Friday, October 1, 2010

Weeks 4 and 5: Migration to the South

Namaste! Sorry for the delay, but it took a decent amount of time to get settled in Mumbai. I just got internet tonight, so I'm taking the opportunity to update my blog from our glorious flat in Khar Danda, which is just north of Bandra, which is/was the wealthy Catholic suburb of Mumbai. Mumbai is divided mainly into the North and South, the north being the "suburbs" and the south referred to as "town." Unfortunately I have not yet made it into town, although I expect to venture there this weekend. The suburbs don't really look like the burbs in the states, but India's not really the place for picket fences and SUVs...can't really imagine one of those weaving around cows and rickshaws. I am living in a flat with Ava, and David lives just down the street. Though poorly ventilated, I don't think I'll have any problem calling this place home, once I head to the markets and pick up some items for decoration. All I've obtained so far is a nice blanket to cover the tiger-striped futon that is currently serving as our couch. I also just noticed that all the fan blades have a tiger and paisley pattern on them. If that doesn't scream India, I'm not sure what does. Anyways, I will attempt to describe the surroundings of my new area without the aid of pictures, since I haven't really broken out the camera yet.

In the mornings, I head out of the flat somewhere between 9:05 and 9:17. We are one the 2nd floor, which in America would be the 3rd floor, but Indians refer to the first floor as "zero." On the first floor I always namaste the old lady who sits in the chair near the doorway. I have only passed it once when she has not occupied it. Then I go through our little alley onto Maruai Mandir Marg. I just discovered that was the name of our street about 10 minutes ago as I was placing an order for delivery. I take the left down 21st street, and as I turn the corner I stopped breathing for about 15 seconds. There are dumpsters down the street, but there is a second "dump" on this corner. It somehow smells worse than the open sewers in the slum, and I have to stop breathing completely because otherwise I can almost taste the rotten tomatoes. At the end of the block I hail down a rickshaw to get to the train station. The commuter rails in Mumbai are infamous. They carry 6.9 million people a day, and during rush hour, trains that have a carrying capacity of 1700 are packed with over 4500 passengers. They had to develop a new term, super dense crush load, to describe it. Fortunately, this is when I get to ride the trains. I have a first class pass, and I get to ride the women's car, so if it's crowded I only have to worry about my wallet, rather than my body parts. It's not always terribly crowded, but it still takes a decent amount of maneuvering. I have to get off the train on the opposite side I got on, so as soon as I'm on, I try to find my way across. I tap on the shoulders of the people in front of me and ask them "Mahim?" (my station), and if they say no, I push my way in front of them. I'm only 2 stops away, so I have to do this quickly. The train doors don't close, because it would be too hard for people to jump on and off as quickly as we have to. You might think this is incredibly dangerous, and it's true that about 8 people die every day, usually when they're hanging off the outside and fall off or hit a pole. But I would imagine that it would be much more dangerous to have a crush of people against close doors that suddenly open, resulting in a certain trampling situation. Plus, it's really peaceful to feel the breeze go by, except when we cross over the river. It's not even a river, it's a pitch-black cesspool that looks like fast-moving tar, but smells as though every toilet in India drains right into this river. I know that some do, because I have seen more a number of men squatting on the far side of the tracks. Still, one woman made a prayer gesture as we rode past it; I admire her faith. As soon as the train pulls into Mahim station, I get ready to jump off, but wait until it comes almost to a complete stop. Then I make my way over to the street where I cross over the bridge that enters Dharavi, Asia's largest slum, and the home of my office. I will dedicate an entire post to Dharavi, because I have to make you think that it is more than the slum from which Jamal Malik of Slumdog Millionaire grew up. As I have only been there for a week, I do not yet feel qualified to write about it, although I can say that it is far more than a tent city, and my office is in a hospital, so I do not work under a tarped roof. At the end of the day, I repeat the commute and walk down the street to get vegetables for dinner. An old lady sits at her little vegetable stand, and we pick what we want and she weights it. Sometimes the weight comes to an awkward price, so she will either add or remove a vegetable until it works out in her favor. It doesn't matter whether or not you don't need that extra carrot, because you're getting it, and paying for it. If you keeping walking down, you'll come to a little temple. Next to it is a tiny grocery store/snack shop/sweet shop. They have awesome samosas for 6 rupees that they can pack to go, and a decent assortment of sweets. Sometimes the laddoo is lacking, but when it's good it's gooooood. That's basically it and my food is lost somewhere in Khar because these streets don't have signs and I described it as "down a street past the Hanuman temple, make a right, make another right and go near the jewelry store." Actually I just got off the phone with them. The driver was confused and went back to the restaurant twice. Not entirely sure if I feel like eating my chicken tandoori now, but it's almost 11 and the vegetable lady probably went to bed. Here are the few pictures I have taken from our explorations of Bandra, the nice neighborhood just down the street with the CUPCAKE place on it.

This is bombil, the fish used to make Bombay duck. It's currently drying just next to the ocean.

David and Ava walking down Carter Road promenade.

The opposite side of the street.

Pretty beach. Clearly not going swimming, but the sea breeze is awesome.

Ava and I on the promenade.

One of the streets in Bandra. A dog ON A LEASH. Painted walls...paved roads...where am I??? Wonderful.

And lastly, the awesome chaat place we found down the street.


  1. Amazing descriptions Sami!!!! So happy to hear you are getting settled and familiar with your surroundings. Looking forward to hearing about work! MISS AND LOVE YOU!! A&Z

  2. Even though I am delayed, I have to post a comment here because I have a goal to comment on every week you post. Be careful on the train...and you look so cute with your colorful shirt and braid! MWAHHHHHH, Er