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.

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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.

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.

 

Half a year in Mumbai……a whole new meaning to the phrase “Time flies”


Life takes you strange places


Lately, I have been thinking about my life; reflecting on the last few decades and how it has made me who I am. I have been wondering about the order in the chaos that I experience on an almost daily basis, since living in Mumbai. It is exhausting, and yet life goes on. I feel like this post is going to be a lot of rambling. So I apologize in advance if I may not make any sense.

There comes a point in one’s life where you think and say to yourself,  “What’s it all about?”

What is it all about? This life, having a house, having a great career, possessing a car or whatever it is you fancy….what’s the big deal? Why are we here? Do I have just this one life or are there many more journeys to go on? Why do we need to pray? Why is my cat so much more adjusted to Mumbai than I am? Why? What? Why?

I feel like the hands of time are slowing down and every thing is in slow motion, as if I were stuck in a swamp that is gradually pulling me into the earth. I am helpless and not even motivated to cry out for help. In fact, not long ago, I did have a dream that I was in a hot air balloon descending on a swamp and marshy waters. I was surrounded by thick foliage; hues of greens and browns that swept across the swamp, making it darker, as if I were back in my mother’s womb. Dreams like these haunt me. They are with me more often than I can remember and I have been dreaming a lot more in the last few weeks.

I think of the many times I am in a taxi or car in Mumbai and beggars and kids come up to the car and ask for money and food and I am indifferent to them. I have to be indifferent for many reasons: if you extend your hand to one child or one beggar, you can bet your life there will be another 5 beggars surrounding your car. Also, a lot of the begging is staged by mafia rings that exploit children for monetary gains. It is disgusting, and so it makes it even harder to not give money to the beggars especially knowing that most of them are tied into these underground operations and will suffer consequences if they do not bring in some dough. However, if I do have food, I will share it with the children and older beggars. But not money.

I look outside my window and the same question rings in my ear: “What’s it all about?” Life does take me strange places….and the more I plan, the more I will feel stuck in that swamp. The more I will drown in my emotions, swallowed whole by the earth, as my soul churns and twists within her body. As I type, the following nursery rhyme comes to mind:

Row, row, row your boat; gently down the stream.

Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily; life is but a dream.

A dream it is…. a floating fantasy…an illusion that we are always chasing….a trap…..a haze….life is a dream, or at least it feels that way some times. A dream today, and perhaps tomorrow, and for the rest of my days.

“Resistance is Futile”


On Wednesday, I was on the local train traveling to one of the glitzy suburbs of Mumbai – Juhu. This was an interesting train ride because of the couple of incidents that occurred. First, I witnessed a hawker and her young child get on the train. The hawker was selling the usual: hair clips, hair bands, earrings, and nail polish, among other little trinkets. I saw her direct her daughter to sit by the entrance of the train and give her a small yellow plastic bag. The girl opened the bag and dug her hand into it, revealing lumps of rice and curry that she ate with great relief. I watched the little one eating like she had never eaten before, while her mother tried to sell her wares, while also keeping an eye on her duckling. I could see the love and concern on the mother’s face, probably wishing that she could give her daughter more to eat. The child then got up, picked up some coloring books (that were for sale) and started selling them. She must have been all of 4 years.

As I approached my station, I moved toward the door of the train. I gave the girl an orange that I bought at the station I boarded. She did not respond (facially), though she did accept the orange. Her mother did not respond either, although she did not stop me from giving her child the sweet fruit. They must have either been shocked that someone was thoughtful enough to share their food with them or they may have been unphased, thinking that all I was giving them was a measly orange. I am not sure.

I then stood by the entrance of the train, watching all the houses and streets go by. I looked up in the sky and saw an airplane taking off. That sight immediately struck me in a way that I had never experienced before. I almost choked thinking that about 5.5 months ago, my cat, husband and myself got on a plane and moved from one continent to another; that one plane ride changed our very lives, how we exist, and our perceptions of things. I had flashbacks of our time in the USA, of the wrapping up process, and of how we spent the last 10 years of our lives building ourselves, both personally and professionally. As the train sped by, so did my life. And all I could do was watch it go by and things, people, and experiences occurring just the way they are supposed to.

A few days before this incident, I read the signature of someone’s email which was the quote from Star Trek. Although I never followed Star Trek, I was astonished and moved by this quote from the leader of the Borgs, “Resistance is futile.” And indeed, it is. The leader goes on to say that one has to be “assimilated” and he further enforces that “Resistance is futile.” I am sharing with you this short video which is great because it aptly depicts what I am trying to say:

I am trying my best to not resist what is being thrown my way. Sometimes, I feel like I live in two worlds, like I am in limbo, not being fully anchored in just one world. My love and loyalty for the West coupled with my admiration and curiosity of the East, make me feel like I belong no where. Transitioning between cultures is seldom easy, especially when you feel like a foreigner in your own home; a stranger in your own backyard. But come what may, I am moving forward with this attitude of releasing the clutches of control, and trying as humanly possible, to go with the flow. Let’s see where that takes me.

 

 

“This is India, for Christ’s sake…”


Indeed, this is India, and apparently in India, all things go, including the concept of time. Yesterday I was meeting a psychiatrist at the famous Hinduja hospital, where people from all over the city and country come to get treatment. The psychiatrist (psych) and I were discussing job opportunities at the hospital and he asked if I would like to observe him in action for a couple of hours. It was 11:15 am and I responded, “But you said your timings are only from 9 to 11 am. Isn’t it time for you to wind up?” To which he replied, “This is India, for Christ’s sake…things do not end on time.” The man finished working only at 12:30 pm, one and a half hour later!

It really looks like “time” is this elusive concept in India, and it kinda surprises me that in such a diverse and cosmopolitan city like Mumbai, people have no qualms about being late to an appointment or getting late into work or arriving at an event at some god forsaken hour. It’s amusing though, that at whatever time a person arrives, there is always some part of the event going on.

Last month, I was livid and stunned when I had to wait for almost 2 hours for a professional appointment I made with a psychiatrist in Juhu. I had taken the appointment weeks in advance, and made the trek to Juhu, excited to meet this highly acclaimed psych, only to be kept waiting for 2 hours. Finally, I had to go to another appointment and never got to see her and had to re-schedule the appointment for a couple of weeks later. Luckily, for me and her, she saw me only 20 minutes after my scheduled appointment.

I am guessing it is the social norm for people to arrive late or be unpunctual. Or maybe, they are not unpunctual by Indian standards, and it is my punctuality that is bizarre to the Indian person. I do not know…..there are days where I do find it convenient that I can be late to an event and will not be judged by it. On the other hand, there is a part of me that is concerned that I will become this person who is not particular about time and who does not value other people’s time, and that is the last thing I wish to imbibe and pick up from this culture.

As a psychologist, it is peculiarly interesting to me to observe and analyze my personal reactions to the external and internal stimuli that pervades every part of my being, every pore in my body. Life is strange and so unpredictable. I am still having a hard time believing that I am not in Mumbai on vacation, but here to stay. I miss San Francisco.

Parenting in the 21st Century – Boon or Bane?


I would like to shift gears a little bit where the content of the blog is concerned. Being a psychologist, who is constantly observing and analyzing people’s thoughts and behaviors, whether they like it or not, I feel compelled to talk about the art of parenting and the impact it has on the lives of their children. I recently read a report from Skynews where both children and parents concurred that more disciplining tactics should be encouraged and utilized in schools. This report was from the UK and it’s a pretty nifty article that I am sharing below:

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I hope you appreciate the comments I have made in response to this article:

1. There was a reason that corporal punishment was outlawed – because it was ineffective, and more often that not, resulted in physical abuse of children. Yes, I do believe that sometimes children do not understand logic or reason, and sometimes parents do revert to physical ways of making a child understand things. After all, it B.F.Skinner’s “operant conditioning”  is what most parents follow to alter their children’s behaviors.

2. After reading the report, I cant help but think that the reason why parents and children are wanting more coercive ways of disciplining is probably because there is a dearth of teachers, parents, and educational professionals who are completely invested in the social, emotional, academic, and, may I add, spiritual well being of a child.

3. We live in a society, practically any where in a world, where parents themselves are so inundated with the responsibility and burden of economic strife, where there is a rapid shift in family and social values, and where children rely more on technology and social media to connect with each other, etc. Think about it, in most families today, both parents have to work full time and compromise quality time with their children.

4. It is easier then, when parents lead such busy lives and do not find time to discipline their children and invest in their psychological well being, either through modeling or spending quality time with them, to advocate for “tougher school discipline”. This probably relieves parents of the same responsibility.

5. Some food for thought: The report states that “20% of secondary school children agreed” with the idea of coercive ways of disciplining. The fact that children themselves are advocating for this way of punishment is a pretty good indicator of how much we are lacking, as a society, in providing the much needed structure and personal investment in our children of the present generation.

These are just some of my thoughts and I wish there was an easier answer to the predicament we, as a society, have gotten ourselves in where our children are concerned.