So I've been in India for a little over two months now. By my standards, that's a pretty large number of days. Today, I'm more or less at the halfway mark. In some ways, I'm sad that I'm even aware of this halfway mark, that I am not so completely submerged in my time off to have forgotten time and distance. In other ways, I'm relieved, comforted even, that my time in India hasn't consumed me, and swallowed me in one big gulp.
I am still the on-the-fence little Indian with strong and deep roots to life and loves in the US of A and the world at large. No engineering degree or huge epiphanies on identity and origins have materialized just yet, don't worry.
My first two months here have been about coming to terms with what is. I've said it before, and anyone from the developing world will understand it perfectly but just to reiterate- class and privilege are everything around these parts. If there are any Bombay babies reading this, just skip down two paragraphs whilst I rant about large displays of wealth and the intense classism etched into our city kid lives and I'll catch up with y'all in just a sec.
My apartment building, equipped with swimming pool, manicured lawn, darling neighbors and every ingredient for blissful childhood, looks out onto a 1km stretch of slum. When we have visitors, they are drawn to the sound of the sea, thrusting their faces into blessed evening breeze, taking long deep ocean breaths. They rarely mention the additional view of mushrooming satellite dishes on tin and tacked-on roofs. They don't mention the continuous ringing of slum temple bells that are rising, rising, rising until conversation on our sea-facing, slum-facing balcony is just about impossible but we're still sitting there and trying to chit chat, glasses of wine and hor d'oeuvres in hand.
When the monsoon is in full swing and we're hanging over the railings lapping up the salty spray, we don't mention the flooded homes and floating chairs right next door to our now-soggy-with-this-bothersome-rain lawn. When we're all bundled up and delighted about how deliciously cold our sweaty old Bombay has gotten this January, and how many sweaters-we-bought-in-Switzerland we'll be able to whip out in these six hours of cold, we certainly don't mention the cold related deaths we read about in this mornings paper. When I'm grumbling about how our cook just doesn't know how to make *aaaanythiiiiing* in my whiniest, most entitled of voices, I don't mention that she puts a damn good dinner on our table every damn day, knows every one of my extended family members, makes a point to ask me about every detail of my life, and I'm still not sure where her hometown is or what her last name is.
My point is not to bleat on about how distanced and disconnected we have become, and how we live in such little bubbles of privilege, though that's probably exactly what I've just done and hey, there is truth in that too. I know the danger in a single story, I understand that here in Mumbai, in Maharashtra, in all of India even, amidst our gaping problems and huge gaps in infrastructure and justice, there is a multiplicity of voices, stories and experiences that run contrary to all that I've just said. Thank goodness for those, and for them.
All that I'm really saying is that I have spent the past two months coming to terms with what is. The fact that I get to come home and drive a big, blue, petrol-guzzling SUV, whilst proudly wearing my big, blue Bill McKibben anti-fossil fuels t-shirt (I'm so sorry squaremont, don't hate me plz). That we socialize amongst and count ourselves as one of the 0.1% and all the perks, privileges and party favors that that brings. That my photography exhibit, though "modestly priced", was more expensive than most people's monthly salaries. That whilst there is more to me, and I am not defined by it, and it is not a derogatory term, I swear- I am, in every single way- a South Bombay brat. I grew up here, I ran away from here, I went to college to remember that I will always be from here, I'm back here, and at the end of the day- I'm damn lucky to be from here and I'd be an idiot not to admit it and be grateful for it.
This acceptance has been 20 years coming, and now that it's here, I'd like to move the fuck on, thank you very much.
I want to spend my second half of time here discovering, doing, creating at the speed of light, changing, galvanizing. I've spent the past 10 weeks processing, feeling out, figuring out, and chilling out (the SJK version, not the lie-on-the-couch-and-watch-television-kind), and I'm ready to be done with that. I came back to take stock, to work out where I stand, and to see what I can do about it all, if at all. Some of my plans may have been a wee bit too ambitious (read- start farm, change the world, start combing hair), but the others are still here, still very much doable, and still waiting to be opened up, blown out and figured out.
I'll get right to it then.
Here is part II of our family roadtrip across Rajasthan- Bambora, Chittorgarh and Mt. Abu if you pleaze.