Somehow in the chaos and confusion that consumes you when you enter Mumbai, you fall in love with it. I don’t know how it happens, or why it happened to me, but it has.
From the first time I took a rickshaw, I fell in love with Mumbai. I’m not sure why it was that experience that gave me a depth and admiration for that city, because logically it would be a death defying and terrible experience for any westerner, but maybe just experiencing life as the locals do was the best thing for me. I was a little nervous, those crazy 3 wheeler things that buzz around the city, weaving in and out of traffic (not very carefully) can be dangerous, scary and you feel like you can come within an inch of your life on most occasions. I was proud of myself, I did it. I flagged it down, I told him where I wanted to go, I got there, gave him the right amount of money and I had no help. I felt it was a small miracle, and for the first time in the four days that I was there, it made me smile from a deep place that I hadn’t smiled from.
‘I can do this’ resonated from deep within.
That was the first sign.
The first weekend that I was there, it was Diwali (the Hindu New Year celebration, name the festival of lights), the streets were bright, ornamented with flowers, colours and lights. Every street corner was cracking with fireworks and the night sky was lit with beautiful sparks of colour and festivities. The people were buzzing in celebration and the atmosphere was wonderful, almost electric. People were happy and smiling and taking their time to admire lights and colours and beauty in what could be classified as a very ugly city. People took pride in the floral arrangements and decorations, they were adorned on cars and windows and buildings and doors, and such time and care was taken in preparing the lovely decorations. It was the India that we would imagine, or at least it is what I imagined. Bright, vibrant and very alive, and I was happy to meet it. Firecrackers and works began early morning on the Friday – I jumped alarmingly out of my bed when the first explosion woke me at 5am. Thinking it was a bomb that had exploded, I cautiously looked out of my window expecting to see some burning buildings, but to my surprise, I saw fireworks being sent into the early morning sky, then hearing the crackles and bangs made everything fall into place. For the 72 hours of the weekend, I don’t think there was one that was not filled with mini explosions, all through the night and day, hundreds of thousands, maybe even millions of firecrackers were lit. Most people liked to put them under a bridge or flyover to get a full echo effect and to see them light up the darkness, there seemed to be a sort of competition to see whose was the loudest, brightest and best.
The famous Indian head wobble is another endearing and beautiful thing here. It is hard to describe what it is, but if you imagine one of those silly little dash board dogs that their heads wobble from side to side when the car moves, that is kind of what it’s like. The Indians have this sweet way of communicating with each other using the head wobble, any sign of agreement, encouragement, understanding and instructions will be given and received using this head wobble from side to side gesture. It means so many things, I’m happy with you, ok, I understand, yes, please, thank you, goodbye, nice to see you and so it continues. They use it when they laugh, when they make jokes, when they’re talking, when they’re making plans, when they’re giving instructions, and I’ve even seen it when they’re talking to someone on the phone! It is sweet and so unique and special to Indian culture (in my experiences of the world so far). I have caught myself doing it also and it has made me just appreciate it that much more and has connected me to the people.
It seemed to be a well known thing that everything runs on ‘Indian time’ so when making plans, I learned very quickly to be there at least an hour after we arranged and I would still be early, on one occasion, I was on time and the group of people I was meeting were 3 hours later, to which they then asked me why I was so early! For me, it was all a part of the Indian experience, you had to embrace it or it would never work for you.
Unsystematic, unorganized and chaotic seem to be three words that I would easily describe my experience of India to be. I had the absolute delight (I seriously mean delight) of going to a police station with a friend to make a report of a stolen phone, and I was in awe of the unstructured chaos that was so evident in the tiny building. Waiting outside the small office, was a line of more than 20 people waiting to see an officer, while in the room were at least 7 police sitting around behind their empty desks literally doing nothing but checking their phones and talking to each other. As soon as they noticed that we were there, they ushered us into the room. Soon there was a gathering all around us of police and locals wanting to find out the story of why we were there. They couldn’t understand why we were reporting a phone loss, but we were stern with them that we needed a police report for insurance reasons. After a small discussion amongst themselves, they handed us a piece of blank A4 paper and told us to write it down ourselves and they would sign it. With no computers, log books or any sort of filing system, I saw one officer slide a piece of paperwork between the desk and the wall and watched it fall to the ground. I thought that was one great way to deal with paperwork. I so enjoyed the people watching in that experience.
I don’t think people have defined jobs, and several times I saw signs such as ‘caution, men at work’ and then next to it were 20 men drinking tea and having a chat. Or I have seen one man with a drill and 7 men looking over his shoulder and making sure he has the moral support to complete the job. There will always be a bunch of gardeners and then a supervisor literally standing over them watching their work, or behind a counter there would be 4 men working the one till and taking your order. You never know what person you needed to talk to in order to get anything done.
Not too far from my humble little room that I called home, was a new mall with a lovely coffee shop in it. Whenever I needed my western comforts after a long day on the Vision Rescue bus, or on a Saturday morning, I popped down to the mall and had a coffee. After only my second visit, the staff remembered me and my name and so every time I went in there, they would see me walking up, start waving, smiling and calling out ‘Hello Miss Corrina!’. It was so sweet and another reason why I have come to love this crazy city called Mumbai.
‘It is people, it is people, it is people.'
It was a quote that was used all the time by my Maori lecturer in college, and it is only now that I am really beginning to understand those very simple, but powerful words. In some ways it is the only way I can really define why I love to explore this beautiful world of ours, and it is the only way I can describe some of the best experiences in life I have ever had. I thought it was a silly and meaningless quote, but now I understand the power and truth in it. Something seemingly so small can impact a life so much – and how? Through people.
The Indian people are beautiful, welcoming, appreciative, humbled that you want to be there, excited, joyful and truly genuine. From being invited into homes of the people that we were reaching on the streets, invited to participate in a meal and seeing them giving completely out of their need and lack, to being invited to a humble, single room home of a teacher, I have been completely and utterly touched. This, so far has been the most extreme poverty that I have encountered, but the more extreme I seem to experience, the more generous and welcoming people I seem to come across. All the people I met and was invited into their space, were so enthused that I would come and be with them, they wanted to serve me and give to me as best as they could, and they counted it as an absolute honour to have me in their home.
So, it is with sadness and joy that I have departed the shores of India. Firmly planted in my heart and life, I know I will be back and be able to connect with such wonderful people again. I love that life has such an incredible way of unfolding layers upon layers of things you truly never expected to experience, and you India, were one of them. I hope through this journey of mine, that you have also had a piece of India enter into your hearts and lives…there’s so much more to it than these few words and experiences that I have shared, but too much for words to express. Simply put – you must experience the wonders for yourself.