I've been in Bhandup, Mumbai for about a week now, so it's a good time to give an update! (Gallery at the bottom!)
Many people have given me words to describe what I should expect when I get to India. Words such as dirty, infectious, crowded, rude; people have also told me that India is full of kind, and generous people. I'm more with the latter idea. Mumbai, as I've been told, is the city of dreams or (सपनों का शहर - Sapanon ka shahar - in Hindi). Everything and everyone is on the move in every direction. There is no place to dawdle, you're either moving with the flow or the flow is moving you! There are dozen of things happening everywhere you look and it's a little overwhelming to take in, especially being from the little town of Boise.
As I've had the chance to observe Mumbaikar (a person who belongs to Mumbai), I've noticed that most individuals are loving, hard working, peaceful, and in general full of joy. It seems that when they see me, the super pale girl even by American standards, they are full of curiosity. They stare. A lot. This was something I was forewarned about and it's a very true statement. I might be the only American in this area as it's not exactly a high tourist spot.
People who see me on the street gawk at me with wide eyes, those I'm introduced to are very inquisitive. They take pictures with me, ask me about where I'm from, about my family, if I like India and Indian food to which I always say, "YES! More Indian food, please!" The market by our home has finally mellowed to the sight of me, but every now and again people will stare at my attire, my hair, and my skin. When I smile at them they typically get shy and smile with a cute little wave.
The kids are funny to watch. They stop what they're doing and follow me with their eyes. They chat quietly with their friends and giggle flashing big smiles. They're also starting to be familiar with my presence and will wave and grin at me as we pass by. They even offered to have me play badminton with them, I was so flattered!
The Streets on Wheels
Traffic. It is chaotic at best. There are ubers, motor rickshaws, bicycles, motorcycles, and who knows what else is navigating the narrow streets. To be honest, I actually find it really interesting! There are lines on the road ... sometimes, though they don't mean anything... I guess it's just street art! Motorcycles and really all vehicles seem to have a clown car effect with numerous people stacked in or on them as they weave strategically in and out of the flow. Honking horns are the standard background noise and there's rarely 3 seconds between the sounds. I admire the skill it takes to be able to drive in this city. I, for sure, would have ended up on a curb within minutes if I tried to get behind a wheel here.
So far I've taken the train three times now. The first time on the train was my first experience being separated from Milind: my language lifeline. There is a train car that is for women only, so that is the car I rode in. I followed his mother closely as she navigated the crowds and found a seat in the back of the car, I stood nearby holding onto the handles on the ceiling which I think I may have been the only one actually tall enough to reach them. As people stared and took "sneaky" pictures I smiled and nodded and they usually smiled back if I didn't make them too nervous. On all the trains people would be preparing to leave for their stop and they would make eye contact with me to offer me their place to sit, a few even nudged others aside to give me more space!
So, as some of you may figure, I don't speak the language. I've got a few Hindi, Gujarati, and Kutchi phrases which are all variants of "How are you?" "Okay" "Yes" "No" and "I understand a little (insert language here)". On the street I haven't really had the need to talk to people, however, I've been introduced at the Jain temple just a block away from our Bhandup home. At this place I've used these few phrases a lot, and I'm taught new words and phrases with everyone I meet! People are super excited to meet me and Milind does his best to be close by as a translator as needed, but people are just as excited to see him after all his time away and request his attention.
The first time we went to the temple I had the pleasure of meeting some of the Jain Guru, Maharaj Saheb. I was very nervous, I was walking into a place of worship and I didn't really know the proper etiquette. Milind and his father guided me through the space and introduced me to the five wonderful women. They gave me blessings by saying a prayer of sorts over me, I touched their feet and they placed sandalwood powder in my hair, then they tied a colorful bracelet around my right hand. I talked to them for what seems like hours and they were so welcoming! They are inspiring women, full of the excitement to share their knowledge and spread love and understanding with sincerity. They gave me a book with the phonetic way to say their chants in English.
I came back the next day to participate in a puja, or act of worship. This requires wearing clothes that you have never had food or drink in. This means all clothes - under things included. Milind's wonderful mother found me some clothes to wear the night before and I have to say it was super comfy and REALLY pretty with green and red patterns over the tunic and red pants embroidered with gold designs on the ankle, then a shawl or dupatta for me to cover my head.
I followed the first part of the puja as best I could as Milind lead me through, then was guided by a female member of the community through the rest since men and women sit separately through the rest of the proceedings. The last part was standing, kneeling, and bowing 108 times while singing a song about a pilgrimage. The Guru women kept turning around telling me that it was okay to sit if my legs hurt and that I didn't need to stand up and kneel for the whole thing. I made it through the 108 and admire the effort it takes for the people who may do this every day!
As everything came to an end I took a deep breath searched the room so I could meet up with Milind again, and saw a swarm of colorful women rushing toward me. The women there were so excited to meet me, reaching out to shake my hand, taking selfies, asking me questions - I think.... finally Milind made his way to me and told me that people were introducing themselves to me, offering me to come to their homes, wanting to get to know me, and letting me know that they were proud of me and that if I had questions I could ask them. Milind and I then served the fasting community a very special variety of food and received blessings from them.
FYI - Lychee is amazing. Mangoes are amazing. Indian food is just freaking fabulous! I have had the privilege to have a home cooked meal from Milind's mom for almost every meal. We've had delicious makings and I've been taking notes, though when I try to roll out roti it turns out the shape of India instead of round and beautiful like his mom makes.
I've had a few outside meals, but always look toward Milind's mother to make sure it's something I can eat. She has been boiling water for me to drink daily and will always let me know if something I am offered is made with ingredients I can eat or in conditions she believes are safe. Which means so far after a week in India - I haven't been sick!! *knock on wood* I am in good hands!
Also. Chai. Every. Morning.
You can't go wrong with that starting your day!
I've been having a wonderful time here in India, even if now I find myself having that little pang of homesickness with the longing for the familiar. As an introvert this is normal for me even AT home! For those of you who gave me a positive heads up of how India would be, thank you. So far, if I had to choose a few words to describe India from my interactions from those in Bhandup, Mumbai it would be: welcoming, loving, understanding, good willed, vibrant, ... and still overly crowded haha!
P.S. The entrance to our home here is very low, I'm quite sure I'll hit my head before too long!
I'll be taking more pictures in the next week, as most photos have been on Milind's phone... and MILK COMES IN BAGS!!