Last week I moved to Mumbai. Maybe ‘moved’ is too dramatic a term – last week, I came to Mumbai with the intention of staying for 3 months, maybe more.
Some things I have learned since then:
The air in monsoon is thicker than water; my nostrils are having trouble catching up.
Humidity and productivity don’t match.
There are no words to describe the relief of air conditioning.
UberPool and rickshaws can cost the same.
My Hin-glish is passable but not convincing.
Want to feel privileged? Walk around Mumbai.
Want to feel privileged? Be from an upper-middle-class highest-caste Marathi family. It is eye-opening to be in this country, under this administration, more aware of the political currents of the world than ever. My family are the WASPs of India: politically moderate, culturally conservative, privileged by generations of post-graduate education, in the religious majority, light-eyed, and light-skinned (oops missed that boat 💁🏾). We skeptically and hopefully watch Prime Minister Modi, a right-wing pro-market and pro-privatization politician in the interest of ‘something different’. But if he fucks up, our lives won’t really change too much.
Much of my viewpoint of Indian culture, society and politics have been filtered through the above viewpoint.
I don’t yet know what to do with my now even stronger privilege guilt.
The local (aka train) isn’t as bad as everyone says, except when it is. If you stand near the door of the train, the crowd will carry you out. Elbows are thrown but only on the train to Virar because it only comes once in a blue moon (so far). Really, it’s not that bad. Don’t let my family scare you.
The women’s railway car is a blessing. I will not ride in the other car.
However, the fear of Indian misogyny is stronger than its’ presence (so far).
Hanging out the door of a train is (a) not as scary as it sounds, and (b) just as filmy as it sounds, and (c) a crucial sweat drier, and (d) quite fun, but (e) I only dared to do it as I slowly pulled in to small-town India.
Yes the food is good. The home food is better.
Being cooked for is amazing. Feeling obliged to parental figures is not.
Living 12.5 hours and many countries away from a partner is hard.
^Sharing that is weird, but I’m working on vulnerability.
I am still the sweatiest person I know, even in a country full of brown people.
I can and will alter my English accent to suit the company. I can’t and won’t guess how convincing my Indian accent is.
In the morning, I wake in a 50 year old flat in a room without air conditioning. I take a bath out of a bucket, and put powder on my body, talking only in Marathi with my family. There is decades of urban dirt in the crevices, no matter how much they are scrubbed. Then I will take the women’s car, pressed full of bodies, into a hipper, younger, cleaner part of town. I will sit in air-conditioned cafes with the city’s elite, order black coffee, talk in American English, take calls and fill in spreadsheets, and be called ma’am. Then I’ll go home and eat (and love) simple Marathi food, fail to explain to my family why I go to cafes during the day if I’m here to work, and then I will sleep under a roaring fan, mosquitos buzzing lazily above. Code switching has never been so real.
I had the idea for this post for a while, and almost abandoned it in the rush of returning to life, school, work, grocery shopping, etc. in Los Angeles. But in my important business of scrolling through Tumblr, I stumbled upon some words from the pop culture icons that high-school educated dramatics love to quote in an effort to seem cultured: Fitzgerald. He said this:
‘It’s a funny thing coming home. Nothing changes. Everything looks the same, feels the same, even smells the same. You realize what’s changed, is you.’ — F. Scott Fitzgerald
Home to me is the Bay Area, with my nuclear family, but it is also the Indian and Marathi culture in which I grew up, and struggled with for many years. Therefore, home in a different way is the land to which my parents are inextricably tied, that I visited many times as a small, impressionable Shalaka; home is that place where I made countless really positive and really negative memories. It is the flat in Dadar, Hindu Colony (Mumbai) that belonged to my late grandparents since 1950, with its crumbling walls and third floor balcony locked by an actual iron lock that hangs, and Maharaj who has come every morning at 7:15 sharp to make a day’s worth of chapati for more than 20 years.Read More »
I mentioned in a previous post that I am Marathi. This means most of my family cooks and eats vegetarian food not sold in Indian restaurants, speaks the language that is concentrated in the state of Mahrashtra, is frugal, precise, and does well in school.
We’re basically the kind of Indian known for being sticks-in-mud, but with hazel eyes (THAT I DIDN’T EVEN GET, THANKS MOM)
Of course, I’m kidding, and not trying to offend or distance myself from my cultural roots. That being said, I don’t think any of my Marathi relatives would have taken me for lunch at the hole-in-the-wall restaurant that I visited last week . It has been across the street from my grandparents’ home for over 50 years since they first moved in, but I may be the first from my family to step foot inside.
I had a lot of trouble writing that title, because my college student mind could not get around the fact that I wanted to say all my favorite desserts in the past week have been sweet balls. Sorry to everyone past the age of (me) that is reading this.
Been spending the past few days in Parle, a majority – Marathi area in Mumbai [the artist formerly known as Bombay]. (For the uninitiated, Marathi is the type of Indian I am + the language I fail to speak with my family)
Parle is also home to the biscuit factory known by brown kids around the world for producing that ubiquitous lightly-sweetened ‘glucose biscuit’: Parle G.
According to Wikipedia, it is the largest selling brand of biscuits (read: crackers) in the world. That makes sense, because Indian people can’t go a day without chai (stereotype based in truth) and chai cannot be had without Parle G, since production began in 1939.
I’m not going to say I digress because I think that’s the whole point of this whole shindig: to digress.
But I digress.
So I’ve been staying with my aunt and uncle in Parle, and utilizing my beloved-niece-returned-to-India status by requesting all of the sweet things I can of my culinarily-gifted aunt. This lady also has a degree in library science, a 30 year career in managing portfolios, the same hands as my grandma, and a general reputation as badass in residence.
She was somewhat disappointed by the simplicity of the food I requested, but of course we set about making it anyways: besan laddus.