Tag Archives: maps

Good-bye Mumbai!

I’m getting ready to leave Mumbai – I might even be at the airport or on the plane home before I manage to publish this post. It seemed right that I make my last Indian post about this city which has been the source and location of nearly all of my experience of India.

Seven weeks is way too short a time to get to know any place beyond the level of slight acquaintance, but Mumbai must be one of the most challenging in this regard. If she were a human, I’d have to say that I caught a glimpse of her brilliant form once for about five seconds, during which moment I heard her singing a few words I couldn’t understand.

In physical size alone, Mumbai takes up most of Salsette Island, and you would have to drive in three hours of crazy traffic to get from the north end to the south. There is a whole national park within its boundaries. I spent 90% of my time in one neighborhood, in a city of 22 million people, twice the population of Belgium.

Mumbai is the financial and fashion capital of India, and the city where 7-10 people die every day in train related accidents. The most expensive house in the world is in Mumbai, and the most educated slum. A million people live in this slum, Dharavi, which dates from the 1840’s, and 80% of them are employed. They live in 84 settlements taking up less than a square mile, which makes the population density of Dharavi 20 times that of Mumbai as a whole. (Nearly half the population of the Mumbai lives in slums, if you count Dharavi as a slum, which according to some definitions it isn’t any longer.)

Dharavi recycles 80% of the plastic trash of Mumbai, and produces 3.5 tonnes (Tonnes are bigger than tons) of food every day. One of its many other businesses and “hutment industries” is the large pottery business at Kumbharwada:

I took a tour of Dharavi this week but didn’t take pictures, so that one above I found online. Our group walked around through the industrial and residential areas for two hours, which gave me exposure to thousands of visual images and other sensations to process, accompanied by the excellent narrative by our guide who was from the slum. I took notes on both; but I am a really slow writer, which is why here at the end of my India stay, when I’m counting down the hours, I don’t have time to convey my direct experience.

The subject and reality of Dharavi is huge and complex, and you can read much about it elsewhere if you are interested, and watch YouTube tours. It’s another one of the many Things Mumbai that I will leave here knowing just superficially, but it was a wonderful tour and did expand my understanding quite a bit.

Tiffin wallahs

The lunchbox delivery service by tiffin wallahs or dabbawalas originated in Mumbai. Maybe some of my readers have seen the movie “The Lunchbox” that tells a story centered around this local phenomenon. I saw this charming movie years ago but didn’t pay attention to its setting in Mumbai.

Tiffin wallahs have been providing their services in Bombay since 1890, and are known for their high degree of accuracy in delivering lunches from home or restaurant, and the boxes back to the source the same day. This blog does a good job of describing how it works and why it is such a regular part of so many Mumbaikars’ lives: Dabba Dabba Do! And from another article:

“Some 5,000 men dole out over 200,000 meals a day, picking up the tiffins in the morning from women, typically, who have packed steaming, spicy dishes into each compartment: a curry, vegetables, dal (lentils), and flatbread (with some variations).

“For many Mumbai residents, this is the only way to lunch — on a feast, made with the love of a mother or wife.

“‘It’s expensive to eat outside every day, besides it’s not healthy,’ said 36-year-old Naina Bhonsle in Mumbai’s Versova neighborhood. ‘I know what my husband likes eating, and so I prefer to send him a tiffin every day.’”

The boxes are transported and distributed by train and on bicycles; on my first day here Tom pointed out this bicycle belonging to a tiffin wallah and since then I’ve seen many of the wallahs, the typically semi-literate men who do the carrying, as they pedal around. It’s another case like Dhobi Ghat of a very organized low-tech, high efficiency system serving basic human needs, and that sort of thing makes me admire all the parties who keep the thing running.

“The Lunchbox” is not a film made according to the Bollywood formula in the style of “Lagaan,” which I mentioned before. But Bollywood style movies are worth mentioning here as a phenomenon because Mumbai is the center of Bollywood. In Reimagining India, Jerry Pinto wrote: “Bollywood is not just a film industry. It is all-pervasive: a home-grown, film-a-day dream machine that maintains a pleasant stranglehold on our imaginations. It determines — or at least shapes — how we see ourselves, how we think, how we talk, dream, speak, love, fight.”

In the same article he describes the Bollywood formula as requiring: “…a fight for the young men, a romantic story for the women, a devotional song for the elderly. Films made for the entire Hindi-speaking market would have to be patriarchal, right wing, jingoistic, and patronizing in their attitudes to anything non-Indian and nonmajoritarian.”

I didn’t know much about Bollywood until the last year or two. I saw a laughably sentimental Bollywood movie first, and then last month, “Lagaan,” a much more enjoyable example. The music of Bollywood films is often the kind that is happy and makes you want to dance, even if — or especially if? — it is separated from the dance routines of the movie. I am not much of a movie watcher in the first place, so I won’t be exploring the genre more, but as a cultural phenomenon, I wouldn’t want to miss it completely. And I have added Bollywood music to my iTunes playlist to listen to on road trips.

Art Deco City

I heard that Mumbai is “the most Art Deco city in the world after Miami,” and though I hadn’t given the style or history of Art Deco one concentrated thought ever before in my life, having Tom on my first day show me some design features in their neighborhood made me focus my eyes in a new way.

From what I have read, it seems that Art Deco and India were made for each other. The Indian Institute of Architects was founded in 1929, the middle class was growing in the 30’s, and many of the buildings in the city from this period featured Art Deco elements in their design. I’ve seen structures from this century include some retro aspects from the style that Mumbai now feels is part of its tradition and heritage.

There is a whole Wikipedia article on Art Deco in Mumbai, which helped me to grasp enough of the concepts to be able to occasionally recognize the Art Deco influence on our outings. If I were going to be here longer, I’d like to go on a tour given by this organization: Art Deco Mumbai . I’ve already seen quite a few examples that would be on the tour, mostly driving past too fast to get a good picture — and some in our neighborhood.

I always love to take pictures of buildings that catch my attention for some reason. Mumbai has been fun that way, because there is such a range of ages and styles — and colors. Sometimes it is just the names of apartment buildings that strike the American ear as funny. I didn’t take a picture of Flushel Apartments, but Tom joked about what was behind that name… Were they advertising that all the toilets worked, or that the walls were straight and plumb? Haha. It was right down the street from the Executive Enclave.

Mostly for my own convenience I am posting below some images of this city that I want to have in this handy Glad collection. Maybe you will like some of them, too!

During my last days here, the air cleared a lot, and I was quite pleased to see that one of my photos revealed blue skies with cottony white clouds!

Every walk through the neighborhood, I’m realizing, might be my last down this street or that…

And when I ate one of Kareena’s chapatis fresh from the griddle, it was the most special ever because it was likely the last one that fresh.

I could never take enough pictures of women in colorful clothes to satisfy me, or enough videos of Kareena cooking. I can’t buy all of the lovely dresses in the shops, or learn the names of every surprising Indian dessert. My time of glorious Too-Muchness has come to an end, and I’m going home to Great Lent, which is the perfect way to transition from the superabundance of everything here to… what?

Lent is a journey to Pascha. It’s not the kind of journey where you are bombarded from outside by exciting and even dangerous forces and sensations ranging from air travel to chapatis and people on the street, but a quiet path on which all the struggles come from trying to tune one’s own heart. Considering my starting point, it will surely take all of my effort to accomplish anything in only 40 days.

The hardest part of leaving is, of course, that Raj and his parents are staying here! It has been the sweetest day-after-day to live in the same house as Kate and Tom and their new baby, and to love and be loved in person on a daily basis. The comforting thing is, that except for not being in the same house, we will go on loving and being loved, and be together at the throne of God, as long as He gives us grace. I’m not saying any kind of final good-bye to them.

But I do have to say, “Good-bye, Mumbai!”

Book Bits of India

A couple of friends asked me last fall if I were reading about India in preparation for traveling here, and I had to admit that I wasn’t. I’ve always been like this, before school field trips or grownup camping trips, unable to focus in an academic way on a future and therefore theoretical event with its vast possibilities. It seems to me to be putting the answers ahead of the questions that I haven’t yet been stimulated to ask; the likelihood that I would have wasted my time reading material that would turn out to be irrelevant to my personal experience is high.

I did try a little. First I started in on Midnight’s Children by Salmon Rushdie, but I couldn’t get interested. And through Great Courses I listened to a professor of Indian history lecture tediously for some hours, until I couldn’t bear him any longer. Just before my trip, I began to listen to Michael Wood’s The Story of India, and he was very engaging and promising.

But once I arrived and had several days’ worth of experiences under my belt, I started reading lots of articles online, and delving into the many books on the subject of India that are in this house. I’m sure I won’t finish reading any of them, but they have all contributed to my understanding and made my stay here richer. I’ll share somewhat random quotes from a few of them in my list below.

Reimagining India: Unlocking the Potential of Asia’s Next Superpower edited by McKinsey & Company     This collection of essays by dozens of writers, mostly Indian, ranges from hard-core economic and trade issues to a discussion of how India became the world leader in the game of cricket. I will probably refer to some of the articles in future posts.

Eyewitness Travel: India     “Consisting of seven swampy islands when the Portuguese acquired it in 1534, Bombay (from the Portuguese Bom Bahia or ‘Good Bay’) came to the British Crown in 1661 as part of the dowry of Catherine of Braganza when she married Charles II. Finding little use for the islands, the British leased them to the East India Company, which quickly realized their potential as an excellent natural harbour in the Arabian Sea. The rise of Bombay began in the late 1600’s, when the company relocated its headquarters here. By the 18th century, Bombay had become the major city and shipbuilding yard on the western coast, and by the 19th century, land reclamations had joined the islands into the narrow promontory that it is today.”

Culture Shock! India by Gitanjali Kolanad c. 1994    “You may meet with the invitation to ‘drop by anytime.’ In E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India, Mrs. Moore meets with a situation where she tries to pin down a specific time with a Mrs. Bhattacharya, who is gracious but vague. In the end Mrs. Moore settles with her on the coming Thursday, only to find that the Bhattacharyas are leaving for Calcutta the following morning.

“Mrs. Moore is bewildered by the exchange, but one Indian friend to whom I told the story understood the situation perfectly. She said, ‘The guest is blessing you, doing you a great honor by visiting you. How can you be so rude as to try to restrict them to a certain time?'”

The Story of India by Michael Wood (frontispiece above)     Quoting Sir William Jones: “‘The Sanskrit language, whatever be its antiquity, is of a wonderful structure; more perfect than the Greek, more copious than the Latin, and more exquisitely refined than either, yet bearing on both of them a stronger affinity, both in the roots of verbs, and in the forms of grammar, than could possibly have been produced by accident; so strong indeed, that no philosopher could examine them all three without believing them to have sprung from some common source, which, perhaps, no longer exists.'”

“The question is very complex, but there is one thing on which all competent linguists agree: Jones was right — the languages are connected; and the time depth of the ‘family tree’ of the Indo-European languages precludes the idea of India as the place of origin. The Sanskrit language must have originated outside India. But how far back? And from where? Was it brought by invaders or travelers, by elites or mass migration?

“This is now one of the hottest arguments in modern India, where the battle over history that began under the British in the nineteenth century is now at the heart of politics and education because it bears on central questions of identity.”

India: The Cultural Companion by Richard Waterston     This book focuses on the history and tradition of India’s many indigenous religions.

“[It is] common to read in Hindu texts of attempts to ‘cheat’ or ‘vanquish’ time. A verse from the Mahabharata advises that ‘time “cooks” all beings’ and ‘destroys all creatures;’ when everything else sleeps ‘time is awake, time is hard to overcome.'”…. “The present age (Kali Yuga) is the last in the cycle and marks the point at which spiritual intelligence and morality have reached their lowest ebb.”

“The most striking aspect of Jain karma is that it is perceived as a material entity, like a subtle dust that clogs the soul, binding it to the body. Many lifetimes are required to rid the soul of karmic dust and so liberate it.”

Indian Nationalism: A History by Jim Masselos     I enjoyed this book for its thorough overview of the people and events by which the first stirrings of the will to independence multiplied in various places around the subcontinent and overcame the many differences of culture and religion to become a unified force strong enough to oust the British.

Indian Breads by G. Padma Vijay     This was a Christmas present from Kate and Tom. How did they know I would love the Indian flatbreads of which there are enough varieties to fill a book? Just last night we ate garlic or lassoon paratha, one of many paratha recipes that are joined by instructions for naan, chapattis, rotis and many breads you’ve probably never heard of even if you love to eat Indian food. The smoke alarm always goes off here when Kareena makes her wonderful chapattis, so when I go home I may have to limit my experiments to days of open windows.

Flowers of India by Helmut Wolf      A board book on this subject is just about my speed. I found it in a fancy shop that sells children’s clothes, and I will put it in my suitcase as one concrete item among all the intangible smidgens of knowledge I have collected from books.

Food for the mind, feasts for the eyes.

If I have trouble putting together a Real blog post, it’s not because I haven’t been soaking up the sights and thinking about so many things. Now that I am actually here, I have been reading about and discussing with Kate and Tom Indian history, language, politics, slums, and religion.

The night before Baby Raj was born, Tom projected maps of India on the big screen and gave a little talk on various of these topics — it was the best sort of lesson for me, the map presentation helping me to tie bits of knowledge together in my mind. Perhaps there’s a chance I will retain more than a smidgen.

My “studies” are interspersed with or carried on in the midst of Baby Immersion. Just being in a home where a newborn baby lives and breathes and will stare back at you with no feeling of awkwardness — it’s too sweet.

This baby will have Indian nannies as long as he lives here, so some of the first words impressed on his pliable mind will be from Indian languages. But which ones? Hindi is not the primary language spoken in these parts, and India has designated 30 languages as “official” languages of the nation. According to Census of India of 2001, India has 122 major languages and 1599 other languages.

20% of Indians speak Dravidian languages, which are not even related to Indo-Aryan languages such as Hindi. These and other non-Hindi speakers have fought against proposals to impose the Hindi language in southern India. The Indian constitution does not give any language the status of national language, but the authorized version of laws is required to be in English, and the business of the Supreme Court is conducted in English.

I’ve learned very few Indian words, mostly names of food. But I didn’t learn the name of the Diwali festival treat above before eating the last one in the house. Almost everyone I encounter seems to speak at least a little English, but sometimes I can’t understand one word in a whole sentence by the most fluent speakers, because of their accent.

Everywhere we go I feast on colors, and feel myself to be somewhat ghostly in appearance in contrast to the Indian women in their rich attire. I’m sure I will come home with a few new and bright, concrete items to go with the images on my computer and the imprints on my mind. New dishes are constantly being set out on this banquet table.

Shopping with pani puri.

Tom took me along on his shopping trip yesterday, to a few stores and shops including a multi-story big box that had features of a Super Wal-Mart, Costco, and a department store. The escalators were ramps that accommodated shopping carts, and we visited all the floors and departments, but never found a C-battery or anyone who knew what that was. Tom wasn’t very sure himself, but some new baby equipment wants them. Oh well.

I was fascinated by the many varieties of basmati rice, both packaged and in large bins where women in pretty clothes were scooping up their favorite type. I love basmati rice and used to buy it in 25# bags myself; I came home with a jar of the Brown Basmati.

The packaged rice is one of many products and ads that feature a photo of a famous movie star, often a Khan, or the “Big B,” Amitabh Bachchan. I don’t have a hope of keeping all these celebrities straight, but a couple of them have leading roles in an unusually good Bollywood movie we are currently watching here (over the course of three nights, because it’s close to four hours long): “Lagaan.” Oh, and on the route between the different shops, whose car did our driver point out but that of the very Aamir Khan himself. Mumbai is the center of Bollywood, did you know?

Women were also filling bags with large-crystal sugar from a great bulk bin.

 

 

We ate several pani puri snacks and another type of snack at a stand in the food department of the store. For us to take our fill of those savory treats cost less than 100 rupees which Tom said was about $1.10.

 

From this store we drove to that quiet neighborhood Tom introduced me to on my first day here, where is found their favorite market.

The shopkeepers know at least the names of vegetables and how to count in English so I was able to complete the purchase of some carrots, zucchini, peppers and broccoli while Tom went to the next stand where we found leeks and potatoes from which he is going to make soup.

Are those red carrots really carrots? I’ll cook them today and find out.

We brought all our loot home and then Tom cooked up a big delicious dinner featuring mutton chops, pesto green beans, tomato salad and more. It was the first meal of not particularly Indian food that I’ve had in ten days.

Baby “Raj” had stayed home with his mama. They are eating well and building strength and we are all enjoying the early Getting to Know You period. Well, not quite all: Huckleberry Cat has led a very sheltered life until this point and he doesn’t feel entirely positive about the strange creature who suddenly showed up.

As I write, it is a lazy Sunday afternoon. I’ve been holding a sleeping baby for an hour while chatting with Kate and Tom about so many things India, seeds that could germinate into future blog posts. Now I’m back here typing with two fingers to finish this one. My mind will immediately and irresistibly start gathering threads of images and impressions to weave into the next scrap of cloth I hope to share with you, of this colorful tapestry that is Bombay.