Thursday, January 29, 2009

Taking in Mumbai

The Food Court at Phoenix Mall, next to the Guest House

Ubiquitous Machine for Making Sugar Cane Juice

Girl Begging Car-to-Car

Slums Comprise 55-60% of Residences in Mumbai

Military Presence on Colaba Causeway

The Bay by Taj

Gate of India

Last Day
Today is my last day for this trip, my last day in Mumbai. It has been an experientially highly dense trip, and from the first day I’ve been here to now there have been so many changes. While I’ve learned much while here, for a long time I'll plumb my experiences here.
I spent the afternoon walking around and drinking in as much as I could - I will miss this city, her people, her smog and grit. While strolling, I saw my first and only pretty flower of the trip today in Colaba - I always like to take pictures of flowers.

Feelings Upon Leaving
My feelings upon leaving are turbulent. The time here has been very good, at times a bumpy ride, and multi-faceted. It has been hectic and compressed, with little time for casual meetings - this is compounded by unpredictable schedules and travel times. One day a car ride might take 45 minutes; a similar ride the next day 2 hours. Metaphorically, I am like the bird in this photo, leaving but taking with me sustenance.

In some ways I am ready to go back to New York, and in other ways I would like to spend a couple of weeks more here, mainly because I am just starting to get to know some of the people here, most of whom I’ve only met once, and would like to meet more leisurely.

The pace of time is different here, things are less pressured to be on time, and the expectations people have of one another are at times quite similar to home, my home that is, and at times quite alien. In fact, on occasion I think when I’ve felt most out of tune, I’ve felt like I was on some other planet.
It feels bittersweet to be leaving. I would like to return and continue this work, but I am uncertain as to when and under what circumstance. I would like to see how things have evolved a few months down the road, when things are a little less immediate. I hope nothing else happens but there's a good chance it may.

After being here for just a week and not seeing anyone with my complexion, the image looking back at me in the mirror started to look unfamiliar. Now (editing this post from my apartment and looking out the window) the view is also different.

A Couple of Particular Observations
One thing which I’ve found especially hard to get used to is the way servants act, so eager to jump in, deferential, often smiling broadly, yet always a little bit off. Even the idea of servants... and so many people here are employed as such, quick to jump in get the door, deferential, smiling.

I don’t like being waited on generally, so it is that much more of an adjustment.

Nevertheless, I felt much more comfortable today than that first day, more adept with the basics, and for whatever reason there were tons of tourists all over. I went by the Leopold as well, and took a gander at the gunshot holes in the marble entryway.
It is such a strange thing to imagine armed men moving through those streets superimposed on the tourist bustle. I thought about what I would do, where I would hide, and so on. I imagine I have my camera, moreso since talking with and reading about journalists on 26/11. Bullets hitting marble...

Strozier (2002) wrote, of 9/11/01: "The apocalyptic exists in a realm that extends beyond what Kurt Vonnegut wistfully called 'plain old 'death' and embraces a comprehensive vision of collective death, of vast suffering, of the very end of the world". With 9/11, the "zone of terror" was circumscribed, geographically localized; with 26/11, the "zone of terror" was diffuse in time and space, amoeboid, unpredictable.

Not Disbelief but A Challenge
It simply doesn’t make sense, this juxtaposition, and yet I know it happened. It's not disbelief... it just is a challenge to the imagination and not something one would necessarily want to think about.

Admittedly, it is a bit scary to walk around in such a place, yet with the touts and people grabbing at me and little kids coming up to the taxi and asking for chocolate… I guess things have shifted back to normal, and the social context being normative is persuasive to assuage fears. I don’t know that the truly disadvantaged here think 26/11 was really any different from any other time, but I don’t know because I didn’t have a significant conversation with anyone.

I also went to Kala Ghoda, next to the banking area, Fort, and meanandered in and out of the art galleries.

Some of the art here spoke to 26/11, and one which struck me showed a calendar with each day painted a different scene or image, for November 2008. The 26th iss a red splash, and the days after dark and unformulated, foggy, cyclonic. I spoke to the artist briefly, a jolly older woman with a great spirit. She didn’t let me take a photo of her painting, though.

What is Terrorism?
Now I am wondering, what is terrorism? There’s a lot of buzz about it… but what is it? What does it mean, and how does that meaning differ from person to person, and place to place? My own terrorist is now different from what it was, in ways I don’t know, and in some ways yet the same. My experience of 9/11/01 is altered by these experiences, but it remains a primary point of reference among a few other major ones.

I've gathered some local publications to read over later. One is Verve magazine, a popular upper class fashionista magazine. The January cover is white with what appears to be a red flower, which on closer inspection is a bloody bullet hole. It is full of first-hand accounts from editors, journalists, socialistas, and some psychotherapists. The tone of the writing reminds me of much of the sentiments shortly after 9/11. Trying to make sense of a new world.

My parting observations are that I've been here as a disaster psychiatrist, as a tourist, as a human being, as an intruder, as a welcome guest, and as an anthropologist. It doesn't all fit together for me but it is a good place.

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