The North Winds Bloweth In….

The New Year has started with cold waves hitting the shores of Mumbai. December was pretty warm and it felt as if winter was evading the Mumbaikers, leaving them high and dry. I recall, December 31st (2012) was extremely humid and warm. It was New Year’s Eve and, we brought in the new year with some of the neighbors of our building, but it felt like I was in the sauna, beads of sweat trickling down my forehead. And then, the clock struck 12, and all of Mumbai was on fire, with firecrackers galore and people burning the “old man”! Mumbai was a 100 degrees warmer for the next few hours.

Thinking or believing we were in the “winter” season felt outrageous, and January 1st felt miserable too. However, the days following January 1st have been pretty cool, although it’s no winter, by any stretch of the imagination.

Now I know it should not bother me that I am unable to experience a real winter in Mumbai, when there are other things that I should really concern myself with. But it does bother me and it irritates me that I can’t count on any respite from the heat and humidity, something I have to endure from March through November. Having lived in San Francisco for a decade, where one could really experience a “winter” and I could feel and appreciate the change in seasons, winters in Mumbai are only in name. In reality, I personally don’t believe that I will ever get to experience a winter in Mumbai again (although for the life of me, I can’t understand how and why people are wearing sweaters and shawls in this weather. I think it’s more psychological than anything else).

It is about 10:30 pm on a Wednesday night, and the weather channel has reported that the current temperature in Mumbai is 26 degrees Celsius (78 degrees Fahrenheit). Tomorrow’s high will be 31 degrees Celsius (69 degrees Fahrenheit). The low will be 21 degrees Celsius (81 degrees Fahrenheit). So there you have it – Mumbai’s version of winter for you!

Moving up towards the North of India, winter has a whole new meaning. Winter is actually true to its word, bringing with it chill factors, foggy nights, and cups and cups of hot, hot, chai. Tomorrow’s forecast for Delhi indicates that the high is 18 degrees Celsius ( 64 degrees Fahrenheit) and the low is 6 degrees Celsius (43 degrees Fahrenheit). A few days ago, it was 2 degrees Celsius during the day! I have never really liked Delhi, but certainly envy their winters, no matter how extreme it may be.

Rumor has it that the North Winds are only passing through Mumbai…..soon, it will be warm and humid again and the days are going to get muggy. We shall see. Until then, I’ll take what I can get (there’s my “attitude of gratitude” kicking in again) and keep my fingers crossed that Mumbai continues to see some cool weather for the next few months!


Mumbai is killing me big time!!!

I know it’s been ages since I last blogged, and as usual, I missed it. Blogging is my vent; a therapeutic release that that helps me put things into perspective through my sharing and reflections. However, I realize that I have been silent for several weeks, and believe you me, I have some very good reasons for doing so.

First off, the sheer exhaustion that I deal with everyday from just the excruciatingly humid weather is enough to kill one’s spirit! My god, there has to be a limit to the levels of humidity that dominate the Mumbai skies. I officially take a minimum of 2 showers a day, most days 3. The heat is relentless and this is only the month of April. Rumor has it that May is going to be a furnace, decimating every living and non-living being that dares to be out in the sun.

I don’t think I can say enough about the extent of suffering that I undergo each and everyday. Because my house is getting renovated, the rental place I live in only has an air conditioner in the bedroom – the living room is a sauna for all means and purposes. Life really is funny – In San Francisco, I used to pay $20 to use a sauna at a spa, because it was so cold in SF, that you would really need to work hard to sweat it out during your day-to-day activities. In Mumbai, the sauna is available 24/7, whether you want it or not! When I wake up in the morning and get out of my air-conditioned bedroom, I get out fully knowing that I will be stepping into my very own sauna. Life sure is greener on the other side!

I was reading the weather forecast today: “28 degrees Celsius, feels like 34.” And yes, please do not forget to add the 279% humidity!!!!!

Second, the house renovations have also been taking a lot out of me. It’s been one roller coaster ride trying to work with the contractor, the architects, and the society members, whilst also trying to maintain one’s sanity and mental status quo. Doing anything in India, especially a big project, requires a certain level of patience, diplomacy, aggressiveness, and shrewdness, in order to get your job done. Oh, and did I mention patience???? Yes, living in Mumbai demands a heck of a lot of patience and forbearance…and, for someone who lacks patience in general, it is beginning to dawn on me, more and more, that Mumbai will either make me or break me. I don’t know what will become of me, but I know something will.

All this is still unreal to me, very unreal to me. I want to crawl out of my skin and into a hole in the ground and hide from all this change; take refuge from the earth where I will be invisible to the millions of people that fill the streets and alleys, the many pockets and crevices of Mumbai. It’s been 7.5 months since we landed here and I just cannot believe how time has passed me by. Talking of the millions of people in Mumbai, my aunt who is visiting from Goa, brought her maid along as well. This was the maid’s first trip to Mumbai, and she was so scared when she went out on the streets with my aunt to do some veggie shopping – she was horrified, overwhelmed and fearful of the millions of people that swarmed the streets of Mumbai. I found it rather amusing that she felt this way, but then when I think about it, it cannot be any more amusing than my first reactions to Mumbai when I landed on the balmy night of September 5th, 2011. Like the maid, I too was horrified, overwhelmed and fearful of the many things, places, peoples, and situations I was to encounter. At least the maid gets to go back to Goa….I am staying.

I do not know what to make of all this madness!

My last post on the 24th of February was me agonizing about how winter was officially over, at least in my books, and how summer is slowly but surely creeping in. I take all that back because, in the last few days, the weather has been unusually pleasant and cool. It has been so pleasant that I do not know what to make of it! I have gone from turning on the air conditioner in the middle of the afternoon to being in a room without a fan in a matter of days. What games the weather gods are playing, are a mystery to me.

Of course, through all my whining and complaining of the menacing summer that is fast approaching, my maid still thinks it is quite cool and wishes she wore a sweater during the day. I do not comprehend how, for the life of me, 35 degrees Celsius is “cool” in her books. It is really beyond my imagination and I envy her capacity to think this way: thinking it is winter when it is a balmy day outside.

It went from being 35 degrees Celsius at night to 24 degrees Celsius, in a matter of days. It’s as if I blogged about my weather woes on the 24th and the weather gods decided to show me otherwise, and dropped the temperature by 10 degrees. I have stated many a times in my post that this city has the capacity to drive me schizophrenic; drive me crazy! And it’s doing a pretty darn good job so far, be it the weather, the people, the traditions, the work ethics, corruption, and so on.

Life in Mumbai always keeps me on my toes… can it not, when according to the 2011 census, the population of Mumbai was 12,479,608? When you have so many people in your face after living in quiet, unpopulated San Francisco, it is hard to not be kept on your toes constantly. Wikipedia quotes that, “The population density is estimated to be about 20,482 persons per square kilometre.” And this is the “official” number….only god and god alone knows how many people actually live, thrive, and breed in Mumbai.

Fearful for my Life!!!

It’s all over! The winter is all over! It’s dead! Last Sunday was the final day of “winter”, if you can even call it that. Ever since Monday, it has been all down hill. I am already feeling the dampness on my skin whenever I get out or even if I am at home without the air conditioner. Today was the first day that I had to turn the AC on at 5 pm, because the house was so warm! I have not turned the AC on in almost 3 months because it has been so pleasant. But that bubble has burst and I am dreading, almost scared, of the heat to come.

When I used to live in Mumbai in the late 90s, I lived through some of the worst summers of my life. So I know what is ahead of me. I know that when I wake up in the morning and walk out of my air-conditioned bedroom, the rest of the house will be warm and heavy, like a dense cloud of humidity drifted in through the night, sitting pretty in the house, waiting to consume me as soon I open my eyes.

When I walk out of the house, I know that I will be drenched with sweat; cascades of sweat gushing down my back and face, making me curse my fate and my decision to live in Mumbai. I know it, I can get a whiff of what is to come and I know that I will have to face a very harsh summer, after a long, long time. I will have to endure the warm nights, the sultry afternoons, the way my hands and feet bloat, the 100 heat boils that create a blanket over my hands, and the irritation and frustration that I often feel when I have to live in this extreme weather.

Yes, I am fearful for my life because I know how the Mumbai heat has affected me in the past, and I know how difficult it has been for me, because I hate the heat. I just hate it. Put me in an igloo and I will take that anytime. But not the heat in Mumbai. Because this heat is no simple heat… is a combination of humidity and air pollution all wrapped up. I really hope that this weather – 35 degrees Celsius/ 93 degrees Fahrenheit (in February!!!!) – will temper down and this is just a short spell of weather madness. But really, who am I kidding?

Miracle of Miracles!

Folks, listen up! Yesterday, I did the most unexpected of things – I slept with a big comforter all night, with just the fan. A comforter and a fan! It is officially coldish in Mumbai. The evenings are very pleasant and the nights are rather cool. I wouldn’t go too far by saying that it is cold, at least not for me. My husband thought it was snowing in Mumbai when I told him I could sleep with just the fan instead of the air conditioner (we have been sleeping with the air conditioner for the past 4 months now). As I am typing this post, it is 19 degrees Celsius and I am sitting in my room without the fan on and my feet are cold. I never thought, for the life of me, that this day would arrive.

I know it’s cold in Mumbai when I get out of the shower and start shivering a little. By god, what a concept! It is so refreshing to be greeted by a chill every time I wake up in the morning and sense the crispness in the air. But of course, like all other good things come to an end, this also does. By the afternoon, it starts to heat up a little, with the afternoon temperature averaging to about 31 degrees Celsius. It is certainly still tolerable compared to what it has been in the last few months. You can still walk about during the day and not feel fried in about 1 hour of being out. Now, I can last about 3-4 hours outdoors and still have a smile on my face. For people who know me, the heat and I were never good friends.

What amuses me is the fact that I see people around me in sweatshirts, jumpers, and woolies, as if they were preparing for a big snow storm or some magnanimous winter that is going to wipe them off their feet . Yes, it’s cool in Mumbai, not cold! In Delhi, it is about 2 degrees Celsius, where people are dying due to extreme temperatures. Now, that is cold! And I admit, that while it is intriguing to see people bundled up in sweaters in the morning and evenings, it is also nice to see a different kind of dress code making its presence felt in the big city.

I am taking in this lovely and most appreciated change in weather, with gratitude and joy. I am now off to my second night of cozying up in my giant comforter with just the fan. It officially feels like winter!

Meri Billy – My Cat

I love my cat. She is my princess and the apple of my eye, my twinkle in the sky that makes me smile every time I think of her. Yes, as crazy as it may seem to some people, this post is dedicated to my cat; my feline friend who, more often than not, provides me with some modicum of sanity on many a days when I am still challenged by this city.

Maitri is her name, which in Sanskrit, appears to have several meanings and connotations: loving kindness, compassion, friend, etc. She is all of the above and has provided me with immense kindness, compassion and companionship, especially now more than ever. I first got Maitri when I moved to the USA in 2002. I have always had animals in my house, all of whom were rescued from the streets of Dubai. People would often think of our home as an animal shelter. At any given time, we would have 4 dogs and 3-4 cats and it was a riot! We all loved animals – my mum, dad, sister and myself, and it has stayed the same to this date. My sister and I turned vegetarian, by our own volition, when I was 13 years and she was 11. My parents then followed suite. Hence, I have never known a day in my life, since the age of 10, without an animal at home (It was when I was 10 years that my sister and I wrote a letter to Santa Claus asking for a puppy. Santa listened, and I had our first pet at the age of 10).

When I landed in the USA, by month 6 of still trying to figure out life in San Francisco, I decided that I just had to get a cat. There was no other way around it and I went over to Pets Unlimited, an animal shelter in the Fillmore, and “fostered” a cat. Yes, the intention was to foster an animal till it was strong enough to return it to the shelter which would give it up for adoption. But did it just end with fostering? Hell no! 3 weeks down the line and I convinced my partner that since I had gotten so attached to her and she to me, it just wouldn’t be fair to return her to the shelter, where she would be all by herself again! He relented and the 4 week old brat became a permanent member of the family.

Fast forward to 2011 when it was time to pack up and move to India. There was just no doubt in my mind that Maitri was coming along for the ride. Despite people’s qualms about how she would adjust to India or their ridicule at the crazy idea of taking Maitri all the way from cool, quiet SF to noisy, HOT Mumabi, I stood in my conviction that she would be alright. Here is a picture of her that I shot last week. She looks damn alright to me:

Her first month in Mumbai and the cat would be under the bed 25 out of 24 hours in a day. She was terrified by the noise and strange sounds that pervaded every corner of the house. She would barely come out from under the bed, unless coaxed with treats, and even that was a struggle. Besides, it was probably much cooler under the bed and she would lay her belly flat on the tiled floors, being soothed by them.

Meri billy (my cat in Hindi) greets me every time I come home, be it any time of the day or night. The moment the key is in the door, Maitri is at the door, gazing at me with her big black eyes. All my challenges of the day, my dealings with idiotic people, my struggles with navigating traffic, and my irritation with the hot, harsh weather, just bubble away when I see her countenance.  Here is another picture of her sprawled on the bed:

She just loves sleeping on papers and will make every attempt to find a bunch of papers, make a nest of them, and plop herself in it. Here is another picture of her all curled up in a room with the air conditioner on – I don’t think she really likes the AC:

Just yesterday, I got the shock of my life. I came home at around 8:30 pm and was a little surprised to not see Maitri at the door. I thought she was probably hiding under the bed, and so I dropped my bag on table, rolled up my sleeves and looked under the bed. Nada! Then I looked in her usual spots – on the sofa, on the bed, under the bed in the other room, under all the closets, in the fridge (yes, she has been known to have been locked in the refrigerator one time in SF…..I’ll leave that story for another day), and in the toilets and balconies. I did this whole sequence twice and then started panicking. I then recalled that I had left the cabinet in the kitchen open to put back some utensils. When I opened the cabinet, out came Maitri, not a peep from her, as if nothing had happened. The woman had been in there for over 6 hours!!! She went to her food bowl, sniffed it, and hid under the bed. A little later, I had opened the closet in the bedroom and had left it open for a while, as I was on the phone. After being done with my chat, I almost shut the door, but was prompted to check if Maitri was in there. Right enough, there she was in the lower shelf of the closet. The woman just won’t learn:

In the Closet

In the Closet

There have been days, when we had the Indian summer of October, when it has been really hot and humid – almost unbearable. Here is a picture of Dame Maitri just lazing about, without a care in the world:

This is another picture of Maitri having just gotten up from her afternoon nap, having cuddled under the sheets, and peering out of it in time for her afternoon snack:

And one last story to conclude my tribute to Maitri. Maitri, for the first two months, did not like the maid one bit. I think it’s probably because she was not used to having someone come into the house everyday and the maid, as lovely as she is, has a loud voice and when she calls out the cat’s name, you would think she was shouting at her. Plus, the added commotion of someone sweeping the house and mopping the floors 6 days a week, may have irritated Maitri who was already trying to deal with the external noise pollution. In any case, I had to make a trip to Delhi for 4 days and that’s when Maitri and the maid bonded. Now, Maitri comes out and watches the maid go about her work, and let’s the maid talk to her, even though I still think she sounds like she is shouting at someone.

A few days ago, I caught this lovely image of the cat looking outside the window in anticipation of the crows, and the maid looking at the cat. It was a sweet moment:

On that note, suffice to say that Maitri is better adjusted than me in Mumbai, I love her to death, and am so grateful that she is on this journey with me. She will be 10 years old next March and will celebrate her first Indian birthday.

The Heat is On!

My god, is it on or what!!! I am suffering in this cauldron of humidity, putrefying smells, and rising temperatures as I try to make sense of the drastic change in weather. And I am not kidding about the smells. In the last few days, as the evenings get more humid and dense, there is a strong smell of sewage and waste that makes its way into the inner roads of my neighborhood by around 9 pm. And it doesn’t just pass by….oh, no! It is here to stay and can possibly put a skunk to shame. This smell is pronounced by the fact that the rains have receded, and with it have gone the pleasant weather and the somewhat cool breeze that would occasionally make its presence known on a warm, sultry evening. The last few days have gotten excruciatingly painful and I try to deter myself from having more than one shower a day in my brave attempts to acclimate to my new life and the new environmental changes.  Some days I succeed, and some days I end up having three showers a day!

As I sit and type this blog, I can’t help but draw parallels between the hot, steamy weather in Mumbai and the turmoil and storms that are developing inside of me, consuming every vein and cell in my body, reminding me of the very few times I actually had to sweat in the cool, comforting weather of San Francisco. It is the second month of our arrival and I am still not sure about what I am doing with my life. A colleague just shared with me a quote he once read; a quote he says is the guiding principle of his life: “Life is not about discovering ourselves, but creating ourselves! 

It is so very true. I think about this opportunity that I have been given where I am able to learn more about myself and be kinder to myself than I usually am. As a psychologist, I find it intriguing that I am constantly learning and discovering new things about myself and re-discovering the much sought after virtues of kindness and patience: to my self and to others. In the rat race to achieve things, to go places, to be someone, and in our attempts to chase this elusive phenomena we call “happiness”, I think a lot of us forget to be kind and compassionate to ourselves and others. We forget that it is in giving that we receive and we are constantly asking and demanding favors and material goods from others believing that everyone and everything else holds the keys to inner happiness and peace. I don’t know…perhaps I am rambling. And if I am, I cannot help it. I have spent 3 hours round trip traveling to New Bombay for the second time in order to get all my ducks in a row for the quarantine certificate of my cat that we brought with us from the US. I got into a cab today and knew that I was going to pay for it, both literally and figuratively. It was in the middle of the day and by the time I got home, I was sweaty, exhausted, and felt like the life had been sucked out of me. It did not help that as I went through the rest of my day, it got warmer and more humid, till this point where I feel like I can barely think anymore.

So, on that note, I am going to turn in for the night and ask myself, “What am I doing with my life? What should I be doing with my life?” And perhaps, just perhaps, my dreams may paint a picture, an image that I would never imagine about my life. Or, I may just sleep like a baby, oblivious to the smells and sounds that lurk in the warm nights of this city.