वह शहर जो कभी नहीं सोता - Mumbai
Another week gone by and time for another summary!
(वह शहर जो कभी नहीं सोता - translates to "A city that never sleeps")
The pang of homesickness hit extra hard this week, meeting so many people is exhausting for me and made me long for my friends and family back home. Everyone here has been super understanding of this and has worked so hard to make me feel welcome and comfortable, they are all so sweet! I am surrounded by new family and friends here and I just needed a moment of rest to realize that. Anyway - here are my quirky experiences from this week!
Dancing is life!
When thinking about dance and India, I just assumed that some people dance and some people don't. Back home, getting people to dance is like pulling teeth. Milind's mom invited me to a gathering of girls for games and socializing, and I'm so glad I worked up the energy to go!
This program had a wedding theme, and it did not disappoint. People were dressed up to the nines! Sarees and gowns, elaborate fabrics and details, my eyes were darting everywhere trying not to miss a single bead. I was placed with a group of women and tried my best to participate in the games. For one of the first games our group was called to the front and I was pulled up along with them, wide eyed and confused, one girl leaned to me and said "Dance!" and the music played and our group danced! I was dressed up as a bride for another one of the games, which lead to many people coming to take pictures with me. Our group got up and did another dance to which I was paired up with another woman and we took a mini solo, which was a lot of fun!
Then after all of that, my group sat down and I was requested to stay up front. They spoke about me a little, I understood the words "America", "dance", and a few other words, and then "Ghoomar dance". I started laughing as I understood what was about to happen, they wanted me to dance Ghoomar - a dance I had the privilege of learning from a talented friend, Swati, back in November. Of course, I don't remember a lot of it and didn't think to refresh it in my mind before coming to India. The music started and I did my best to recreate some sort of similar styled dance, and I actually had a lot of fun making it up as I went. Oh, by the way, our group won!
We ended the festivities with a group dance of Garba and of course, food and many pictures. There was not a single person who didn't get up and dance at this event! It was so refreshing to see the young, the elderly, and all in between dancing with big smiles on their faces!
Dogs Vs Cows
One thing I was expecting was to see cows everywhere. It seemed most people had told me that cows would be blocking traffic or in odd places, but really my cow count is much lower than I expected. While wandering through Mumbai, I came across a total of three cows. THREE!!
However, I have seen so many dogs, a sanctuary for cats, and train stations full of cats. And of course, pigeons. Pigeons are everywhere! In giant flocks!
It wasn't until we took a ferry over to Elephanta Island that my animal count took a turn. Once on the island hiking up waaaay too many stairs, my cow count became 10. Then I found that I needed to add another animal to my observations. Monkeys. I honestly had ruled out the possibility that I would see any monkeys on this trip, but as we trekked along I saw the greedy little paws of the monkeys coming after anyone with food, water, or a strange look on their face. Milind lost his chips bag - it was a sad moment. One older woman nearly had her saree pallu ripped as a monkey went after her bag of food and another gentleman lost his bottle of water to a young monkey boxer!
So, Elephanta Caves was our destination, one where I didn't really think through just how much hiking would be involved. After an hour ferry, an unsettling view of monkeys, passing countless shops trying to get your attention with fans, hats, trinkets, sculptures, or trying to sell you bottled water - which hopefully you don't notice that they are all open bottles.... we finally made it to the top! This is the point where I knew I was going to get a sunburn. There were no trees anywhere. Just open space, on the top of a hill, covered in sand and stone and we had to wait in queue to get our tickets to go into the caves.
Being a foreigner is not in your benefit when it comes to tickets or anything you need to buy. Milind and his old friend (my new friend) Hiral, were discussing how they could get me in without having to buy the "foreigners" ticket. You read that right, there is a seperate, posted price for foreigners. It was 40 rupees for Indians, and 600 rupees for foreigners. They decided they would get me in as Milind's wife, but the ticket collector wouldn't have it. Milind went back to the counter and he and Hiral convinced the woman selling tickets that there's no way we could get a marriage certificate in four days (Hiral made up a good story of how Milind and I got married four days back), and that we wouldn't have wedding pictures yet, and who knows what else! Anyway, they got me in at the Indian price. Hiral is a rockstar!
Wandering around the exquisite carvings of the caves was inspiring. Giant relief sculptures in the walls of the caves that were carved out of the mountain side. Guides were everywhere hoping tourists would pay them for information - we decided we would explore on our own and do our own investigations. (We got asked for more selfies here as well!) My head was reeling with wonders as to what this particular place would have looked like to the people who lived or visited this place every day. I'm excited to read up more about it.
My Lindy Fix
More dancing was exactly what I needed, and thank goodness it was lindy hop. We found a group, Lindy hop in Mumbai, and made our way to Cafe Zoe to see what this space would be like. It was like a little taste of home away from home. Having a dance I was familiar with, in a setting where I wasn't expected to talk, and people being in really pleasant moods. I took the beginner class as a lead and was surprised at the mass of new dancers crowding the floor. The class went quickly and by the end, everyone was laughing, having fun, and experimenting with their own ideas.
I had a lot of fun experimenting with solo charleston and found myself non-verbally teaching a few solo steps (an absolute blast). It was wonderful having the this little escape so I can recharge my energy and keep it upbeat.
Well, I suppose it was just a matter of time. People have been clicking my picture since I got to India. It was a nice turn of events as some individuals have started asking me if they can take a selfie with me, or they will just smile with their phones out and snuggle up to click a pic. A guy on our train home asked if he could take a selfie with me, I said yes and then all the guys around me struggled to get into the picture. They didn't know each other so they were exchanging WhatsApp information afterwards! Yay for helping people make friends! Hah!
OH! I also had a selfie taken on the ferry. She came up and hugged me, clicked a picture, then gave me a big kiss on the cheek before making her way wherever she was going. Hiral and Milind got a good laugh out of it.
India is amazingly weird and weirdly amazing!