with my 78-year-old grandmother from Church onto the main road, in the bleak hope of getting a rickshaw to the house. It was pretty apparent that the lady I was with, was old, hunched, and unable to support herself. She clearly needed a ride home. But alas, because the ride was a “short distance”, no rickshaw driver was willing to stop and take us home. No one was willing to help my grandmother out and take her home, only because it meant covering a short distance! It was pathetic! Finally, one of her building neighbors, who also happened to attend mass, gave us a lift home. Clearly, the ride from church to home was not lucrative enough….so why would the rick drivers bother helping out an old lady?

Everyone in Mumbai is busy….I am busy, the maid is busy, the neighbors are busy, the street urchin is busy…..we are all busy trying to survive in this mega city. There is no time to slow down and ponder on our existence; to take in and reflect on our purpose in this world. I believe there is something in this city that makes you want to get competitive and fierce. If, your competitor gets even so much a hint of anything less than competition and fierceness in you, you are done!

The flip side to this madness is that, with the fierceness, you also develop a keen sense of fearlessness; courage and self-belief are also important accompaniments on this journey. This city does make you stronger than you think you are capable of, as long as you are able to go with the flow. The moment you resist it, be prepared to be crushed. Mumbai waits for no man, or woman!

I am trying to be more mindful of my every action and not get sucked into the rat race, even if that means that I will have to give up certain career or personal opportunities for myself. It’s always important to look at the bigger picture instead of being seduced by the monotony of life. Rest assured, life will become more meaningful and purposeful, and I will be better able to appreciate the finer things in life (even if it is in Mumbai!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Do you recycle?


If yes, then great! If no, then join the club!

Mumbai is a city that is littered with tons of plastic; plastics of all kinds, from bags, bottles, boxes, to containers and cartons. It is incredible how much plastic is consumed and wasted on a daily basis. The concept of recycling is just a concept; there is no reality to it. In a city where millions of people use plastic, it is saddening to note that an efficient “recycling program” is not in place. This is even more surprising in a time when the whole world is making a movement toward a “greener” landscape. Why isn’t India on board?

This morning I went for my daily walk and was mesmerized by this wondrous sight: people from the municipality cleaning up incredible amounts of waste from the creek. I imagine this is all the plastic that has been washed up during the high tide:

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If you look closely, you will find the BMC (municipality) workers raking plastic and other such trash and dumping them into the truck. By the way, this truck will dump its possessions in another landfill and will add to the already increasing amounts of garbage that is taking over the city.

Every time I step out of my house, I am guaranteed to either find plastic bags and other similar waste, strewn around the neighborhood, or I can be sure of encountering areas that are piled with trash – a very sore and unpleasant sight.

The government has and is still trying to take a stand on this matter, urging and maintaining complete bans on plastic bags that are beyond “50 microns”. But this is Mumbai, and even Satan can get away with murder! Vendors and shop keepers still use bags that are banned. Some shops do charge customers a minimal fee for giving them plastic bags, while others do not keep plastic bags at all. Either way, there is no uniform system in place and the menace of plastic bags continues to remain just that: a horrible menace, a phenomena that the city may never be able to deal with, unless every citizen makes a conscious choice and effort to participate in endeavors for a greener Mumbai.

It is a fact that most Indian cities seldom have a recycling system or efficient system for the collection of household waste. Instead, it is not uncommon to find low-caste scavengers or rag pickers looking through the garbage in search of items such as plastic or glass bottles, and other such material that could be sold for a minimum price. Outside of India’s big cities, rubbish is simply dumped on vacant plots or in nearby fields or forests. Have a look and be amazed:

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In 2005, Mumbai witnessed one of its most devastating floods in July, where hundreds of people lost their lives. The Mumbai municipality has determined that plastic bags was one of the major culprits that clogged the cities drainage system, resulting in the over flow of water back into the arteries of the city instead of the drains.

It really makes me sad what we are doing to our environment, especially in a country where, traditionally, we are supposed to be in unison with nature. Now, we don’t even give her a second thought. However, there are many people in the city who are conscious of reusing plastic and carrying their own plastic bags to the market. So there is some hope.

I am hopeful that each Mumbaiker will do his/her best to eliminating the curse of plastic. Otherwise, we will be in even more trouble than we already are in. See the picture below:

s many little water channels!

Plastic clogging one of Mumbai’s many little water channels!

 

Notice the rodent prying into the red/white plastic bag.

Notice the rodent prying into the red/white plastic bag.

India witnessed her last Bubonic Plague in 1994, where 5 major states were affected. The next one may be just around the corner, at this rate!

Are you secure from the Evil Eye?


For a modern and cosmopolitan city, Mumbai certainly has some eccentricities that cannot be ignored. One of the most interesting things I have noticed, time and again, is that most cars and shops sport the nimubu-mirchi garland (lime-chilli). This garland literally consists of several green chillies strung together, with a yellow lime hanging at the bottom of it. Most taxis and rickshaws in Mumbai will purchase these contraptions, for a mere Rs. 10/-, and will hang them either in the rear view mirror or in the front of the vehicle. Children will be selling these on the streets and will mainly target taxi/ rickshaw drivers and people who own fancy cars (Audis, BMWs, Mercedes, etc). After all, own the top line cars is no small thing in Mumbai (where you pay 100% in taxes). Owning such a car, the, would surely attract the envy and scorn of the common man/woman.

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Here’s one that is hanging in the front of the taxi:

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The lime-chilli garland is actually believed to ward off the “evil eye” or, what we call in Hindi, the buri-nazar. Every culture and country has their version of the evil eye, and Mumbai is no exception.The garland is also known as the nazar battu and traditionally, has 7 green chillies and one lime strung together. It is popularly used amongst the Hindus and is believed that the contraption has the ability to “absorb” and contain and kinds of jealousies or ill-feelings that people may have about someone’s success and happiness, be it in the realm of family, business, or a new social enterprise.

The mythology that surrounds this contraption is as follows: While all Hindus welcome and cherish the presence of the Goddess Lakshmi (goddess of wealth and auspiciousness), they are also sure to keep her jealous sister, Alakshmi, away from the homes and business. Alakshmi is believed to bring poverty to a person’s life. Alakshmi is believed to like sour and pungent foods.Thus, the lime-chilli contraptions are hung at the every entrances of houses and shops, with the belief that Alakshmi will attempt to come into these dwellings, will stop at the entrance and consume the chillies and lime, will be satiated, and will not cast any misery that was originally intended. The contraption is meant to satisfy the malevolent desires of the goddess and also appease her. how clever!

Modern or not, Mumbai is a city of strange beliefs and practices. I am sure there are many such beliefs that cloak this city and are endorsed and utilized by all classes and castes in Mumbai. I was pretty amazed when I was wandering the hallways of the Taj Hotel over the weekend, and found that one of the top establishments in Mumbai, Ravissant, had the nimbu-mirchi garland hanging right outside its shop:

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I was a little stunned at seeing this ultra-modern, ultra-chic store sporting the medieval garland, thereby publicly declaring it’s embrace of the supernatural and all beliefs attached to it. I guess the more prestigious you are, the more protection required from the evil eye? Go figure!

Watching TV Is a Joke….


… a joke indeed, and it makes me laugh. And I make this statement with the highest degree of sarcasm. I am not a big fan of watching TV, in general. Do I like an occasional program or a comedy/ sitcom or the news once in a while? Yes! But am I one of those who can be glued to the TV for hours and be entertained by it? No! And that is certainly not the case in Mumbai.

As a psychologist, I am amazed by what appears to be a clear paradox and hypocrisy in the content that is aired and censored on TV. What do I mean? Let us consider the simple fact that there is a mindless discrepancy in the censorship department of Indian TV. I generally tend to watch the English programs on the Western channels as they are far more appealing to me than the Indian ones. Programs such as Dharma and Greg, Ugly Betty, Rules of Engagement, Melissa and Joey and other such sitcoms, have some words and language which apparently, by Indian standards, are considered adult rated. To elaborate, words such a “hooker”, “sex”, “sperm”, “ass”, and “sexy”, amongst others, are carefully censored, making viewing TV a very disjointed experience sometimes.

On the other hand, and this is the most frustrating part, the Indian channels will not have words that are considered derogatory, but, will do a great job in show casing some really explicit and questionable images on TV. These images are generally portrayed in TV commercials and in Hindi movies and music programs that, I think are, short of being considered pornography. So while there are no direct words that allude to sex-related content, there are heaving bosoms, gyrating pelvises, scantily clad bodies, and subtle yet offensive sexual language and scenes, that are openly portrayed on television.

I just don’t get it! How is it OK to have such explicit material aired on TV, but not OK to have everyday words like “sex” or “hooker” allowed on the English channels? How is it OK to air such Hindi programs during “family time” hours, but try and censor every word that may be sexually oriented on the English channels? Any ideas?

That’s why watching TV is a joke….it just makes me wonder what the motives of the Indian censorship board are. Do they really know what they are doing and how some of the Hindi programs perpetrate more disarray than a few everyday words in the English sitcoms? Is the Indian censorship board bribed by the Indian film industry? On what basis do they justify the airing of some material and the censorship of more benign ones?

This is all a mystery to me. I am not aware of what the motives and ideologies of the Indian censorship board maybe; but I am aware of how inconsistent and hypocritical it is, and how the airing of explicit sexual material can have a major impact on the young and impressionable minds of today’s youth. Go figure!

 

Irritated Rochelle!


I was going to title the post as “Irritating Mumbai”, but decided against it. I realize that Mumbai is what it is, and it is I who is getting so irritated and frustrated with this city. I need to take responsibility for my feelings and responses to this city; it cannot be the other way around.

A year and half into living in this city and I have yet to make my peace with the move. Most days are good and I feel comfortable living here. Of course, as of now, this is not home for me. And home is where the heart is. However, the last few days I have been feeling extremely irritated and disturbed by the burdening demands of life in Mumbai. I have been on short fuse and everything about life in Mumbai is getting to me: the noises seem louder, the people on the streets seem to have increased, the winter lasted all of 1 week and the days are still warm, the dust continues to filter in through every crevice of the house, the maid has not been showing up on time, men are still disrespectful of women in this city, there are trashy programs and repeat shows on TV, and I am feeling drained. One of my psychotherapy clients rightly put it: ‘Mumbai is not a concrete jungle. It is junk!” I was shocked that there was someone who felt worse about this city than me, but I could also empathize with his sentiment.

I know that my irritation is heightened, more than usual, and it’s part of the growing pains of adjusting to a new city and culture….yes, I am still adjusting and navigating my way through the chaotic life in Mumbai. It still upsets me no end that no cab is willing to take you where you want to go, if it is a short distance. And the incessant honking??? It’s so hard to get a nap in the afternoon because of all the noise and honking. My god, people in Mumbai have no patience and such little tolerance, where time is concerned. I have now gotten into the habit of telling off the cab driver if he is honking more than required and asking him to knock it off. So far, no driver has protested.

I know that only I can address my irritation and frustration and soothe these extreme feelings that seem to haunt me in every waking and sleeping moment. It is the internal fire that needs to be squelched, although I will let it burn for a little while longer. It is important, I find, to give space to those feelings that rise and fall within you, and to not stuff them away at the first sign of discomfort. I am hoping that, in a few more days, the angst will subside and I will return to a more tranquil state of mind.

 

For Whom the Bell Tolls!


Living in Mumbai has its fair share of irritations, one being that there is always someone or the other who rings the door bell.  It has been a year and a half, and I have yet to get used to people ringing the bell for some reason or the other. This phenomena, I have never faced in San Francisco; I always felt that I would have peace of mind whenever I came home, not being bothered or disturbed by anyone once I shut my front door and shut out the world behind me, except for the occasional mail person who would deliver heavier mail items.

Here is a list of all the kinds of people I have encountered at my front door, on more than one occasion: the mail man (who sometimes rings the bell, even though he puts the mail in the mail box right in front of the flat), the rep from the gas company (who comes to read the gas meter in the flat every few months), the cable guy, random sales people (selling things right from Gillette blades to brooms to religious items), the watchman, the lady who collects the garbage, the neighbor (who wants to get some curry leaves from the tree that is only accessible from my balcony), and more! Recently, I had someone from the Mumbai Municipality ring my door bell and ask me if anyone in my house was pregnant!! And this morning, I had the bank representative (of the bank my husband applied his credit card from) just show up at my front door to “verify” information from me about my husband, in order to process his cc application.

And the bell rings in the most inopportune time: either I will be cooking, or taking a nap, or in the loo or chatting on the phone; the bell rings and I have to drop everything and attend to the door. For the love of God, does this madness ever end?

The funny thing is, even when I turn my door bell off (and thank god I have that option), they will be banging on the front door, which makes me feel, there’s always some form of noise pollution in Mumbai.

I think one of the main differences between operational styles in communicating and receiving information between San Francisco and Mumbai is that, while in San Francisco everything is automated and most things are done online, Mumbai still relies on a rather archaic system of achieving the same goal. I suppose, with a good chunk of the population not having access to the internet, not knowing how to even use it, or not being fluent or even conversant in English, it does make it very challenging for most things to be systematized and steam-lined. I suppose then, it only makes sense to continue with the current systems that are put in place, no matter how frustrating they are.

Thus, I have arrived at the sad, but true conclusion that, if I plan on living here for a long period, I have to turn my attitude around and become more accepting of this bell-ringing phenomena, for the bells will always toll and that’s just how it is!

 

 

 

 

 

Farewell 2012…Hello 2013


The 31st day of 2012 in Mumbai has arrived. There is nothing unusual about today, as the city goes about its usual business, building its way to the crescendo……12:00 am, January 1st, 2013. It is a little over 6 pm and the firecrackers have already started, which is quite annoying and frustrating, because it does nothing for me, except gives me a taste of the evening ahead.

But more than commenting on the revelry and celebrations that are going to happen, I would like to take a moment and comment on the distress that some of the Mumbaikers are experiencing with the recent events in Delhi. As you may already know, on December 16th, a 23 year old girl and her fiance, boarded a bus at 9 pm, after watching a movie – The Life of Pi, to be precise. The girl was gang raped on the bus and her fiance could barely defend her. The rest of the details are too gory to describe. The least said, the better. She struggled for her life and was flown to Singapore for multiple organ transplants; and on December 29, she passed away, and hopefully, not in vain.

Even Wikipedia has an entry on the case: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2012_Delhi_gang_rape_case

Delhi is certainly in mourning and there is a certain level of sadness nationwide. I myself, am not in the best of spirits to indulge in the senses in the name of New Years. The nation has woken and I, amongst the millions of other people, pray that stronger measures and policies are created that protect women and women’s rights in India.

On another note, when I personally reflect on the year gone by, it’s been my first complete “chronological” year in Mumbai. Like all other life transitions, this move to Mumbai and the year 2012, have had their fair share of ups and downs. I have experienced the death and revival of my spirit, all in one year; the celebrations and grieving of my life left behind, in the last 12 months. It’s been a journey alright, and moving to Mumbai has  taught me many a lessons about myself.

Like 2012, I suspect the year 2013 will have many a more lessons that it will throw my way. I only hope that it also provides me the courage and strength to deal with the new year’s challenges. We live in very challenging and demanding times, and the world is turning topsy-turvy with every minute.

This New Year, let us pledge to take a moment or two (everyday) to be kind to ourselves and to others. For it really is in giving, that we receive.

Of Slums and High Rises


I am still amazed by the levels of disparity this city, so proudly, exhibits. There are no qualms about the vast differences between the rich and the poor. A few weeks ago, I spent the weekend at a friend’s place who lives in a high-rise building; on the 21st floor, to be precise. It was my first time spending the night in a high-rise in Mumbai, and it was an experience, for sure.

As I stood out on the balcony in the morning, I was in awe of the vision I beheld. Several yards ahead of me, was a beautiful skyline of Mumbai’s finest high rises, each one more stunning than the other. I managed to take a few pictures of them. Of course, they are not very clear, thanks to the bloody levels of smog that cloaks this city at any given point in time:

Mumbai's high rises (and don't miss the Mahalaxmi race course that is in the foreground of the photo)

Mumbai’s high rises (and don’t miss the Mahalaxmi race course that is in the foreground of the photo)

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These high rises are mushrooming all over the city and one has to pay a very steep price to possess a flat in such a building. One of the most coveted buildings in Mumbai are the World Towers, in which World One, is projected to be thee world’s tallest residential tower. This building will be located in Mumbai’s Upper Worli, the new Beverly Hills of Mumbai, where a number of high rises are making their way into the city’s skies. The highlight of this tower is that the interiors are designed by Armani/ Casa….you can only imagine the rest. And if you can’t, please note that the tower is set in 18 acres of land and is as tall as 1400 feet, and offers a host of facilities and amenities to cater to every taste and senses one can imagine. Someone I know who is currently working on the project, mentioned to me that the lowest price to buy a flat in this building starts at INR 10 crores ($ 1,815,646.67),  going all the way to INR 50 crores ( a mere sum of $ 9,078,446.67).

When I stood at the very same balcony and I looked right below me, I was amazed, but not surprised, by what I saw: a major slum that sat pretty amongst the high rises and the race course; amongst the affluence and pretentiousness. This sprawling slum was a stark contrast to the previous image; a deep reminder of the several shades of life. On one hand, there were people where money poured out of every pore of their body. On the other hand, there were people who probably did not know where their next meal was coming from. Such is the tragedy of Mumbai, amongst many. Have a look:

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Interesting contrast of the slums against some of the high rises:

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I am no longer shocked or saddened by such contrasts. I have come to accept these as part and parcel of living in Mumbai; as one of the many characteristics of vibrant Mumbai. But the universe always has a lesson to teach me and I had a good laugh when I stood in the very same balcony and looked to my left. Lo and behold! I was greeted by a Christian cemetery that was plonked right amongst the towers and the slums. And it reminded me of the impermanence of things, the impermanence of material things and the illusion and seduction of this vast city that constantly lures people into believing they are in the land where dreams come true.

The Graveyard - where we ALL end up, eventually.

The Graveyard – where we ALL end up, eventually.

Rich or poor, black or white, privileged or unprivileged……we all end up in the same place at some point or the other. In the final analysis, it doesn’t matter if you give in to the city’s seduction or if you struggle at the raw fringes of society.What really matters is your humanness and how you conduct yourself in times of sadness and joy, in times of tragedy and success. What matters is not the material wealth and exuberant house you may live in, but the gratitude you develop for the simple pleasures of life.

My latest mantra is “Develop an attitude of gratitude”. Some days are harder than others, but I still try and I know it’s worth it.

Another high-rise in Upper Worli, Mumbai

Another high-rise in Upper Worli, Mumbai

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