Coming Home

I think one of my favorite smells is the one as the plane opens and you get a whiff of Mumbai, and the halls of the Mumbai airport.  I can’t explain it, but it makes me smile every time (seriously, ear to ear, everyone stares at you like a crazy person smile)- ever since the second time I landed about 7 years ago.  It may sound strange, but right now, I consider India my “home”.  To me, the concept of home is simple- it’s wherever you feel the most comfortable being..you.  And for me, at this point in my life, India gives me that freedom.  And I appreciate it so much.

I guess in some ways I am running away from the social constructs that I created in my immediate environment in the US.  And that doesn’t have anything to do with the US perse, because people in India probably feel the same way about their life here.  I think it’s the simple concept of being a foreigner.  When you’re a foreigner, people don’t have expectations of you- at least in India they don’t.  You can get away with pretty much anything, from social faux paus to business meeting slip ups.  There’s no pressure really.  Actually, this could be particular to India, because I just finished reading this book about being a foreigner in France, and the woman did not seem to think the French were all that forgiving.  But India is.  And people welcome you with open arms.  Also, it helps to have family living in India- I seriously discover new relatives all the time (that welcome you and treat you like they’ve known you forever) which is one of the best feelings ever. I absolutely love Indian hospitality and the tie to family (both a blessing and a curse, but right now I’m celebrating the best of it)

But just putting things in perspective historically, I think coming home after this trip is especially exhilarating because the more I learn about the history of the world, the more I realize how interesting a time it is to be in India.  I was watching Lincoln on the plane ride back, and it was really an eye opener.  100 years after the US gained independence from the British, we decided that we hated each other and started shooting each other up re: Civil War.  Not only that, in order to see everyone, regardless of color, as the same under the law, Lincoln had to essentially buy his way to these votes.  Which makes me come to the (hopefully) logical conclusion that buying votes was the status quo in the US at that time.  Not that it isn’t the same way now (just disguised as “lobbying” and at higher levels behind closed doors) but really, corruption was at the same level as it is in India at that time- an inconvenience to the common man.  Or so it made it seem.  I have to look into it more, but now the seed is planted.  Now imagine that movie, and imagine Lincoln tried doing that, but we had the internet, Facebook, Twitter, and citizen journalism to expose anything unseemly. That’s India.  It’s absolutely NUTS.  So maybe it’s all the same in every newly independent country, but we only have more record of it now. Not sure, but that is my current hypothesis.

I’m reading this really fantastic book, We Are Like That Only, and it essentially comes to this interesting conclusion.  India is “this AND that”, “East AND West” and there will never be “One India”.  The more I learn about this country, the more I realize it’s a series of fascinating contradictions, competing ideologies, and vastly different cultures and values.  India gets media streaming in real time, keeps apprised of global trends not only socially but politically, can call people out on things that need to be called out on, but also have this undying tie to tradition.  It’s a mix. It’s creating it’s own identity.  You simply can’t transplant the West cookie cutter style and hope it takes off in India.  India will never get rid of the autorickshaw– it will just get a more fuel efficient, and technologically advanced version of this 3 wheel wonder.  Arranged marriages will never go away, India just uses technology to now put it online.  India will never get rid of it’s traditions and it’s habits- it will just use technology to make what they do…easier.

And I guess the reason I feel so at home here, at this point in my life, is that…I feel like I”m under construction as well.  And when I’m just discovering the world, and trying to build something great in it, I want to be in an environment that lets me focus on just doing that.  Just focus on the work, don’t worry about fitting in.  Because in India, since there are so many different India’s within this country, anything goes, and every foreigner fits in.

At the end of the day, I know that I want to end up in the US.  Things are definitely getting better in India re: women (which I think deserves a separate post at a later point about how fast India changes for the better) but I still don’t see myself living here permanently.  I can’t tell you if it’s a year or 5 years, or maybe just until NextDrop takes off, not really sure.  I think I”ll just…know.

But until that fascination and the benefits of being a foreigner wear out, I’m going to milk it for all it’s worth.

It feels good to be “home”.

My Favorite Parts of Mumbai: The Crack People

To clarify, it’s not the people who are on crack.  But this is the term I decided on today, while I got lost in Mumbai, for people who live in the places which you don’t think people could actually live in (i.e the cracks and crevices of Mumbai), and the people in Mumbai I admire the most.

I love Mumbai for many reasons and I’m finally getting to see the city in the way I want to- with absolutely no plan.  I hopped on a random bus in front of my cousins house and I just decided to go for half an hour and get off wherever it took me.  It so happened to drop me off at a random area of Chembur.  So I started walking around aimlessly, and after 10 minutes I found myself inside a pseudo slum area.  And it brought me back to the days I was in college, working in Behrampada– a slum next to Dharavi in Mumbai.

I realized I’m still in awe of Mumbai and Mumbaikers.  Especially the people who come here to make it.  As I was walking aimlessly around this pseudo slum area (the lanes were wide enough for a car to fit through so that’s why I don’t consider it a mega slum), wherever I turned there were the dark alleyways (basically no more than cracks really- hence the term, hopefully of endearment) that you have to walk sideways through in order to fit.  And within each of those cracks I could see doorsteps and house entrances.  And I remembered the first time I went into one of those houses in Behrampada, I was shocked at how..NICE the house was inside.  By nice, I mean it was incredibly clean and well kept.  Definitely not what I expected (which, in retrospect, probably speaks to how sheltered and patronizing I was/probably still am).  I think I was impressed by their pride- the pride for the place they call home, the way in which they cared for it, and the way in which they treated anyone who entered their house.

Flashing forward to the present, it made me a little sad that I was no longer a part of that world.  I realized I couldn’t wander into those alleyways anymore, because frankly, I am no longer welcome.  Honestly, I don’t really know if I ever was, but at least I was lucky enough to see it, and take it all in.

If you are lucky enough to get inside the cracks, I suggest you take the opportunity and cherish it.  Its a whole different world in there.  Its not better or worse- just…different.

Its a world I still admire and respect.