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:

20140721_174542-1

 

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?

20140721_174439-1

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.

Advertisements

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.

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.

A peek into South India


I have family in Andhra Pradesh (AP), which is in the heart of South India. Last month, I took a trip to Puttaparthi, a small village in AP, which once was the home of the revered guru, Sathya Sai Baba. I have been to many parts of the South and have frequently been to Puttaparthi. However, this time I had my “smart phone” and had the privilege of capturing some beautiful sights and scenes of my experience in the village.

Getting to Puttaparthi is not a straightforward process. The most convenient way is to land in Bengaluru (Bangalore), preferably by air, and then hire a taxi and driver to take you on a 3 hour drive through the desert of AP and into the little village that is frequented by a gazillion people a year. On the way to Puttaparthi, I was able to capture some images of the sky at dusk; the evening sky bathed in the warm, soothing colors of the sun:

The South is a different country on its own. That’s what I love about India – her culture and people are so distinct in every region of the country. In the South, my observation has been that people will prefer to speak English anytime over Hindi. For the Southerners, Hindi is the language of the North. As far as I know, Hindi has never been accepted as the national language by the South because it is a widely spoken language in the North. Long story, so won’t get into it.

One of the things I love doing when I am in Puttaparthi is to visit the Karuna Farm Sanctuary, an animal shelter and rescue operation that has been functioning and growing since 2000. I urge you to visit their heart warming and informative website: http://www.karunasociety.org/ Karuna also has an organic farm where the produce is sold in their shop and the proceeds go toward the care of the animals and the maintenance of the farms. My eyes popped when I visited the farm this time because it has blossomed into a haven for vegetable lovers, and sells produce that I would never have expected to see in a desert: Arugula (just love this salad leaf), lettuce, butternut squash (I took 1/2 kg back to Mumbai!), cherry tomatoes, basil, dil, parsley, as well as your usual suspects, such as bananas, carrots, papaya, green onions and radish.

Green Papayas

Loads of Lettuce

Bananas

Green Onions, with a pretty bug perched on it.

At Karuna, it was also endearing to see how so many working animals and animals meant for slaughter were rescued and given refuge in a stable created especially for them. It was a vision to watch the herd of buffaloes get rounded in to the stable after their afternoon stroll in the fields. These giant beauties are a sight to behold, especially knowing that they were once destined for slaughter and are now in “buffalo haven or heaven.”

Now here is what the "sacred mother" (according to Hinduism) should be doing. Enjoying her life with love and dignity.

The highlight of my trip was my the entertainment provided by the monkeys. For a desert, this village was an oasis for the monkeys that lived and moved in hoards, hanging out and playing with their babies. The house I lived in was on the 3rd floor of the building overlooking the mountains and fields. One afternoon, I made my acquaintance with 3 monkeys that decided to pay the hostess and her dogs a visit. It was an amusing sight! I watched for a good 30 minutes how the dogs were so focused on the monkeys. The monkeys merrily perched themselves on the balcony of the living room, with only the window and grills shielding them from the dogs, and kept looking at the dogs with amusement. They were probably thinking, “You fools, you can bark all you want because you know you will not be able to sink your teeth into us.” Every where the monkeys moved, the dogs moved in tandem with them. It was like the monkeys and the dogs were reflections of each other.

Notice the dog's spit (stains) on the window

My favorite - The three stooges

Here they are again

 

All in all, it was a pretty entertaining and informative trip; a good break from Mumbai, although it was nice to be back in Mumbai after a week of being in the South. I chanced upon this little shack which is the humble abode of the watchman who is taking care of some unused land. It seems quite cozy:

A final souvenir of the southern sky….makes me wanna go there again; indulge in the peace and quite of the desert:

Feeling Deep Sadness


Having lived in Dubai for about 16 years, I always knew that Eidh was a major festival for the Muslims. I know that there are different types of Eid and, although I lived in a Muslim country for a very long time, I never really paid attention to Eid or its relevance. This was the same case in Mumbai, where i lived for 4 years and went to college. I knew there were a lot of Muslims in and around Mumbai, but then again, was too naive and nonchalant about Eidh and the way in which it is celebrated, especially Bakri Eid. Of course, I was in complete oblivion to all of this when I lived for 10 years in the USA , where for that matter, I was only clued into Christmas and Hanukkah, the two religious festivals that I found to be most popular in San Francisco.

This year round, I find myself extremely sad and helpless, as the Muslims around me have been gearing up for the last two weeks in preparation for Bakri Eidh. There are several kinds of Eidh celebrated in the Muslim calendar: Eid ul-Fitr and Eid al-Ada. Eid al-Ada, which is the main festival for Muslims worldwide, is also referred to as Bakri Eid. Bakri, in Hindi or Urdu, means “goat”. In essence, this is a festival where Muslims sacrifice an animal, such as a goat or an ox, in reverence to the almighty creator, Allah.

With all due respect to this religion and its people, I find it very disturbing to see (first hand) how these goats are reared for sacrifice. For the last few weeks I have been noticing all around me these beautiful, strong, peaceful animals being tied up and constantly being fed by its owner, in order to fatten them for the kill. I have been going to a client’s house for therapeutic work in the last several weeks and, every time I would pass by their home, I would see these two gorgeous goats tied up on a short rope and constantly fed greens.

All over the city, I see goats being tied up, while only a handful have the luxury of roaming around freely on the streets. I have also seen other instances where goats are being transported in taxis for the killing, where they have been pick up or purchased on the road side, where they have been taken from one location to another in private cars, where people walk with their goats with a big bunch of greens in their hands, so as to allure the goats to their destination, and so on. And what is the most saddening part is that these meek, gentle animals, willingly go with their owners, without any resistance, most likely not knowing that they are going to be slaughtered. It is a heart breaking sight when you know the truth.

Below is a link that explains the actual significance of Eid, where in the Old Testament of the biblical times, Abraham was asked by God to sacrifice his only son, and when he blindly obeyed, God rewarded him by stating that he could sacrifice a goat or ram instead of his own flesh and blood.

http://www.timeanddate.com/holidays/india/eid-ul-adha

That story was meaningful in the Old testament, but this practice continues even now and in not the most humane ways. Here is a beautiful picture of a goat, an example of some of the many goats I have seen all around me in the last few weeks:

Sweet little one!

Sweet little one!

I really don’t understand, how so many animal sacrifices or celebrations are done where goats, cows, turkeys, lambs, and so on, are forced to give up their precious lives year after year. All I know is that when I go this week to my client’s house, the little backyard where those two goats sat for week after week, chewing away at their grass, will be empty and bare, leaving my heart a little more heavy than before.