Wednesday, September 30, 2009

My Scandalous Top

I'm getting restless in Mumbai. I still like the chaotic city with its aggressive cabbies, endless bargain shopping, and crowded streets up until the wee hours of the morning, but I'm feeling a bit homesick.

I'm counting down the days until I head out to Gujarat and meet with some of my distant family there. Maybe it'll feel a bit more like home.

I wore a backlass T-shirt yesterday. It was not deliberate, I hadn't realised it was backless when I purchased it in London. So I wore it with a tank top underneath even though double-layers aren't the best idea in this weather. Despite the tank, my shoulders were still bare. I got disappointed frowns from a lot of older men and women throughout the day. One of the aunties sarcastically even asked me where the rest of my top had disapppeared to! That burned, it took all my might not to snap back.

Shalini took me out shopping again, this time in Dadar. When we got there the bazaar was closed as the cops were patrolling the streets. She said the bazaar would re-open once the cops left, which they did 15 minutes later. The entire place came back to life. It reminded me of New York's Canal Street. Except, instead of vendors closing up their suitcase shops, Dadar vendors had to close up their entire stand. It was amazing to see how quickly they got back to work.

I took the girls out for icecream later in the evening, someone had mentioned that this parlour in Breach Candy served up the best icecream in Mumbai. I can't remember the name of the place, but I'm sure it will come to me eventually. I was not disappointed, they offer every Indian fruit flavour imaginable. I tried their Pistachio and Mango flavours and got addicted. One of the maids said she'd never tried icecream before, she was very timid in accepting it, but I think she liked it in the end.

I'm listening to some Kanye West music online and it's easing my home-sickness. Will try to make the best of today!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Starting to Feel Homesick...

Much to my parents' disappointment, I didn't go to gharba again tonight. I hate to say it but the heat's been getting to me. Right now I'd much rather stay indoors, with the a/c on, even if it gives me a sore throat.

I want my own friends here. The new friends I've made still act like my servants once we reach home; the awkward barriers come right back up. I'm not to do the dishes, make my own bed, do the laundry... As soon as I wake up in the mornings (who am I kidding, the afternoon's more like it) they come in my room to ask me what I'll be having for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I can't get used to this.

*Shalini said she's willing to take me to one of the devi matha's temples tomorrow. She explained that she used to have an acne problem just like me, but after praying to the goddess of beauty, her skin had cleared up and so will mine. I didn't realise I had an acne problem, so I double-checked in the mirror anyway, but saw nothing new. She must have been referring to the few freckles that I have.

Shalini mentioned that she was saving money to get the tattooed bindi on her forehead removed. Her parents had her tattooed when she was only five; she still remembers the pain involved. It's a process most Maharashtran girls have to go through, but she explained that a lot of her friends were getting them removed now, as it clashes with the Western clothing they like to wear. She's going for a consultation next week, the doctor's promised to remove the mark for 5000 rupees. That's $125 Canadian, I wonder how safe this surgery will be.

The girls all sleep on the living room floor even though there are three empty bedrooms in the flat. I've offered to share my room since I have the air-conditioner but they laughed it off. I'm feeling incredibly spoiled, I can't wait to be back in my proper element.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Shopping in Bandra

My day was a lot more interesting today. The girls at the flat have warmed up to me finally, especially one girl named *Shalini. She's 21 years old and beautiful. It turns out she and her four other siblings are all orphans. She's got a boyfriend, but she doesn't know if he's the one for her, you see, he's already married. His parents had him married when he was just a toddler. I wanted to inquire about his wife and whether he had any children, but thought it best not to pry. I'm guessing the wife's either oblivious or consensual to his affair since he calls up Shalini all the time. I don't really blame the guy for getting tired of a wife he's had since childhood, but I hope he's not taking Shalini for a ride either.

Anyhow, Shalini took me shopping in Bandra. I was desperate for new clothes. My Canadian pieces which I specifically brought for Indian weather were leaving me drenched. I found some cotton shirts and half-pants for about 5$ each (200 rupees). I'm sure we could've bargained the prices down some more but I felt bad for the vendors.

We reached the bazaar by cab, and as usual the driver over-charged us. Drivers aren't supposed to charge more than what's written on the metre, but this is the second time I get over-charged with her. This hasn't happened once yet when I have a guy with me. Shalini's extremely soft-spoken and I think the drivers pick up on that. Plus, I have a difficult time being firm about the price in my broken Hindi, together, we make a great team don't we.

I've decided to tour out west in about a week's time, towards Gujarat and hopefully Rajasthan. I'd like to postpone my job search. Even if I were to find something immediately, I'm not ready to get into a work routine. There's way too much to see and explore here. I've got some friends coming down to visit their extended families. One of them will be meeting with prospective husbands, she said I can help her choose. I don't think that's the best idea as I can be very critical.

We took a bus back home from Bandra for 10 rupees each, it was about an hour-long ride. Mid-way the driver turned off the engine and abandoned all his passengers on the bus, leaving us all wondering what was going on. He came back about 20 minutes later, announcing that there was an engine failure and we had to switch over to another bus. It made me miss my Canadian city, bus drivers can be rude there as well, but at least they keep their passengers informed.

Anyhow, once we got off at our stop, some passerby's nose slime flung on to my arm. I squirmed for a very long 3 seconds as my mind processed what that yellowish-green guck was. Then I calmly pulled out a tissue from my purse and wiped the stuff off. I'm proud of myself, I'm taking everything in stride. In fact, Shalini was more grossed out than I was. I'm not even mad at the gentleman responsible for that slime, I'm sure he was aiming for the ground and my arm just got in the way.

Tomorrow's the last day of Navaratri, I haven't been in the mood for gharba much lately but will try to make it out for the last night.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Hot and Muggy Mumbai

It's early evening now and my day's been pretty uneventful, a lot like yesterday. I've been doing a lot of internet research, compiling a list of tv station and news publication addresses. Looks like I'm going to have to call up these managing directors, either all my emails are going to their junk box, or they can't be bothered to reply.

I napped a lot in between the day as the heat's exhausting me; it's 33C today, am thankful the sun is slowly setting now. This doesn't mean I miss the Canadian cold, I'd still prefer this over chattering teeth, lining up for a hot chocolate, desperate to get my hands warm, any day.

My room has a portable a/c which is useless in this heat, and yet it's still giving me a sore throat - go figure. So I've switched over to using the ceiling fan but it's completely drying out my eyes. Yep, there's no pleasing me right now.

As a highlight to my day, I tried to indulge in a Fruit & Nut Cadbury chocolate bar, which is sometimes my favourite, but it too has disappointed me. The fruits and nuts were unevenly spread out, feel like I got jipped off by the Tesco store where I bought it from in London. The fact that it was melting within seconds of my taking it out of the fridge didn't add to the taste either.

There are two girls staying here, they're much younger than I, both basically upkeep the flat while the host family is away in America. When they're not working or napping, they watch religious TV serials. I'm trying to befriend them with my rusty Hindi but they're remaining distant, sweet yes, but distant.

I'm dying to go out for a walk; but I still don't feel comfortable venturing out on my own. I've experienced too much butt-pinching to try something like that. So yes, I do miss my Canadian home, I miss being able to walk wherever I wanted at whatever time I wanted. Sure there was the occasional catcall, but generally speaking, guys would respect your space. I have a lot more respect for the men back home right now.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Guess Who's in Mumbai Yaar?

So I'm finally in Mumbai! Can you believe it? I still can't. I had so much to write about my time spent in London but now that I'm in Mumbai, it all seems so long ago. Perhaps I'll save that for another time.

My flight here was excellent, had a 3-seat row all to myself, so slept quite well. I watched a couple of movies, browsed through US Weekly and next thing you know, we already landed in Mumbai. Despite everyone's warnings, I did not get harassed for money at the customs check. And I was relieved to learn that my suitcases did come with me, still in tact.

It is hot and muggy here, about 30C everyday. I'm temporarily living in the southern part of the city, also apparently near one of the red light districts. I don't technically have an official place to stay as my host family will be selling their flat soon, but they're being as helpful as they can. I need to start rushing to find a job and a new place to live. So it's crunch time... starting tomorrow.

Today I toured around Bandra West with a cousin who I was luckily able to catch during his last day in India, before he flew back to Canada. I got to pass by the homes of Kareena Kapoor, Salman Khan, and my favourite (well, after Amitabh Bachan that is), Shah Rukh Khan! From the outside, their homes didn't look so great. There were hoardes of men lined up near the Khan homes, I guess in the hopes of trying to catch a glimpse of their favourite stars. I wonder why there were so few women there.

Then we jumped onto a train heading towards Malad, it was about 4pm, rushhour madness. I think we got on at the "men only" section, since I was the only female on the train. I didn't feel too uncomfortable, thankfully I was with my cousin and an uncle. We were all packed in there like a can of sardines, and out of nowhere, one guy offered me his seat. I suddenly felt like royalty.

I find certain parts of Mumbai extremely hip and modern. Some of the shopping centres, such as the one in Malad West (where you'll be security-checked before going in), are pretty impressive and up-scale. The crowd you'd see at these stores look, act and dress so differently from the majority you would see simply roaming the streets of Mumbai, very dichotomous.

I went to a McDonald's for lunch (yes - already) and had the Chicken Maharaja Mac. It's basically like a burger with two tandoori chicken patties instead of actual beef, not my favourite but it wasn't too shabby either. I wanted to take pictures of their Indianised menu but security (yes, they have security at McDonald's here) wouldn't allow it.
I'm already falling in love with the city, it's reminding me so much of New York but with a lot more mirch-masala. The high didn't last too long though. I left to go back home quite late, was planning to take a cab home alone but my host-aunty wouldn't hear of it. She spoke to my cousin's friend over the phone and convinced him to drive me home instead, I had felt bad asking him myself as it was already 12am. Anyhow, he agreed to get me home safely, but not before being obliged to give his entire biodata to the aunt.
When I reached her flat I got a maternal reality check about the dangers lurking around Mumbai. The auntie told me two young women were raped last night while walking home from Navaratri festivities. They live just a few minutes away... feel sick to my stomach.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Surrounded by Lovely British Accents

I'm in Leicester, England. You know what that means right? I'm half-way (well 9hrs by flight) to Mumbai! I've actually taken the plunge!

I'm pretty relieved. The news director at my old station okayed my time away. He's giving me a bit of time to either find journalism work in India or come back and still have my freelance position. Phew!

Anyhow, there's a lot of Indians in Leicester. If the kids aren't playing 'football' than it's cricket. It kinda feels nice not to be a visible minority here.

I'm noticing a lot of anti-(radical) Islam sentiment here. I went out for dinner with some locals to this Muslim-run restaurant and they deliberately brought a newspaper along with them, it was covered with mugshots of terrorists and a re-cap of 9/11. Each time the waiter passed by, they'd rant about terrorists and how they've ruined everything for the rest of the world (i.e. having to take off your belt at the airport security, not being able to bring bottled water on-board, etc). I see where their views are coming from, but it's unfortunate that innocent Muslims are having to take the slack for what certain extremists from the community have done.

On another note, people are so passionate here about what's going on in the rest of the world. It's even putting me to shame as a journalist. I've gotten a few 'I hate America' comments even though I'm Canadian. Some of the English have ranted about how their country is always the first to fight in wars, yet Americans walk away with all the undeserved glory for coming in once all the dirty work has been done, or so they say.

I walked through Abbey Park yesterday, it was beautiful, massive, and very serene. There's a huge playground for children, a farm area to feed animals, and large ponds for ducks and swans. I wish I had photos to share but my camera broke down on me. I've got so much more to write, I guess this is what happens when blogs aren't updated regularly.

Am off to London by bus, will try to offer more regular updates soon.