Thursday, January 6, 2011

India January 6, 2011

Well, a few days have passed and I am beginning to settle into the sights, sounds and smells of Mumbai. For the uninitiated traveler it could be overwhelming. With 3 times the population in this country versus the United States on 1/3 the land mass, it is people driven in India. The pollution level of cars, cabs, trucks, buses, tut tuts and scooters have taken a slight toll on my breathing, but all in all, I am holding up under the environmental change.

The sight of all those vehicles and lanes of traffic mixed in with the local rail for Mumbai and the people on foot is very energizing. People are on the move here and unlike in the major city of Nairobi, Kenya, they are hustling along. The sense of urgency in the downtown area and the normal life on the streets in the residential areas gives a unique view of the daily sights, sounds and smells of Mumbai.

The noise is deafening. Horns are the steady background noise to everything and people chatter, shouts and yelling children are also a constant. There is no quiet time in Mumbai. Add animals, temple noises and mosque prayer time and it is quite overwhelming.

Children laugh and play the same games here as in the states drawing adults and teens into their games. Here, of course, they play around the business conducted on the sidewalks and streets or even play in the hallways of their buildings. Women are busy with their jobs, families and the normal activities of keeping house. All of this is done in the context of close quarters, limited resources for many and with a smile and joy in their heart.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Mumbai is a shopper’s haven. From the high end shops and malls to the street shops to the open markets, shopping is a 12- 15 hour a day event here. Small owned retail shops here are customer driven. A shop owner will unravel 20 bolts of material trying to help you find one to buy. Negotiating price here is not as common in other countries I have visited. Small shop owners have posted standard rates and do not engage anymore in the age old process of haggling. I kind of miss it. Also, it appears to me, that the cost of living here is very comparable to the U.S. for everything. Food, clothing and other things seem to equal out when I apply my rudimentary math skills to the exchange rates. Housing is another matter. Land is scarce and affording buying property is for the wealthy. One caveat to this is that property is passed down generation to generation, and there is still many who live together inter-generationally. This has many benefits including no mortgage payments. Yet as a woman, it means that a wife may never have the opportunity to properly influence and run her own household. Not being able to have equal say in how things are done in the household and, how your own children are raised is a very foreign concept to an American woman.

I enjoyed a lovely meal out with my host family at the restaurant run by the Seva Sadan Society. A wealthy Parsee family in 1908 established it to empower young girls and woman, particularly orphans. They operate an orphanage, schools, which include, primary, secondary, and vocational and a nursing school as well as the restaurant. The Parsees came to India several centuries ago when the Muslims invaded Persia. They landed by boat in the western province of Rajasthan almost 400 years ago. The ruler at the time produced a container filled with milk (or water depending on who is telling the story) and told the Parsee’s religious leader that it was too full to include others. The response of the Parsee religious leader was to add sugar to the water to convince them that allowing Parsees to stay would only sweeten the lives of the Indian people. Today the Parsee are known not only for their worship of the Fire God, but also in banking and business. Worldwide, there are less than 150,000 in the ethnic and religious group known as Parsee.

Anyway, one of the vocational trades taught at the Seva Sadan Society is the art of paper making. The gift bags, note paper and other products were so reasonably priced and beautiful in quality and workmanship. Buying them not only provides quality handcrafted items to the buyer, but supports this great endeavor of growing young girls into confident women.

Alas, I must confess, I have done nothing that will help me to post pictures to this blog yet, but soon, I hope.

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