Greetings from Mumbai – my first visit to India! It’s always amazing to me where life takes me. I never expected to find myself here. In truth, I was always somewhat ambivalent about India. I’ve read a higher-than-average amount of Indian literature, so my impressions were colored by stories of family, struggle, striving, and the thread of magic that runs through so many Indian narratives. Though fictional, these books gave me a view into a rich and fascinating culture that made me very curious. At the same time, I assumed that the magnitude of India – the sheer numbers of people, and of cars; the noise and the poverty – would be overwhelming. For some reason, I failed to see that both of my impressions could be correct.
I’ll be the first to tell you that I do not think I’m really “experiencing” India. Today is the last day of a 5 day trip, and I’ve spent most of that time at a work-related conference at a 5-star hotel. I’ve spent 2 days in my company’s office, and the care and hospitality I’ve received from these colleagues is exceptional. It shames me to think that in the US we rarely bother to offer a glass of water to a visitor to our workplace. In contrast, I’ve had everyone from the Managing Director on down fussing over me and making sure I am comfortable.
In spite of the fact that I’m not feeling great, I insisted on getting out of the hotel last night. I’m lucky to be traveling with a coworker who lived in Mumbai for about a year. We took a black and yellow taxi to the Gateway of India, where I went through the least secure security line the world has ever known. We walked to a famous kebab shop and had some snacks, including goat brain. I passed on the brain and stuck to the chicken.
What you can’t help but notice is that Mumbai is on the move. There are people everywhere, out at every hour of the day. Things don’t seem to stop. There are high-rise apartments being constructed amid shacks. The gap between the rich and poor is not surprising, but the proximity of one to the other is. Perhaps there’s just no space for gated communities and walled-off compounds for the wealthy.
I also feel totally unprepared for India, in terms of my understanding of both the history and the current situation here. I feel like I’m missing a lot, and not really absorbing what I am seeing. Without context, it’s a hard place to make sense of. Still, I can see how it is a place that gets inside of people. I suspect that the warmth of the Indians and the strange beauty of the city will linger in my memory.
Tonight, after a full day in the office and a party to celebrate the 10th anniversary of my company’s presence here, I’ll board a 12:50am flight back to Amsterdam, via Zurich. I will be glad to get home and rest. But I am also thankful for this opportunity that my life and my work offered me: to experience a place that had loomed in my imagination for so long, and to experience it with and through those who love it.