Thursday, Oct 2
Ok. I’m just going to be honest. Today was kind of a rough day. It started out with an early morning walk and getting lost in a local neighborhood. Being the only Westerner around definitely changes the feel of things, but that’s not altogether bad and I did get a glimpse of daily Indian life.
When I found my way up to the India Gate and Taj Hotel via the Colaba Causeway (tons of haggling, badgering tourist-trap street shops) I realized this is where the tourism is, and the culture surrounding that was not very pleasant.
Let’s face it… being a foreign person in a foreign land is never easy, particularly when you’ve got no companion to process it all with, and well… India is an intense culture. Regardless, I consider myself a highly adaptable person and can roll with quite a bit… but today, this city, this culture, or at least the pieces of it that I have experienced thus far, got the best of me.
I am staying in Colaba, a neighborhood that is known to be very safe and tourist friendly, so perhaps that set up a somewhat comfortable expectation based on previous travel experience. Let me preface this by saying that not once, have I felt unsafe. No, this is strictly about comfort zones in relation to my interaction with others.
There is a hardening that has to happen here. It is not only unavoidable, it is imperative… a necessary protective shell. Outside of the clear tourist attractions, one must simply get used to being stared at. Hardcore. As a single woman it’s fair to say this is never comfortable, and while I understand it is out of curiosity and not meant in a harmful way, it is disconcerting and not altogether welcoming.
But if I thought that was difficult, my perspective changed once I got into the more tourist areas. What I learned in a few short hours is, absolutely everyone wants something from you, and if you give anyone the smallest amount of acknowledgment, you are in for the long, tedious haul. Persistence is what they know, and they are good at it. So, as the day wore on, my No’s got harder and firmer and eventually I had to ignore everyone and stop engaging altogether. And this is the part that is difficult for me.
Closing one’s self off, becoming hard on the outside, even when out of necessity, has a visceral, somatic response on the inside… and it does not feel good to me. There is also a sense of humanity, of kindness between people, that is completely lost, and that part makes me the saddest. I would like to engage in casual, polite conversation and learn from the locals, but not at the expense of being followed for blocks.
It is my hope that as I travel to other parts of the country (or even in this city) I can let my guard down… at least a tiny bit. That I can soften and open to the warmth that I know is there, under the surface. That I can actually connect with the people without feeling an ulterior motive always lurking in the background.
Bombay, you have exhausted me today. But tomorrow starts anew.
Saturday, Oct 3
After getting a good nights rest I decided to start the day with a fresh attitude and set out to find a cafe (Kala Ghoda) and art gallery (Jehangir Gallery) that were recommended by a friend. I was freshly armed with 2gigs of data on my local phone and google maps, and I gave a little nod to Ganesha, remover of obstacles, for good luck. Should be easy, right?
What I’m learning here is quite simple. Nothing is easy, at least not in the way we are used to. After getting lost (again!) and walking in what must have been multiple circles, (and quickly learning how to effectively cross the streets without getting hit, which is an art-form in itself) I was drenched (in sweat) and starving, and I almost gave up the mission. But determination was today’s key word, and I eventually did find both places… and was rewarded nicely with a quaint little lunch spot and some beautiful art.
From here I ventured further north via taxi to a neighborhood called Bandra West. It was a chaotic ride through Mumbai, but the ride provided a bigger glimpse of the city on a whole. Oh, have I mentioned the traffic here yet?
It is Saturday afternoon and back in my neighborhood, the streets have a lighter sort of quality to them than before. I found the same outdoor marketplace I was at the other morning, but things seemed less stressful. People were having fun.
I’m not sure if starting this trip in Bombay was a bad idea (poor acclimatization) or a good idea (pretty sure I can handle just about anything now) but it’s time to part ways.
Goodbye, Bombay… I’m off, in search of softer surroundings.