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Archive for the ‘Mumbai’ Category

See You In the Final

On Wednesday it was one nation, under cricket.

The government declared a bank holiday and most businesses shut for the afternoon. The streets were empty except for the unlucky few. People crowded around televisions in their homes, in bars, outside of shops and anywhere they could be found. India was playing Pakistan and nothing could have been more important.

We went to a large party for the beginning of the game. Daniel rushed me over in hopes of not missing any part of the first half – India was batting first and he wanted to watch everything. I was not quite as keen to watch the game in its entirety. After all, these matches tended to go on for at least eight hours and even with the added excitement I wasn’t sure my attention span would last that long, especially on a game where the entire first half is one team batting without any knowledge of how that score will compare to the other teams’ in the second half.

I mostly listened with amusement as the commentators tried to fill the immense amount of time:

“Ah, he has a lot of energy. He must have eaten a lot of yogurt for breakfast.”

“The only way Pakistan can get out of jail is wickets.”

“I’ve gotten the feeling that Tendulkar is slowly losing interest.”

It went on and on. After four hours India finished their half with 260 runs. It was not as strong a showing as the people around us would have liked. They could win, but it would be close.

For the first two hours of the second half everyone watched lazily with one eye and chatted as Pakistan batted. There wasn’t much to do but wait and see how the numbers slowly ticked up. But once the more interesting count came up (ie: how many runs Pakistan would need versus the number of balls they had left to potentially hit) it started to get exciting. It seemed like India’s bowling and defense might have done well enough to keep India’s hopes alive.

As the time ticked on everyone started watching more and more intently. With only a few balls left it seemed inevitable – but no one was willing to say a word until the last out came and cheers could be heard from the street below. Fireworks exploded and the city came alive. As I was driving home I tried to capture some of the excitement:

It’s only one game to go and India could have the World Cup in their hands for the first time in almost thirty years. Time to get ready for Saturday

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Wicket Good

One of the ubiquitous Nike Cricket ads

I’m not really a sports fan, and Cricket has always struck me as a slightly longer and infinitely more complicated game of baseball. Daniel had started watching it soon after we moved here – he felt that he just couldn’t relate to anyone in his office unless he started understanding their game. And instead of just understanding it he took to it, like a cricket ball to the wicket (see what I did there? I made a very bad cricket joke).

People watching the cricket at the airport

But soon, it began taking over even places where I frequented. It started with advertising: Bleed Blue from Nike; Change the Game from Pepsi; End Corruption in Cricket. Then it came with fans watching matches on outdoor screens and children feverishly playing with more frequency in every available open space. Yes, no matter how long and hard I tried, like the Superbowl before it, I could not avoid Cricket World Cup fever from being everywhere around me.

Learning cricket

I started to warm to cricket in Varansi when we came across a group of kids playing who thought it would be amusing if we joined their game. They giggled as we held the bat wrong and took wild swings. But they were enthralled – they all hooped and hollared with every hit and took immense joy in teaching us. I began to feel that if I could enjoy playing, then I could enjoy watching.

So while in Khajuraho, Daniel decided it was high time for me to actually learn the rules. As the Aussies battled the Pakistanis he slowly and patiently went over the way the game is played. It really is unlike any sport I’ve watched, much further from baseball than it looks. I won’t go into the details, but its a game not only of agility and skill, but of mental planning and psychological consistency. It’s boring for the first four hours, but then really exciting for the last two.

When India played its Quarterfinal match against Australia this week, I knew it was time for me to pay attention. The entire country was going to be involved and I wanted to be as well. India hasn’t won the World Cup since 1983 and this year its being played in India – everyone feels it is their time to win.  And this match was slated to be an exciting battle between India and another cricket powerhouse, Australia.

A shot of the big screen

After idly watching the first four hours of the game at home (yes, it’s really that boring in the beggining), we went out to a restaurant with a huge projector and watched as India began to sink. With about an hour left it seemed like India’s hopes were about to be dashed. Everyone in the restaurant became antsy and the guards outside, watching the reflection of the game through the window, started to look sullen.

But suddenly, they went on a roll. They started hitting 4’s and 6’s (yes, I’m using cricket terminology) and suddenly they were back in the game. As the last overs started coming into view it became apparent that India was going to win.  And when they did the whole restaurant and street outside erupted in jubilant cheers. India was moving forward.

The catch to all this is that on Wednesday India will go to the semifinals – and play against their arch-nemesis Pakistan. The city will be excited and on edge. Fears of rioting and violence certainly hang in the air simultaneously with the excitement of an epic battle to the death of two of the World’s fiercest enemies (and, as with most enemies, two very similar peoples). There is a bit of diplomatic hope that rings in all of this – The Pakistani Prime Minister has accepted an invitation from India’s Prime Minister to watch the game together. It will be the first time a match between the two teams has occurred since the attacks on Mumbai in 2008.  It’s definitely an exciting moment to be here. And as a new-found fan, I will be watching.

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White Out

“I don’t mean to be rude… but they let a white woman come in and film people’s personal lives in Dharavi?”

I sat back in my chair and watched as the editor scrolled through my footage in disbelief. It’s something I’ve gotten used to – after all, I am the unlikeliest narrator for this particular story.  A few months ago my only exposure to Dharavi was watching it in Slumdog Millionaire.

I was doing the final edit with a professional editor – color correction, audio tuning and all the other technical niceties. And as he worked he was full of questions:

“What do you wear when you go to Dharavi? You don’t dress Western do you?”
“How do you not get stared at?”
“Don’t they not want to talk about personal issues in front of you.”
“They let you into their homes?”

I couldn’t tell whether he was fascinated more by my being there or by Dharavi itself. One of the most interesting aspects of Mumbai is how divided the city is even when everyone is living on top of each other. A professional person, like an editor, who has spent their entire life in Mumbai, may have never actually been inside one of the city’s ubiquitous slums. For him that part of his country existed solely in the films he edited and in the movies he watched.

And for me, it’s a wholly different story. Being white is not a part of the narrative I can leave out – from the moment I walked into the hospital in Dharavi and had skeptical faces look me up to this final moment where an editor seems entirely confused by my ability to function in a slum as a white person. It’s so taboo to discuss race and yet it has such a profound effect on my daily existence here. Everything from shopping to walking down the street to performing any professional role takes a new shape as a result of my being a distinctly different looking minority in a country where most everyone is racially similar.

As I’ve grown more and more comfortable here – and as such less aware of the ‘Indianness’ of my surroundings – its become more and more apparent how much I stand out and how I will always have to justify my place here.  Even if I lived in Mumbai my whole life I would never truly belong. It’s the opposite of America where we are all immigrants and as such anyone can become American.  The more I feel like I belong and truly live here, the more that questions such as the ones posed by the editor sting at my sense of belonging.

But I can wear my outsider status as a badge of pride. I’m really lucky to have been able to see the things I’ve seen and get to know the people I’ve gotten to know. As I’m wrapping up the long process of making this particular film it’s been interesting to watch the footage with new eyes each time and remind myself that I’ve had an experience few outsiders get in India.

We still have screenings ahead to show the film – and I’m certainly curious how the women I’ve filmed will react to watching themselves – but at this juncture I’m excited to finish it and share it and move onto my next Indian adventure. Even if I’ll have to keep answering questions about how I got here.

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When I have tried to explain to people at home why I’ve been so pasionate about making a film about domestic violence prevention it’s been hard to articulate why the issue has struck such a chord with me. Domestic violence certainly exists in every part of the world. But after spending with the women working towards change in Dharavi, it was hard to not feel like I was seeing a challenge that was almost impossible for me to comprehend. I listened over and over again as women told stories not just of violence, but of the complacency of those around them who refused to see the violence as anything out of the ordinary. The taboos that exist in other parts of the world in relation to violence do not exist as strongly here.

I’m mentioning all this because Daniel brought my attention to an article that came out yesterday in the Times of India (and is the most commented on post of the day) that puts a sickening fact to these experiences – nearly one in four Indian men has committed sexual violence at some point in his life life and one in five has admitted forcing his wife or partner to have sex. Those are the worst statistics of any of the countries surveyed.  And you can imagine what the real number is beyond those who will actually admit to it.

Daniel mentioned it to me because the statistic shocked him. I was really sad that, after speaking to so many women about domestic violence, those numbers no longer surprised me.

This is especially important to think about today because it is International Women’s Day, and in the US that often takes on little meaning. As a woman growing up in the US I never felt anything but equal to the men around me. The thought would never have occurred to me. I’m so lucky that I never really felt the need to pay attention to a day for women because I never saw myself as having any difficulties due to gender.

But there are so many women who do not live in that world and I think women who are removed from that fact often fail to appreciate it. India has a long way to go in its fight for gender equity and I believe the only way it will change is if the women here keep fighting back. I’m encouraged by the work I’ve seen. I feel lucky that I’ve been able to listen to their stories and be a part of their efforts to change the status quo.

So, to every woman out there (and every man who respects the women around them) Happy International Women’s Day. Without trying to sound cheesy, I hope you all take a moment to appreciate where we’ve come but also how far there is to go.

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Kumbaya

A lot of the bad stories get told over and over again about Hindu-Muslim relations. There are a lot of truths in tales of rioting and murders. No one who has lived in Mumbai – or New York – could possibly try to minimize the devastation that can occur when religions collide.

But oftentimes these stories overshadow the day to day relations that are happening around us.

So one of the things I’ve really enjoyed about living here is watching people co-exist in a country that has seen so much turmoil over religion. From partition through the assassination of Indira Ghandi to the Bombay riots of 1992 up to the attacks here two years ago, it hasn’t been an easy ride. Yet I watch day in and day out as everyone seems to somehow make it work in a population where the majority (Hindus) are only 67% of the populace.

This has been most apparent to me in Dharavi, where everyone is literally living on top of each other and where there is incredible religious and cultural diversity. Dharavi was the horrifying epicenter of the Bombay riots 20 years ago but today it seems like there must be some improvement. I go into meetings and see Hindu women teaching Muslim women about their sexuality without any judgment. I see women wearing hijabs lay their heads on the shoulders of women in saris. I can’t explain it and I certainly would never profess to have a deep understanding of this community’s feelings about religion (that would be a bit naive) but I can only report what I see and it’s oddly comforting.

But the best thing to watch is what happens on 90 feet road on a Friday afternoon. In the middle of a crowded, dirty, hot and chaotic slum that is populated by a majority Hindu population, one side of the artery road is cleared for prayers. It causes traffic and confusion and adds time to everyone’s travels. But for just a few minutes hundreds of Muslim observers are given time to pray together in a place where there certainly isn’t space for a mosque large enough – or even homes large enough – to accommodate worshipers. It’s a small thing. But it’s not something I can imagine being allowed even in New York, the supposed home of liberalism and tolerance, where an out-of-the-way mosque’s construction was recently protested.

It’s a Pollyanna view. I’ve certainly also been privy to conversations detailing why our Pakistani neighbors on the 5th floor must be horrible or how Muslims don’t shower (no, really) and I’ve had to stand back and wonder whether I’ve been reverted to some bizarre version of the 1950’s in a racist but Indian state. It’s a reality. And there’s certainly a lot of religious turmoil happening outside of India (understatement of the century). But I’m going to keep believing that things are a little bit better than some might make it out to be

And its certainly a view that is reinforced by seeing it. So for now I’ll let some video do the talking for me. It really is a spectacular sight.

 

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I Think A Change Would Do You Good

I know it’s the most boring topic one can write about… but sometimes you just have to mention the weather.

When I started this blog it was just the beginning of the monsoon. The rains were a constant reminder that I was slogging along in this city – everything I did took longer because I was new and everything was more difficult because of unfamiliar impediments. It was beautiful but challenging.

For me the city was a place of rain. The view from my window was misty and gray.  And so I made my header for this blog a photo from our porch, my own personal view of Mumbai.

The longer I’ve lived here and the easier my day-to-day life has become, so too has the weather morphed from rains to heat to the sunny balmy winter. And the blog needed some changes to go along with it, starting with a more weather-appropriate photo. The header now at the top is a photo from today. Dry, sunny and beautiful (Of course, this winter solace is already starting to be replaced by rising temperatures and I’ll soon get to see the city through the prism of a prisoner of the heat wave).

A view of the old header

Additionally, I’ve updated the signage page with some particularly amusing signs from my trips to Tamil Nadu, Munnar and Rajasthan – so for a good laugh click on the page at the top (‘Amazing Signage’).

I’ve also added a visit-widget to the side of the blog. WordPress recently sent me an email about my 10,000th visitor, which is pretty mind-boggling for me to think about (and they don’t even count my own visits! ha).  So I’ve added the tally to the side, mostly as a reminder to myself about how lucky I’ve been to be able to write about something I find so interesting that hopefully a few others have enjoyed hearing about as well.

Anyway, I’ll have another real post soon but for now I wanted to explain the changes and mostly just extoll the virtues of this lovely, soon-to-be-fleeting weather.

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About seven months ago I agreed to direct a short film about domestic violence prevention in Dharavi. From the moment the project was conceived and I agreed to take it on, I’ve been very nervous about how I could represent a place where I couldn’t even properly communicate to people. How would I possibly be able to tell their story in an accurate way?

Because of my desire to keep the film as honest as possible, I spent a few months going to Dharavi and shadowing the women I’d be filming. I got to know them through the translations and I decided that I would center the film on the lives of three of the women who worked for the organization, and tell the story through their stories.

It’s been a really long process- everything in India takes time, but working with NGO’s is an extra layer on everything. People are late, meetings get cancelled, filming gets moved, equipment isn’t procured in time and on and on and on. It shouldn’t take seven months to make a twenty-minute film. But that’s how long it did take – months of studying and researching, deciding, making decisions, hard drives breaking, making phone calls and filming over and over again in really difficult conditions without a lot of help.

But I loved it. I loved everything about working with these women. I loved their defiance of the only system they know. I love how they don’t even realize how amazing that seems to an outsider. I love the colors they wear and their children and the hot cups of chai they’re always shoving down my throat despite never having enough for themselves. I might even love (just a little bit) their penchant for always being late and changing plans and standing me up, since that’s a slice of India.

So as I wrote out the script and edited the pieces together I started to become very nervous again. Every word of narration was scrutinized: Does this fit their voice? Does it sound like the narrator is coming from a place above these women? Does it take too many liberties? Even though the narration only counted for less than two minutes out of twenty, I was so concerned with the tone. And I spent just as much time cutting together the words the women had spoken. Did they really want to share this much? Is it exploitative to show this much about the violence that they have faced? Am I including everything that would be important to them?

I wanted it to feel accurate. I wanted the women to watch their film and feel like it came from them. Because that’s what their organization is all about: they are focused on their community, on raising each other up and from building a new set of norms from within. They don’t have trained social workers parading into Dharavi telling them what values they should have. The women from Dharavi try to coax each other into fighting for the rights they deserve.

And I didn’t want to be that outsider parading in.

Yesterday we had a small screening of the rough cut of the film. It’s not done – I still need to add in the real music and do color and audio correction. But I wanted to show it to the woman, N, who runs the domestic violence center in order to get her feedback before finalizing it. After all, if she didn’t like it I would need to make some serious changes. I’d already shown it to B, the woman who runs the organization sponsoring the film, so B invited us over to her place to watch it again and get N’s feedback.

When everyone had sat down I, of course, started babbling like an idiot.

“Just keep in mind that this is a rough cut…”
“Oh and the music is being replaced with other music that’s being written…”
“We still need to do color correction…”
“We can change or add anything…”

Finally I looked over and saw B shaking her head at me, laughing a little. She knew I was nervous. I knew I had to start. So I pushed play.

Throughout the whole movie I kept trying to look at N out of the corner of my eye. Was she smiling? Was she engaged? Was she about to check her watch out of boredom? After twenty very long-seeming minutes, the film ended.

I turned and looked at N, just waiting to hear what words would come out of her mouth. I couldn’t breathe, I just wanted to know what she thought.

“I really loved it. It was honest. It felt like the story came straight from them.”

I exhaled. Those were the magic words.

It really isn’t finished yet – I have all those polishes and tweaks to make. And I know when I’m sitting through the larger screening with all the women from Dharavi I’m still going to be just as nervous. But for the moment I feel like it’s a little bit of mission accomplished – all I wanted was for it to feel genuine and I’m really glad that’s what came across. Hopefully I’ll be able to share it here when it’s done.

Now I get to transfer my nervous and excited energy into something else: my parents’ arrival in India. I’m sitting here writing while they are in the air. I’m counting down the minutes (a lot more than twenty!). So next time I post you’ll get tales of parents and a trip to Rajasthan (where I will finally see the crown jewel of this country I’ve spent so much time in, the Taj Mahal). A lot of excitement for one week. Until next time…

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