At 3 am tonight I leave Mumbai and India. I will be home at 3 pm Thursday. I am very glad to see my family and friends and dog, to sleep in cool weather and get back to work that I love and a community that has supported and nurtured me through some miraculous transformations and opportunities.
And I will miss India. It has been the most fantastic and fun adventure. India is so complicated and challenging, so different from my home, so rich in its culture, politics and people, almost indescribable. Mumbai is noisy, full of trash and in a state of near anarchy. The city is often dubbed “vibrant.” What an understatement. Twelve and a half million people live in Mumbai. It has double the population density of New York City, but consider this. Mumbai’s population is horizontal. There are almost no skyscrapers and few high rises in most areas. Everyday Mumbai is like Times Square with 24-hour rush hour traffic. New York is Clark Kent to Mumbai’s Superman.
The people of India have been described as argumentative. To a non-India language speaker … well, there are 700 languages so the first question may be which am I hearing. An overheard conversation between friends or co-workers that sounds like conflict to an outsider could be just passionate opinions. Those of you who know me well can probably understand how very comfortable that can make me feel here. People are amazingly well informed. We have four daily English language newspapers delivered to our hostel every day. There are more daily papers in Hindi and local languages.
I was so lucky to almost accidentally find the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) and, with the assistance of the Fulbright staff, to be able to affiliate with the Centre for Labour Studies and the Advanced Centre for Women’s Studies. The campus is small and the curricula progressive and focused on social change. The school practices aggressive affirmative action and the student body and faculty reflect the great diversity of India, especially by caste and gender. On any day, at a meal, in an elevator or just walking across campus, I have had wonderful and informative conversations on social conditions, politics, global economics, migration, poverty and patriarchy. I have watched and played cricket, learned and got beat badly at a board game called karoom. I attended yoga and Hindi language classes. I have lived in a dorm– in a triple– with a great group of women less than half my age who have become my friends. We have had long conversations about India and our work here, what it is like for an outsider, what we love and what we find confusing and/or difficult. We have eaten many meals together in the dining hall, local restaurants and last night in a rooftop bar. I have been the dorm mom and they have taught me modern heterosexual dating rituals.
Indians have a custom called adda. It essentially means taking the time to sit and just talk about serious and worldly issues. It does not mean setting up a meeting or even making a date to talk. It means stopping to talk now. Adda is one of the gifts from India that I want to take home.
Traveling around the country by myself with limited to no language skills was often difficult. I have been to nine cites while being very bad at India’s transport systems. I have missed trains and tried to board one when I thought I had a ticket but actually did not. I have paid outrageous cab fares on many occasions. I took an all night bus ride that was so noisy, bumpy and cold I hardly slept. When the driver yelled, “airport” I got off in a haze and then realized I was in the middle of nowhere at 4:30 in the morning and I really had to pee. I have been embarrassed at my screw ups but I console myself by remembering that my research has gone really well and I can’t be good at everything. And eventually I always go where I was going.
I am not romanticizing India. It is a very tough place. It is no vacation—except in the vacation oases where tourists and beggars share a symbiotic economy. To live among the people of India is to observe pervasive poverty and experience endless chaos. But I have also been witness to liveliness, an engagement with life that I do not see in the place I call home—the place that Indians call America no matter how many times I say I am from the United States. “America is a dream and a continent.” I explain. “The United States is the place that sells arms to both India and Pakistan.”
I am so lucky that I will be returning to India next January. The second part of my Fulbright fellowship will focus on building an international network by and for women working in the global construction industry. I will continue to post here on that and other subjects, sometimes not sequentially as I have a lot of material form this trip that I will be writing up over the next few months.
I thank you all for following my travels. I appreciate comments if you have time.
For those at home, see you soon. For those in India, see you in January 2017. For my “Swedish” girlfriends, stay in touch.
Calling my flight. Off I go.
Love and peace