Ancient Egyptians believed that upon death they would be asked two questions and their answers would determine whether they could continue their journey in the afterlife.  
The first question was, "Did you bring joy?"  
The second was, "Did you find joy?"

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

In My Head

I ventured out into Mumbai today for all of, oh, about 3 hours.

This morning Rajiv walked me past the giant cow eating in the street, several blocks to the Nokia store where we decided the prices were too high for my cheap India mobile phone.  We found a simpler model Nokia down the block (the keys have Hindi on them).  He set me up with one of his sim cards because tourists can no longer buy sim cards for fear that they will use cell phones to detonate bombs.  He made me call him, so I was sure he could be reached at any moment and then he announced, "You are independent now, so you can go out."

I felt like a baby bird being thrown out of the nest.

I managed to fly.  I navigated the streets where sidewalks seem to be passe.  Absolutely everyone walks in the street, with cars and auto-rickshaws whizzing by.  I used my Rome street-crossing skills and waited till natives started walking and then I piggy-backed on their tail-wind.  I cannot even tell you right now which side of the street Indians drive on because I was so hyper vigilant about crossing with somebody that I didn't even bother to pay attention to which way the cars were coming from.

Cars and rickshaws are everywhere, people are everywhere, dogs are everywhere.  Mumbai is a city of people, motors and dogs.  Add to that an incredible array of buildings, many falling down and yet inhabited, trash, large farm animals living in what would be a parking space in Seattle, and I definitely don't feel like I'm in "kansas" anymore.  I passed a stream that ran under the street I was walking on and this stream was filled with garbage the likes of which I'd never seen.  Men lie in the middle of the sidewalk covered head to tow in blankets, seemingly sound asleep while throngs of other men and a few women walk towards work or home for lunch.  I wanted to take pictures, but I wasn't feeling brave enough yet.

My destination for the day was Juhu Beach which runs along the Arabian Sea. I chose Juhu because it is close to my B & B and because my guidebook said I should check it out.  When I found the sea it was a relief to step from the bustling road to the wide expanse of sand and light; yet, because it is unsafe to walk barefoot or to wade in the water, it felt a bit like being offered an icy beverage on a hot day when you've been told you are not allowed to drink.

I saw my first guru under a tattered tent, a long line of women in colorful saris waiting to pay their respects.  They eyed me with suspicion when I walked close-by.  It is a feeling I am going to have to get used to, being eyed with suspicion and confusion.

Kids, though, are very friendly and curious.  I encountered two groups of boys playing cricket who almost seemed to swarm in my direction when they saw me.  I was a little unsure of what was happening so I veered out of their path and pretended not to hear them when they said "Hello."  Later, when they caught me snapping photos of them, they posed playfully, but kept their distance, which was a great relief.

In retrospect, I think those boys just wanted to introduce themselves and to find out what a crazy American lady was doing walking by herself down Juhu Beach in Mumbai.  They did not have the sort of cunning energy or desperation of these three, who I met later near the big tourist hotels.  These three wanted backsheesh for their photo after they insisted I take it.  I informed them that I had no backsheesh, because the amount of beggars would have quadrupled in size if I had so much as winked in the direction of my purse.

It was shortly after this picture that I realized I needed a respite.  I'd had very little sleep over the last two days and the culture differences were starting to wear on my nerves.  So I ducked into the Ramada, a bastion of western hospitality, sit down toilets, air-conditioning and musak.  I had an Indian buffet lunch and two, yes two, bottles of Coca-cola each of which were presented to me like fine wines, I assume to prove to me that they were indeed Coke and that they were cold, as evidenced by the condensation.

I then got my first auto-rickshaw back to my neighborhood.  Rajiv explained to me that I would have to tell the driver to take me to Santacruz Railway Station because the driver would not be able to read the address or probably to find it, so I would get dropped off there and walk right up the road to my rooms which are on the same street.  Rajiv neglected to tell me that, really, the station was off a side-street, and the driver opted to leave me in the middle of a farmers market, so I had to trust my sense of direction to get myself back home.  I thought, "I know, if I see the cow, then I'll know I'm on the right track".  The cow had mysteriously disappeared but he had left a large pile of dung, so I stayed my course and found my door; then I slept.  For four hours.

When I pried myself awake I tried to grapple with Mumbai, with India, with what I've gotten myself into.  Though I've only seen a small part of it, India is everything I was told it would be: dirty, full of despair and destitution, relentless, smelly in the worst kind of ways, ways that speak of human waste and desperation.  It occurred to me that if someone made me go home tomorrow with a return ticket in a month or so, that I might not come back even though I know there is so much more to see.  I might just say, "I've seen enough.  Thanks very much.  I'll just stay home in my nice comfy life."

But something that Rajiv said to me this morning sits in my thoughts as I try to navigate my own feelings, which include hesitation, loneliness, indecision, home-sickness.  He was telling me how he used to be an engineer, but with his second child, and here I think he indicated an illness afflicting his son, Rajiv had abandoned his career to stay home and run the B &B.  He said, "In India we think from here (he tapped his heart), not so much from here (he tapped his head.)  Family is everything, and so, I have given up my career.  It is good.  It is important."

I have no idea why he volunteered this story.  But it seems to me that all day long I have been seeing Mumbai with my head and my mind is overwhelmed by so much that it thinks is bad, or slightly dangerous.  I think that in order to really understand this place I will have to learn how to think from my heart, not just to feel with my heart, but to THINK from it.  I will have to be gentle with myself, take baby steps.  Maybe tomorrow I will try to be out for 4 hours, or five.  And if that goes well.....I may be spending the whole day out and about, oh, sometime next week.  That's ok.  I've got time.  That's why I scheduled the trip for 3 1/2 months, so that I could acclimatize.

I didn't think, however, that it would actually take so long.


Tina Rowley said...

Oh, baby. You are so brave. And yes, yes, yes, you've got to give yourself time. Rest, go in teeny tiny steps. You have lots of time. Take it easy, easy. Don't push. Take care of that girl of mine. Lots and lots of resting. You're on another planet, it seems. And you will acclimatize, I have no doubt.

You just got there like five seconds ago. You're AMAZING. A hero already. You blow my mind.

evergreenplace said...

Hooray for Rajiv! Look at you: landed barely one full day and you already know the first reason you are there - Thinking with your Heart, Feeling with your Mind - not too shabby, one might even think you were showing off : ) : ) : )

Excellent move going to the Marriott for a break and check in with the familiar (I shall value sitting upon and flushing my toilet far more from this day forward.) There is no hiding who you are (caucasian, Western, female, alone = non-native, likely tourist), which is exhausting, but will yield something important by the end of this journey.

You know, even if you spend an entire day at the B&B, you are still doing so in INDIA.
Sometimes you don't have to go anywhere or do anything in order to see things and have experiences.

Bravely onward, (which may just mean breathing in and out, while trying to smile, encountering your mind and inuring your heart ) xoxo (Deb)

jen said...

whoo hoo, you're there and you went out! That's half the battle. I cried the very first day and I was IN the Marriott. It is a total new world, culturally more different than anyplace I've ever been. It's not easy and you are doing great! Good job not giving and not being pushed around. You'll be out and about nonstop in no time, but as a friend said to me, "That's hot soup, sip slowly!"

kimnyhous said...

A pleasure, absolute pleasure to read your stories about India. You are SO brave. I went to China for 6 months in my younger years and it was such a similar challenge. Enjoy those touchstones like Coca Cola and the Marriot when you need a break - we used to go to the local college's library - they had Vogue in English! Find the "international" store for hometown noshes and even take in an American movie! That way you'll feel refreshed to take in all that new culture and experience. Well done Morgan!

Morganna said...

Thanks, Everyone....thanks and love from the far side of the world!

Jen....I love that IS hot soup!