“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.




Musings of a Mumbaikar in the making

As I embark on my 5th month in Mumbai, it is becoming more evident to me that I am here to stay; that I am in the process of going from a San Franciscan to a Mumbaikar. While there are times that I do feel I am resisting this major change in national and cultural identity, I am becoming more open to embracing this new identity. I have been thinking about what distinguishes Mumbaikars from other peoples of this country. There are many things that are endemic to this city and the following are mere observations of this city and my take on what life in Mumbai means for me:

1. “This thing” or “That one” – Gosh! How I laugh to myself as I am writing about this. Every Mumbaikar, and I mean, every Mumbaikar, will expect you to be a mind reader. When in a conversation, be it in most situations or circumstances, the person I am talking to will substitute a person’s name or a thing/object with “this thing” or “that one.” The best part is, they expect you to understand what they are talking about! For instance, if I am talking to my aunt about a shop that I want to visit and ask her for directions, she’ll say, “Take a right on Linking Road, and then keep going straight, and you will pass “this thing” on your left and keep going till you see a big brown building at the end.” Or, if I am asking my grand mother about a family member I met for the first time, she explains that X is “that one’s” daughter, and many seconds later, cares to elaborate on who “that one” is. In a day, I will hear “this thing” or “this” or “that one” at least 5 times with the expectation that I know exactly what the person is referring to. Since I have lived in Mumbai for 4 years, I am much better at decoding what people are referring to. But, it drives my husband out of his mind because he sure as hell does not get it. He wished people in Mumbai spoke English rather than some form of English where every 5th word has to be decoded. I, on the other hand, find it amusing and I am always kept guessing when I am talking to someone in Mumbai.

2. Throwing things out of the vehicle – It’s probably across all of India that people find it OK to use the streets, roads, and railway tracks as their public bins. But, it’s hard for me to deal with the fact that people in Mumbai, and I am guessing a lot of them are educated people, do not bat an eye when they throw their trash out of their vehicle, be it from a train, a car, or a rickshaw. I have even seen people throwing their trash from their windows at home! What is up with that?? I have always known that in India, in general, we lack a civic sense. We find it more important to keep our homes clean, but will not hesitate in keeping out backyards and compounds and streets unkempt. I guess the positive side to it is that it gives the public Street Sweepers a job to do!

3. “Paan” / Spit Stains – This is something that I really find disgusting not only because it is gross, but also because it is extremely unhealthy. Paan is a food item, unique to India and other parts of Asia, which consists of areca nut, slaked lime paste, and other condiments (such as tobacco, sugar, candy fruits, fennel seeds) all wrapped up in a betel leaf.

Sweet Paan

It was originally used as a digestive or a mouth freshener by the royal families. Now, it is accessible to the commoner. I have had paan occasionally and can’t say that I particularly enjoy it. But this city contains millions of people, especially men, who relish paan.  While I have nothing against paan per se, I am disgusted by the fact that most people who eat it, have no qualms in spitting out the remains of the paan, on walls or on the streets. Paan contains a red colored substance, so when a person spits it out, the stain is colored brick-red. Here are several images of how walls, stair cases, and even trains are dotted with paan stains:

On the columns of a public building

On the columns of a public building

On public stair cases

On public stair cases

Similar to paan, a lot of taxi drivers in Mumbai chew a certain kind of tobacco and are constantly spitting out of their taxi windows. The irony of it all is that their taxis display huge signs that state, “Spitting is Injurious to Health” or “Do not Spit! It is the number one cause of TB.” There may be a cure for TB, but I fear there is no a cure for this disease – the disease of spitting in public!

4. Punctual Trains – If there is one thing I love about this monstrous city, it is the fact that local trains are punctual. I know I have mentioned this before and I probably will keep harping about it till my dying day…but you can get from anywhere in this city via the trains, and you can definitely get to your destination on time.  There may come a time where everything in Mumbai may come to a stand still, but I can bet my life that the strains will still be punctual and on the dot!

5. Pedestrians do not have the right of way – No, they do not! God knows how many times I have almost seen death’s countenance thinking that, as a pedestrian, I would have the right of way when crossing the road. Silly me for extending my expectations of “road sense” from San Francisco to Mumbai, where in SF, pedestrians have the right of way and drivers can be fined if they do not adhere to this law. Be it crossing a main road or a tiny alley, the drivers in Mumbai will zoom by you (and sometimes even into you) if you are so silly as to try to cross the road. How dare you! In Mumbai, apparently, it only makes sense that drivers get to go first and then the pedestrians.

So, here it is. Month 5 and I am allowing myself to become more accustomed to the Mumbai way of life: the good, bad, and the ugly.