This post is dedicated to Diva Angela who writes so honestly and forthrightly about her life.
In retrospect, after my episode of crying and screaming into a towel in hopes that I wouldn't disturb the other patrons at Mumbai Central's YMCA, the manic pacing around a charmless room, before a hard fall to the floor where I prayed to God for guidance out of a stupid mess of my making, Mumbai was easy.
In fact, Mumbai was easy, sweet, and masala-licious. Of course, the credit for my seduction can't be laid at the feet of Bombay, Mumbai, or whatever name they may come up with depending on who is in power. It is all due to the lovely hospitality of that Mumbai writing diva- Ms. Uma. I have to add that her family named her well when they named her after a goddess. I also have to give a huge shout out (as we say in the hood) to Locana's architect, Mr. Anand who showed me lots of kindness too. A few friendly people can really change the texture and view of a place, even the amazing chaos called Bombay/Mumbai.
Once I got myself sorted out by listening to God, I shifted (as the Indians would say) to the YWCA in Colaba. I knew I was in the right place at the right time when I met at least 2 new people everyday, got recruited to do voice-overs for an British/Indian (think Bend It Like Beckham) film, never ate alone, visited Elephanta Island, brought baby clothes for Lady T's twin girls, and met Poornima, an up and coming Bangalorean tennis sensation. It was hard for me to leave Mumbai but after 10 days I did.
I gathered up all my courage and put on one of my new salwar kameezs and boarded Indian Railways train bound for Ajmer, Rajasthan. I was making my way all by myself to Pushkar for the annual camel festival. I was excited but mostly terrified. However, the second class air-con sleeper train car is easy enough for anyone to travel. I got stared at a lot but a nice teen girl in my section was kind enough to induct me into the mysteries of the railway life.
Less than 24 hours into my first Indian train trip, I was jumping off the train and landing in Ajmer. Ajmer was a shock to myself! I followed some Europeans who seemed to have the keys to the promise land meaning they had a clue where the bus depot was. One scenic and hectic bus ride later, I was in Pushkar, one of the holiest Hindu cities in India. However, I didn't feel very spiritual in Pushkar but more like assaulted by life going on in the streets. Pushkar was a bitch-slap in the face to an urbanite like myself. I thought Bombay/Mumbai was India. But Pushkar is India too and it is the India you may have read about. It is organized chaos, the Brahmin priest who really doesn't seem very priest-like, the cows, the dogs, people trying to get their hustle on, people asking for money. There is so much more to the description but I can't put it into words. Is this India?
I arrived in Pushkar 3 full days before the start of the camel festival in hopes of securing affordable accomodations. My mission was accomplished but 2 days into the stated dates of the festival, I couldn't figure out what was going. I went to a "bullock decoration competition" with the Great Danish duo, Julie and Soonen, but we didn't actually see any decorated bullocks. I finally got a hold of the schedule of events for the camel mela and discovered to my surprise that all the events that I was dying to see, such as the camel race, would occur after my planned departure. I tried to change my train tickets but realized this is India, so I could rearrange my plans and still not see a camel race.
So, what did I do in Pushkar? I saw lots of camels but decided to ride one on a safari in Jasailmer. I met two German babes, Jenny and Uta. I ate yummy pizza. I got depressed about the fact that there seemed to be too many supposedly Brahmin priest who wanted to rip me off. Please note I didn't get ripped off because I'm a tough cookie. I got stared at a lot. I got solicited for drugs. I saw a naked sadhu do something weird with his penis. I had a crowd of Indian guys, yell, "big boss," at me. The merchants also liked to cry "full power," "good health," whenever I crossed their paths. It took me a while to realize all the name-calling was concerning moi. Is this India?
On the fourth day of the camel festival, I bid au revoir to Pushkar. I was now bound for Pune, Maharashtra on Indian Railways in the third class air-conditioner sleeper. I had a horrible night's rest. My section was filled with a family making a pilgrimage. The matriarch had some words with one of the daughters which brought tears to her eyes. One of the daughter's stared at me like I was dirt, so I sent the same energy spiraling back at her. The kids were curious but kept to themselves. Once they found out I was American, I guess I was deemed ok. One of the husbands/sons of the family was very kind to me though. Some strange man slept on our section's floor. I thought he was part of the family but he wasn't. I was elated when the train rode into Mumbai's Bandra Terminus.
I'm now in Pune which is a city of 3 million located about 4 hours away from Mumbai. I'm in Pune hoping, praying, to get a glance into India life while volunteering at Akanksha. However, the texture and view of my Indian journey is ever changing.
I'm may still be in throws of culture shock but I've seen a few aspects of India which don't sit well with me. 1) There seems to be a major preference for white skin in Indian society. This saddens and baffles me. I didn't think it affected me as much when I was in Mumbai because it is a metropolis with a certain cosmopolitan air about it. I do feel this preference stifling me in Pune. However I know it isn't my issue but it pisses me off and makes me feel like a fool. How could I feel a connection or have an interest in a place or with a group of people who can't see their own beauty? Basically, if Indians ain't loving themselves then they definitely ain't gonna have love for me. 2) I don't care what they say-the caste system is still in effect! People like to gloss over this facet of Indian society. Honestly, I consider racism to be one of the vilest human practices around but I'll take American-style racism over the caste system any day.
Now on the positive tip- 1) Akanksha rocks. The kids I'm working with are as amazing and bright as I thought they would be. I see myself in all of them and pray they will have an opportunity to live up to their potential. 2) I use to be about "surviving India" but now I've decided to be the bad-ass Black woman I was raised to be, so India now has to "survive Ms. World." This means India will have to survive me saying hello to all the wide-eyed, staring folks who have never laid eyes on a big, strong, proud Black woman. It also means India will have to deal with my roaring laugh while I try to process the organized chaos surrounding. Please note this is a very Japanese thing to do. The desi folks will also get a taste of Ms. World's raw side which means I'm going to be vocal about the fact that the current Indian economic miracle is only benefiting 1/3 of the people. I have to add that Indian poverty defies my Western definition of poverty. My working-class Black girl childhood looks like the Tatas in the Midwest compared to the slums of Mumbai or Pune. However, the elite of India is beyond being over the top. I don't understand why there haven't been more riots about the economic inequalities here. Are Bollywood movies made of a mind-controlling substance like TV is in the U.S. for poor people? 3) I think I've learned that it is up to me and only me regarding my "belonging" anywhere. Did I belong in Japan? Do I belong in India? Some people think I don't but I don't give a shit. It is up to me where and with whom I belong to. Right now, I'm claiming Japan even though I ain't got a lick of Japanese blood in me but I grew into myself deeply in the land of the rising sun. I'm claiming Africa, the entire continent, despite the objections of the Nigerians brothers I've met in Southeast Asia who don't understand American Blacks calling themselves Africans. Africa, of Africa, even though I don't know where my ancestors came from, your name is written all over my face. I'm claiming Ireland because my Cousin Ryumi is one of my main aces and my momma's name hails from the land of Eire. And I'm claiming Italy because it was the first taste of my traveling dream manifesting into a reality. I'm claiming Scandinavia since my daddy's name is traced there. Am I claiming India? That is the question that remains unanswerable at this time.
I want to give a big thanks to Amardeep for the blog hook-ups! Please note that I have no malicious intent in airing my current feelings about India. I appreciate all the kindness and openness many Indians have extended my way via my weblog or through wanting to initiate personal contact with me doing my time here.