I finally had some luck!


My third trip to the Samsung service center, and it was the same scene: a sea of people, an endless queue, and me waiting for 1.5 hours, till my number was called. It was a horrendous wait, as I just watched the line crawl, each person more frustrated than the other.

When I finally reached the counter, which was in another room, I realized why these service agents were working so slowly. The room in which they were in was also not air conditioned. They were working in an environment in which they were feeling hot and sweaty. My heart went out to these people and I was chatting with the agent who was sharing her woes about how tiring it is to be working in a non-air conditioned room for 8 hours every day. My heart sank a little.

It’s really tough for me to fathom and assimilate that, even in the 21st century, the working conditions can be so abysmal; more so for an international brand like Samsung. I guess for most Indian companies, it is the bottom line that matters. In India, my experience has been that companies seldom care about the working conditions and ethos of their employees. It’s all about the profit.

I left the service center feeling miserable at the thought of having to return in a weeks time, and wait in that same miserable queue, when I have to collect my phone. This time, again, I will have to clear out my diary, and make sure that I have at least 2-3 hours to spare, just to collect my damn cell phone. Hopefully, I won’t have an ailing baby and a hectic work day. Those are small saving graces that I am hoping for 🙂

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One of Those Days!


The population of Mumbai is so explosive, that if you were trying to fight between life and death, and your chances of survival depended on how much the local population cooperated, you would be dead in a minute! I kid you not: the population of Mumbai is at an all time high, and in the time I have been here, it is only increasing.

Today was one of those days: busy day with patients, dealing with the separation anxiety of a sickly baby, managing the home staff, and trying to get my mobile fixed, while trying to sneak in some time for exercise, on top of everything else. I was juggling everything well, till I found myself making my way to the Samsung Mobile service center, for the second day in a row.

My phone has been acting up, and Samsung has a handful of service centers in all of Mumbai! The center that I need to go to is not air conditioned, and one has no choice but to take in the fresh aromas of masalas (spices) and grimy sweat, oozing out from the pores of almost every customer waiting in the room.

Yesterday when I went to the Samsung service center, I picked up a token number, which was 51. By the time 1 hour was up, the counter was only showing # 35. I left, not so furious, but hopeful that when I returned the next day, I will not have to deal with so much waiting. I show up today, second time around, and am faced with the same pathetic sight of a million people occupying a room of about 100 square feet, hoping and wondering when their number will be called. I pick up yet another token number, and it’s 39. I let a whole hour pass again, and the only progress on the token counter is a 23! This is after a whole hour of waiting in agony. With a sick baby at home and patients who are on their way for their appointment, I leave the scene. This time, I am furious and in shock.

And it’s at time like these when I think back to the simple conveniences of saving time and energy in the USA, when it came to getting things done in a timely and efficient manner. Life in Mumbai, is so cumbersome sometimes, because the littlest of things take massive amounts of time, money, energy, and emotional strain. This is the first time I am blogging about a particular incident related to a specific company, but this is not reflective of the numerous times that I have had similar experiences.

It’s been a frustrating and unproductive day, where getting any personal chores are concerned. Tomorrow, I will find my self marching to the Samsung service center for the third day in a row. This time, I have cleared my diary and have dedicated 2-3 hours just to wait around and register my phone with the service center.

And if, by tomorrow, I have not accomplished my task (by the third attempt), someone will meet his death…

Star Bucks is now in Mumbai!


Well, it’s actually been in Mumbai for a year and a half now, but it still feels pretty brand new. It’s mixed feelings I have, the few times that I have patronized the cafe. I find that the set up of Starbucks in Mumbai is on a much grander scale; the physical space of each of the cafes is far bigger than the ones in the USA. And every time I step into one of these cafes, it takes me back to a time and phase in my life, where I would sip on hot coffees, warming my soul on the cold and crisp mornings of San Francisco.

It’s amazing how this coffee giant has made its way into India; it has sank its claws into the Indian market, and it’s certainly here to stay. Starbucks is like a magnet, attracting all kinds of people, from all walks of life. After all, it is Starbucks, and it has a pull or should we say, a je ne sais quoi, that makes the nobody and everybody of Mumbai pay homage to this mega coffee chain, at least once in their lives.

Here are some pictures of my recent jaunt at a Starbucks in Bandra:

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Looks familiar?

 

India’s first Starbucks opened in Mumbai in downtown, on 19th October, 2012. Occupying a magnificent space of 4500 square feet, with two levels, this monolithic structure has class, esthetics, and space! I was there some time last year, and did not feel like I was in Mumbai. The set up was impressive, the service was par excellence, and the ambiance was to die for. Plus, it also helps that this store is located in Old Bombay, a much more prettier and charming part of Mumbai.

What’s fascinating about the Starbucks in Mumbai is the fact that all vegetarian and non-vegetarian products, are kept in different sections, so as to not offend the sentiments of those who are strict vegetarians. Right from sandwiches, to cakes, to rolls, and muffins….if they have meat or egg, they land in one section, and the rest go into another. Very simple and politically correct!

If you ask me about the prices, I think they are on par with the ones in the US, by Indian standards, though some would protest, saying they are on the higher side. Let’s face it, there is no concept of “minimum wage”, and you certainly need a little extra moolah to enjoy the fare at Starbucks. When I was there last, I paid INR 311.00 for a small coffee and a cake (that is about $5.00). Here’s the bill, which is important, as it shows you all the other taxes that go with the original price:

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I am fully aware and certain that Starbucks will spread its tentacles into the Indian demographic, hitting all the major cities in India. In Mumbai alone, we have about 15 stores, a significant number for a chain that only launched itself in the Fall of 2011. This muti-million dollar giant will reap in the big bucks; but the good part is that it is providing job opportunities for the locals as well.

It will be interesting to see how this coffee chain’s story unfolds, here in our very land of milk and honey!

 

 


There is a secret side to Mumbai that not everyone is aware of. It’s a world which is not easily accessible to the lay person, neither is it socially acceptable or talked about so openly. I am referring to the world of the occult and the supernatural, a world that is flourishing, creating currents in the ocean of Mumbai’s subconscious.

As a lover of the occult, the metaphysical, and magic, and as someone who has willingly dabbled in this world, I was skeptical about what Mumbai would offer me. I have often viewed this city as being very commercial and materialistic, and did not have many expectations of experiencing life of a different dimension. However, I was surprised by how rich a metaphysical life this city actually has, have personally had experiences of numerous types, which allows me to continue my exploration of the unknown.

I have become fond of a “master channeller”, who accesses higher planes of consciousness, bringing me important life messages and learnings, and guidig me on my spiritual path. I have also just been introduced to a Shaman, who is Indian, and had my first “Power animal retrieval” and “Stone Reading”. I was intrigued and relieved by the accuracy of her readings, and very pleased to see a level of mastery that I would expect in the West.

I have also had numerous sessions with a hypnotherapist, having done past life regressions and other types of hypnosis. And let’s not forget the Tarrot – I have had some insightful readings from the Tarrot reader.

In fact, there is a “magick” shop in Bandra, not too far from where I live. I was in awe of all the “magical and supernatural” literature and paraphernalia that they had. It is owned and run by the High Priestess, Reverend Swati Prakash. When I entered the shop, which was dotted with a few cats, I felt like I was home. From Wiccan rituals to invocations to the Faeries or spirits to stones, crystals, blessed waters, fairy dust, candles, oils and magickal herbs, this shop was filled with all kinds of magic!

I must say, I am thrilled, surprised, and in love with the idea that, beneath all the madness and chaos, there lies a quiet and mysterious world that is dedicated to the occult. This world does tend to be secretive, and it’s inhabitants do not openly advertise themselves or their services. You usually come across this world through someone who knows someone who is involved in this realm. And that’s why Mumbai never ceases to amaze me!

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. 

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.

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!

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