6, July 2016
Arrived just before midnight on July 5th. We were shuffled into immigration lines, soulless with 24 hours of travel in our wake. If not for tourist E-visa we would have been herded into a meandering line that seemed unending. Instead, we were ushered into a line of 5 or 6 people. Bam! Ten minutes later, the first stamp in my passport.
When we stepped outside, the air pressed in. Turgid, all encompassing. 12:30am and thick with heat. You could practically see the air hang before you. Walk into the dampness. It has rained, and recently. A cresent shape of hundreds of drivers await. They press in as the air does, some holding signs, others fishing for fare. Every plant I see is lush, fertile, trembles in the night air.
Mumbai is a city of car horns and close quarters. A morning stroll in search of an ATM, an onslaught of cabs offering rides. Bo and I deny them, step into the thick of the warm morning air. Traffic is no joke. Walking around, or even driving around (as we would later experience), is not for the faint of heart. We would wait on the sidewalk for a group of two or more Indians to begin crossing the street and stick to them like shadows. HONK! A motorbike almost collides with you. HONK! A cab cuts the corner, just missing. HONK! The horns here seem to have a different affectation than American anger or “you done fucked up” horn blasting. The horn here is communication, nuanced and noisy. The horn here signifies awareness. “I am here.” “I see you there.” A loud acknowledgement. A rambunctious politeness.
In Mumbai there are a lot of street dogs. Benevolent creatures with tapered snouts, medium-small in body, predominately black, creamy white, or tan. One street pup followed Bo for a block til he stepped inside to the ATM. Turning attention to me, the mutt shook it’s whole butt instead of just the tail; a dog after my own heart.
Walking or driving around, one cannot help but notice the visible disparity of wealth in this country. Shanty towns of corrugated metal and blue tarp, repurposed paper, cardboard, and signage. Piecemeal works of architecture that sprawl horizontally and vertically, housing millions. More often than not, the roofs of these homes have satellite dishes; a broader world window to escape from the slums.
As Bo and I walked shopping districts and tourists traps we began to feel like walking dollar signs. White people in India implies money. Entrance into tourist destinations do no beat around the bush; at the Prince of Wales Museum the sign at the entrance stated Indian Adult: 70 rupees, Foreign Adult: 500 rupees. At every turn there are doormen, security personnel, bag checks. At every restaurant, multiple servers. Petty cabs and drivers line every street. Random people ask to shine your shoes, or if you’d like to buy a pack of giant balloons. Women walk through traffic, attempting to sell bouquets to passengers. There are so many people. People who need to work. People who will work for little wages. One US dollar is almost 68 Indian rupees; it is difficult to not want to take everyone up on their offer or to buy something at every shop– in a country with enormous wealth disparity, people are only trying to make ends meet. To suppory their family. To survive.
7, July 2016
The women passing by are swatches of color. Yellows, oranges, purples, greens, blues, every color imaginable. The men in whites and neutrals look like canvasses, backdrops. The women, paint in motion.
8, July 2016
Read these apt words in the newspaper today:
“A good dose of free trade and paticipatory foreign policy that respects other nations– perhaps that is what will make America great again.”
–Neha J. Hiranandani, DNA India
9, July 2016
Two days ago we drove from Mumbai to Nashik. Mumbai seemed endless. Stretches of businesses and homes stacked one atop another, layered– it reminded Bo and I of William Gibson, of his sprawl series and bridge series. Monoliths on the horizon, we drove toward buildings that were in the process of being built or in the process of being torn down– it was difficult to tell which, there were so many of them. Exposed rebar, they looked weathered. As if acts of industry and infrastructure abandoned in partial completion. Some of these skyscapers had cranes and construction workers on them; these were the obvious works in progress. Regardless, they all looked years in the making. Concrete pitted and pocked, alive with moss. Some had stretches of clothes on wire, hanging out to dry like all the other balconies and windows of occupied buildings we passed. It would not surprise me if people inhabited these unfinished buildings, open structures yawning out to the streets.
13, July 2016
In India people are unapologetic about occupying space. They can’t be. Can’t afford to be. I could learn from this, instead of wavering at the sidelines of being, aqiuesing to passivity. I could learn from this: I am here, now.
14, July 2016
Shopping for an Indian wedding is a family affair. One must see all the options for all of the multiple outfits required of the many rituals. One must give their opinion. One must argue for their choice. One must participate.
This seems as important to the retailer as it is for the family. They feel they must give you “the full experience,” that if they have not shown you enough options, they did not “service” you properly. In a county with such blatant wealth disparity, I feel this must feel a privilege to the participants.
When shopping for the two traditional outfits required of me for Sujeet’s wedding (one for the ceremony and a different outfit for the evening reception) I, too, had to see all the options. In America, and as someone who has worked in retail for years, I am used to strolling through racks and stacks of my own accord, at my own pace, asking only if I have a question or require assistance. In India stacks of fabric were picked for me, laid at my feet. Each saree, each piece of material, unrolled in it’s entirety. I have to point out which ones are of interest. These ones are moved to a different stack, the possibility pile. It seems a requirement that I need a minimum of ten options in this stack before I am allowed to try them all on. Then and only then, after acquiring opinions from the group, can I make a decision. The ironic thing about this experience is the first item I picked and knew I liked best from the get-go, was the saree I went home with. Despite the song and dance of the shopping ritual, and knowing what I wanted, I had to surrender to the experience.
15, July 2016
There is a weight to the air here. Tangible in heft, it feels as if you can reach out and collect a handful. A pocketful of India, Goa, the least populated state. Tropical and lush. The constant honking of car horns has been replaced by the murmuring of birds. The sky is alive with their traffic. New bird songs in an old land, their sound alien to my ears.
18, July 2016
6am and all is quiet, save for the birds and the whirring of hotel air conditioning units. Stepping onto the balcony feels like walking into a steamy bathroom, everything shrouded in dripping beads of condensation. Movement catches the corner of my eye– a fellow early riser– and I watch as a chipmunk performs acrobatics to acquire it’s morning meal.
It begins to rain as the sky lightens. Mist rising. Everything is so verdant. So full. It seems ready to burst. The dogs begins to bark as if they know the feeling– “We cannot be contained!” Their bark defying the quiet of the morning.
The rain comes swifter now. Quickens. Birds call. Limbs bow to the rain. This is monsoon.
Can’t sleep. Skin allergy. Second day. Itch, Itch. I feel like I am walking in soup. This moisture won’t help. I sit and write among willowy giants– palms as far as the eye can see, morning mist slipping through fronds.
These fingers need mittens bad.
Unsheathed, they itch all.
19, July 2016
Too many people, not enough resources. And what of the refuse? Public domain is the landfill. Too many people, not enough resources. Industry meeting the mark at the middle distance. Structures half built and fully forgotten. How would they fathom space and distance in America? My sense of community sounds hollow in India. I have never known this closeness. There is no differentiation or compartmentalization of nuclear family. Many lives under one roof– this is family, this is community. Physical affection within the sexes is given more freely. Men walk hand in hand. Arm over shoulder. Women grasp their female companion by the arm, hold her close. There is no need for space. No room for distance.