‘Have a free mind’ were the first words said to me by the lovely taxi driver that drove us to our accomodation upon landing in Mumbai, India. After a delayed flight, a twelve turned twenty four hour layover in Kuala Lumpur- Malaysia, and a scrummage to get through airport security- having a free mind was definitely something I could do with.
After settling in and getting some well needed sleep, we awoke to our first day in Mumbai India, ready for our orientation that was hosted by Naveen and Mala, our internship coordinators. Eager to absorb as much information as possible, notebooks and pens at the ready- we got a great rundown on do’s/dont’s and maybe’s for our stay here in India. A little culture shock has been that water is a no-go, I almost slipped up when I was brushing my teeth to turn on the tap, but I saved myself just as it was about to go! We’re also encouraged to wear covered clothing, particularly as foreigners who already stick out a bit – this is for safety reasons as although Mumbai is renowned to be the safest city in India, and is quite progressive – it pays to be diligent and attentive in a place where you haven’t quite immersed yourself in the culture just yet. We were then taken to a beautiful Indian Thali, a meal where a variety of gorgeous curries, breads, chutneys, condiments and desserts are served to you on a beautiful platter- refilling the pots before you even get a chance to finish them. I learnt the hard way that saying ‘I’m full’ doesn’t work here, and a feeble attempt at the Hindi word for stop ‘bas’, only encouraged the kind staff to serve more, only this time with a smile on their faces. One of the amazing servers even grabbed my spoon off me and mixed a combination of the foods on the platter for me himself! He was persistent that I would like it in this manner- perhaps I give off a confused facial pose because it hasn’t been the only restaurant server to do this in my first week here! It was very kind, and true to his word, I very much did like that combination. The next day we did another orientation, and got some cultural outfits from Bandra shopping stalls- where we finished off with some more amazing food like pani puri, chaat and sev puri! Delicious.
The rest of the week followed a similar pattern, navigating the boisterous train systems and figuring out our routes to work was stressful at first but we’ve all managed to reach our destinations with only a mild sense of confusion. For the first and last two weeks, I’m working at the Urja Trust, a women’s shelter and organisation to help women who have fled domestic violence and are seeking a way out of the cycle, doing policy research, legal observations and even site visits and lessons. It’s amazing to see the mahi that the Trust puts into ensuring the women feel safe and supported; the amount of planning, thought and empathy that goes into navigating the process has been something that I really could only understand after seeing it firsthand. It’s such an important job and to be able to do anything to contribute to that over my time here will be a genuine privilege. We had a short work week due to the delayed flight so the weekend came and we did some local shopping, ate at a beautiful rooftop restaurant and visited the Elephanta Caves for a day trip. Learning about the history of the temples there and how the Lord Shiva has several roles as a Hindu deity was fascinating and after some haggling, we got a decent price for our guided tour on the island.
We also ended up at a street fair somehow, riding a ferris wheel that was DEFINITELY not work safe, not that we knew it at the time… After being seated, we realised it wasn’t automatic, noticing a guy at the bottom, and a guy climbing to the top of the wheel manually pushed the thing with their own manpower- but we live to tell the tale! The thing about Mumbai is it is always alive; whether it’s 8am or 2 in the morning, the sound of car horns, laughter, and street vendors- bartering their way to a sale can be heard, enveloping you in a sense of comfort that no matter what, someone is there to catch you if you fall. Unfortunately I felt that quite literally as I tumbled up the stairs at the Dadar Train Station, my stop for work, and was immediately surrounded by about six strangers ready to hoist me up. Kindness is prevalent everywhere you go here; it truly is the underpinning of life in Mumbai thus far – where although you’d assume the 22 million population makes you seem insignificant, or can even render you a little lost- there’s a whole body of people that are ready to hear you out, help you up and in my case….catch you when you fall. Perhaps the taxi driver at the beginning of the trip set the tone for the next month and a bit of my time here, ‘have a free mind’, and the rest will follow. Looking forward to the next entry!