“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.

 

 

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“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.

An Affair to Remember


Indian weddings, especially Hindu weddings, are generally a week long affair, and this week we were invited to an Indian wedding by friends who we met on the Bombay expat list serve. This wedding was a 4 day affair and we only attended 2 days and I will never forget how beautiful and magical everything was.

This is a young couple where the groom is a Sindhi (from the province of Sindh which is in Pakistan) and the bride is from Shiraz, Iran. A handsome couple, these two have only met us a couple of times and still welcomed us to their wedding, something that my husband and I were really touched by. If there is one quality about Mumbaikers, and Indians in general, it is their willingness to bring you and welcome you into their fold, even if they do not know you from Adam. So, we were very honored to witness this couple’s ceremonies and participated in the festivities which occurred in the suburbs of Mumbai.

January 17th marked the Hindu ceremony which took place at this esoteric and stunning cottage by the sea called Kino Cottage. I will leave details for that later, but want to share a rather amusing experience right now. The  pheras ( a feature that is constant in all Hindu weddings; it is the tradition of taking pheras (rounds) around the sacred fire and can be akin to taking sacred marital vows) were supposed to start at 6:30 pm, followed by cocktails and dinner at 8:30 pm, as indicated on the invitation card. 17th was a working day and by the time we got dressed and after sitting through 1.5 hours in traffic to get to Versova, we finally reached Kino Cottage at 8 pm. I thought to myself, “Well, at least we will participate in the last 30 minutes of the pheras and it will be nice to witness this sacred ceremony. We got there and I saw only one other couple sitting by the table. I was shocked and bummed that the ceremony may have all gotten over. But no, that was not the case, and I was relieved that I did not get to the cottage at 6:30 pm (as I wanted to) because otherwise, I would have been waiting for 3 hours until the ceremony began. The couple only arrived at 9 pm and the ceremony commenced at 9:30 pm! Of course, in anticipation of these very expected and normal delays, guests were treated to a “snack station” where there were chefs preparing a ton of snack foods to whet the appetite and perhaps, to pacify those people who got tired of waiting.

However, all of this waiting was compensated by the serenity and magnificence of the cottage that was nestled on the beach of the Arabian sea: waves crashing on the shore, the mandap (special dome or square like structure with 4 pillars in which the ceremony is conducted) was stunning, tall coconut trees dotting the cottage skyline, tikis that were placed all around the front and back of the cottage, as well as the Indian musicians, all made for a dramatic effect that kept the guest occupied and enthralled even while playing the long waiting game.

Here are some of the pictures that hopefully capture what I am trying to describe above:

Entrance to Kino Cottage (with the security gaurd)

Entrance to Kino Cottage (with the security guard)

The flower arrangements at the entrance itself were exquisite and so tastefully done. When we entered this high profile cottage (were incidentally a lot of celebrities host parties), I could not believe I was in Mumbai. Just could not believe that I was in the heart of a crowded, over polluted, chaotic city. And hopefully, you will see why.

As you enter the cottage, with a little bar behind you (the bar was stocked with premium, top of the mark stuff!)

Main interior of the cottage which was used as the dance floor

Main interior of the cottage which was used as the dance floor

Another lounge section of the cottage

Another lounge section of the cottage

As we got into the backyard of the cottage, which hosted the mandap, we were equally amazed by the manicured lawns and the exteriors which were so magical and surreal.

The swimming pool.

The swimming pool.

We were also greeted by musicians who played Indian classical music as the guests arrived and post ceremony. Due to bad lighting, I could not get a very good picture, but here it is anyhow:

The tabla and sitar players

The tabla and sitar players

The following pictures are those of the mandap itself that was constructed in a dome like structure and adorned with carnations, roses, lillies, candles, and other vibrant accessories that made me feel as if I was on another planet:

The wedding mandup with the two seats for the bride and groom.

The wedding mandup with the two seats for the bride and groom.

The Hindu priests preparing for the rituals

The Hindu priests preparing for the rituals

What complemented the whole evening was the array and shades of different colors and fabrics that the women were wearing, right from chiffon, to silk, to georgette, and crepe and the colors were mesmerizing because there was virtually ever shade of a blue, purple, red, orange, yellows and browns. It has been a long long time since I saw so many colors under one roof, and was appreciative of the richness and diversity in colors, fabrics, and designs in India.

Close up of the top half of the mandup

Close up of the top half of the mandup

Bride and groom with their respective families

Bride and groom with their respective families

After the ceremony, which eventually ended by 10:30 pm, guests were treated to a grand feast with food, cocktails, and desert that were fit for a royal family. Of course, the party and dancing went on till 4 am, or that’s what i was told, but after all the waiting and eating, we were off to get some much needed rest for the Persian ceremony that was to follow the next day.

Come January 18th and I continue to be excited at what treats I can expect at the Persian wedding, an event I had never witnessed. This time, the wedding and reception were hosted at the Champagne Ballroom of the Novotel Hotel in Juhu. Again, as with the previous day, we rushed to the ceremony, which was supposed to start at 9 pm, and only got to the ballroom by 10:15 pm. Thanks to traffic, even so late in the evening, we were delayed and I was convinced that we had missed the ceremony. When we got to the place, people were drinking and mingling about. But, I should have known that, in Indian Standard Time (IST) or as the locals says, Indian Stretchable Time, the ceremony would start much later than expected. It started at 11:30 pm.

Here are some pictures of the area that was decorated for the Persian ceremony. Don’t miss the white satin, candles. roses and lilies that sparkled and glittered through out the evening:

White satin, candles, and white flowers

The area highlighted for the Persian Ceremony

 

Bride and Groom seated for the ceremony to begin

Bride and Groom seated for the ceremony to begin

As with the Hindu ceremony, this time, in addition to the array of colors and fabrics, I noticed an array of jewellery and stones, some of which I could not believe or get my eyes off. Never before I have seen so many stones and so many sizes, ranging from 2 to 3 carats, and you name it: sapphires, rubies, diamonds, emeralds, topaz, the list is endless. Every woman had at least 2-3 precious stones on her body and some women even had 4-5 big stones on their fingers. It was quite ostentatious and there were many times in the night where I was almost blinded by the sparkles of these jewels.

I have been to many a weddings in the USA and all of them pale in comparison to one single wedding in India. I do recognize that this wedding was of a family from a different social status, but I am also aware that people in India really dress up and there is a big glamor factor which, for most part, makes the wedding and ceremony feel very special and an occasion for immense celebration. This wedding catered to 250 guests and it was a joy to be a part of such a celebration!

What has your country done for YOU?


This afternoon, on my way to a meeting to Versova, I decided to meet up with one of my new expat friends in Juhu for some coffee. Juhu is such a beautiful area, with its beach and real fancy hotels, stunning boutiques displaying colors and fabrics that were magical and unique, and tall palm trees that beckoned me to the beach and the setting sun. This part of Mumbai is tres chic and I often find myself mesmerized by all the shops and cafes that envelope this part of the city, making it one of the more expensive areas to live in.

We had our coffees and were chatting about life in Mumbai – how I used to crib about it all the time, and how I am now trying to find the positive things about Mumbai. She then asked me WHY I moved from the USA to India, perplexed by the absurdity and bizarreness of our decision. After all, these were  two countries that could not be more different from each other. I explained to her that my husband and I, after living in the USA for 10 years and after seeing that India is in a very fertile phase of economic development and advancement, decided we wanted to contribute to our motherland, that we wanted make a difference to our country and her people in whatever little way we could. We wanted to do something for our country – we are patriots. Her next question stunned me, because this question has never been asked of me before: “But, what has your country done for you?”

I swear to god, I usually do not get stumped, but this time I was. I actually had to think for a moment and after a few moments passed, I still did not have an answer. She also said, “Your country has done nothing for you. Why have you come back? Look at other countries, such as those in the Middle East, Europe and North America, they take care of their people.” In many ways, she is right. What has my country done for me? To this moment, I am still speechless where this question is concerned. This is not to suggest, by any stretch of imagination, that I should only contribute to my country if it has done something for me. In the same vein, I pay all my taxes, I follow the law, I have a healthy civic sense, but I do not feel that I am living the quality of life that I did in the USA or in the UAE, where I felt that the government really took care of its people; be it having good roads, having accessible medical facilities for the well off and not so well off, by having adequate and consistent law enforcement, and so on.

I am still reflecting on her question, disturbed by the fact that I do not have an answer for it. It is even more disconcerting that I probably may not have an answer to this question. I do not know. But, if you can share your thoughts on this subject and shed some light on what your country has done for you, I would greatly appreciate it.