Saturday morning. I woke up and skimmed over the section on Mumbai in my Lonely Planet India guidebook. There are lots of sights to see, and I figured that as I wandered around I would stumble across a few. I narrowed down the areas that I wanted to explore: The Fort Area and Colaba.
I waited till about 10 am to hit the train. I wanted to avoid the morning rush. When I got on it was much less crowded, although all the seats were taken. All I had to do was wait a few minutes and several women indicated that I could have their seat since they were getting off at the next stop. I sat down and let the breeze from the fans and the open windows wash over me. I looked out the window and saw sights of Mumbai that didn’t make the guidebook cut: the slums, kids playing wiffle ball, “billboards” which are ads painted on concrete walls–remarkably the font doesn’t really differ from one ad to the next.
I reached CST, snapped a few photos and ducked into a Cafe Coffee for some caffeine. I had slept well the night before, but a cappuccino and a place to flip through the guidebook one last time wouldn’t hurt.
I oriented myself on the map and ate the last few bites of my samosa. First order of business, find the CS church in Mumbai. I had looked up the address on a whim earlier that morning and it happened to be right in the Fort neighborhood and in the direction of the rest of the sights I wanted to see. It was easy enough to find. Leah greeted me in the Reading Room and invited me to come back later that evening for the screening of the annual meeting. We talked for a bit and then I went on my way.
As I continued past the Flora Fountain down MG Road, I came to the University of Mumbai. This was an area of Fort that I had meant to spend more time observing, however it was at this point that Albert began to talk to me.
He said he was a student of the University of Mumbai and we chatted for a little while as I continued to walk. He called me “like his big sister” and insisted that he show me a festival that I was so lucky to be here for because it happens only once every 4 years. Every time I asked him what festival it was his answer was drowned out by the noisy traffic. We walked quickly and I discovered that Albert was from Pune. We passed the cricket fields, the cricket stadium, and the football stadium. Finally we arrived at a temple and burial site. This was where the victims of the 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai were burned. Apparently the Obamas had paid their respects here on their last visit to India.
I couldn’t understand the name of the temple, and when I asked Albert to spell it he bashfully said he couldn’t. This should have been my first clue. A University of Mumbai student in his 3rd year of studies and he couldn’t spell the name of this temple for me? I didn’t think much of it, giving Albert the benefit of the doubt.
We sat and he told me about the crematorium and how the rich burn their loved ones with sandalwood which costs about 4 lakhs (400,000 Rs, $8,760 USD). The middle class use mango trees (6,000 Rs, $130 USD) and the poor use banana trees (4,000 Rs, $87 USD). It takes about 3-5 hours to burn the body and the family sits across from the body as it burns. The ashes are collected and the rich take them to the Ganges, the holy river in Northeast India. Those who can’t afford to do that usually throw the ashes into the Arabian sea, just a few minutes from the crematorium.
Albert and the guy at the temple gate showed me the wood they use, where they store the pots to collect the ashes, where they bury the babies, and the sacred tree. As we came to the end of our tour, the guy at the temple started talking about how expensive it is to bury the babies and to cremate the poor. I realized they were asking me for a donation. I was cornered! I felt obligated to donate something. After all they had given me a tour and let me take pictures. Fortunately I had been smart enough to keep my bigger bills in my pocket and when I opened my wallet I showed him that I only had about 400 rupees, which is about $8. They were not happy that that was all I had and told me there was a bank nearby, but I insisted that was all I could give. The feeling of being ripped off began to grab at my core, leaving me feeling a little ashamed and nauseous.
When we left the temple Albert insisted that I go to the ATM since it was one that accepted all cards and I would need more money. I was a little confused, but went along with it. Again, I put most of the money that I took out in a separate compartment of my bag. We got in a cab so that I could go on with my sight seeing. Albert said he had to teach a class at 2 and first he had to stop by the bookstand and buy his students their books. They cost 300 rupees each and he had five students. He looked at me. He looked at my purse. Not again! I was frustrated, but also felt grateful that Albert had shown me around. I got out my wallet.
“I only have 1,000 RS,” I told him.
“That’s only 3 books,” he said.
“I’m sorry, that’s what I have.”
“Ok,” he said, holding out his hands. After I gave him the money he asked me if I was happy. I lied and said I was.
“Because if you’re not happy you can take the money back.” He knew I was upset that he was scamming me.
“No, it’s ok,” I said, rolling my eyes at how naive I had been. As Albert got out of the cab he said make sure you don’t talk to Indians. They just want your money. He repeated these words of advice several times. I laughed. Ok. He had gotten his money, but I think he could tell that I was a well-meaning young girl who had learned her lesson and didn’t want to be put in that situation again.
I made it to the Gateway of India. Built to commemorate the 1911 visit of King George V, it was completed in 1924. It’s a gathering place of local and foreign tourists. You can pay to have your photo taken or you can buy a giant balloon. I didn’t stick around long. The afternoon sun was hot (where were the monsoon drizzles when you wanted them?) and the plaza was busy. I was ready for a quiet cool place, The National Gallery of Modern Art.
There were very few people there. It was nice to walk around slowly in a quiet place (although the sounds of the traffic bustling outside were still audible). I was able to gather my wits about me. I also really loved some of the pieces on display. Unfortunately, no pictures allowed, so I can’t show you the ones that I liked.
Next stop, FabIndia. It was time to get some local garb. I walked back up MG Road and by the time I got to the CST area, it was about 5pm. Just in time for the screening of the annual meeting at the CS church. I was hesitant to go, but thought it would at least be nice to sit in an air-conditioned room for a little while before taking my train back to TISS. I’m glad I went. I enjoyed hearing thoughts about what church really is (structure of Truth and Love, in any form) and how change is important in the infinite understanding of Truth.
After the screening I was able to get a bite to eat and chat with some of the members about my project. These conversations led me to think about what types of solutions I could be offering farmers. I need to be wary of just marching into a community, taking their stories, and marching right back out. What’s in it for them? A story in a newspaper really doesn’t make much of a difference to them. I also began to think about what angles I could take with my research. How can I link farmers’ criticism of Monsanto in the US to the struggle of cotton farmers in Maharashtra, India?
I had lots to mull over on the train ride home. It had been a live and learn day. It seems like most of my days here have been so far. And to think, I haven’t even started trying to learn Marathi yet!
Well, it’s Monday morning and I’m going to wander around the area surrounding my campus a bit. Tomorrow I meet with my advisor, Ritambhara. And on Wednesday I finally head off to Pune. Things are unfolding, slowly but surely. Until next time!