Tuesday, January 18, 2011
In My Head
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.