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Archive for September, 2010

Chaos. Vibrancy. Overstimulation. I’d missed that potent Mumbai blend. I wanted to be thrown right back into it.

So on our way home tonight I asked our driver if we could stop at Muhammed Ali Road. Most people only see it from above the flyover (or raised highway) on the way from South Bombay heading toward Mahalaxmi. It’s one of the Muslim areas of Mumbai and normally not particularly notable. But at night during Ramazan (the way Indian Muslims pronounce what we know as Ramadan) it comes alive.

A view of all the action on the road in the dark

Because Muslims fast all day during Ramazan, at night it’s time to celebrate. And Muhammed Ali Road is the center of Bombay’s Ramazan action. And tonight was the last night before Eid (the celebration of the end of Ramazan) so I knew we’d have to make it a priority today (jetlag be damned!).

Nisha, who is Muslim, had told us this would be a great place for us to go. She thought we would have a lot of fun. Our (Christian) driver was not so convinced.

“Ma’am, they are all gangsters here. They all get together to beat people. Look at the drivers in this area – no discipline. Why do you want to come here?”

“I don’t think it’s that bad in the main areas,” I said, trying to be tactful. I knew plenty of people who had ventured out perfectly safely to eat and celebrate. I had a sense that while there may have been some grain of truth to parts of what he said, it struck me as probably one of the many stereotypes fellow Bombayiites had about other castes and neighborhoods that they probably knew very little about.

People crowding into stalls

Besides, there was nothing but excitement and food and salesmanship surrounding us. Everywhere you looked, food was cooking on indoor and outdoor stoves, men sold bangles and kufis, stilettos and hijabs. Sellers negotiated animatedly with potential buyers. The scene goes on and on like that for miles. You can stay on the main road or venture down side streets where the food can range from typical rice dishes to the more adventurous (brains and tongues and any other animal part you can name). And if you’re driving in, don’t be in a rush. It’s wall to wall traffic as everyone tries to push their way through the crowd.

It’s hard to describe the feeling that was in the air but I guess as a Jewish person I could relate to it somewhat – after all day of fasting on Yom Kippur I’m usually giddy with excitement to eat. If I could multiply that by an entire month of fasting each day I can’t imagine how elated I would be every night just to eat and soak in the energy. It seemed sort of fitting that we were going to see Ramazan’s end right after Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New year. For us and everyone around us tomorrow is a new beginning.

It was a good welcome back.

One stall with one tiny light

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Thank You

View of the mountains in Iran from the plane window

Sitting on a plane with the in-flight map telling me I was somewhere between Semnan and Mashad, Iran, I looked out the window and saw something amazing. Sand-colored mountains swept out in front of me, and at their base was a swirling mass of desert. I’d never seen anything like it before. So I just stared and watched as this remote part of the world went by. No people could live there, probably only a few plane passengers ever happened to look out the window and see it. And it was beautiful.

I’m in awe of the world. At 37,000 feet and 6,000 miles from New York it feels like there are an infinIte number of places and things to experience.

I normally don’t get overly personal on this blog, but i want to thank the person who helped plant the seed for that awe of the world- my grandmother. It was for her funeral that I needed to leave Mumbai and go back to the US this week. And I already miss her with all my heart. But I’m just so grateful that I got that love of the world from her.

She and my grandfather travelled all over the world at a time when few did. When Daniel and I went to Kuala Lumpur in June she had told me all about the ‘small rural city’ I was about to visit. She told me she could still picture the faces of children bathing in the river. She was amused when I relayed to her that her small rural city was nowhere to be found and had been overtaken by a bustling metropolis.

She had never been to India but she still loved all the stories. When my mom recently went to visit her she had all my blogs printed out, paper clipped together in order, and the topic of each one written out at the top in what I assume was her beautiful distinctive handwriting.

I was thankful this week for the perspective even a few months in India had given me. Every small difference stood out- some welcome (cleanliness, urban planning, my beloved bagels) and some moments of India missed (the color, the vibrancy, the equally beloved Indian food). It was reverse culture shock, being reminded of the different lives everyone is living simultaneously throughout the world.

These are such different, unique worlds. My world at home, my current world in my little patch of Mumbai, and even the worlds I flew over and could only see at a distance. But how incredible that we live in a time where we can aspire to experience it all.

I am going to keep writing and hope that she’s still reading. I am going to keep looking out windows hoping to catch a glimpse of something new. And I am going to feel lucky to be back in India.

The swirling deserts without the mountains

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Gone a few days

Just FYI I’m back in the US for family reasons so I will not be posting again for a few days. Check back next week.

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