Chapter 2: Mayhem in Mumbai
So there I am in the mayhem of Mumbai, the belly of the beast. What an amazing city. Everything is a picture and is so over stimulating it is almost an assault on the aural senses. In the beginning I almost feel dizzy.
It is a vast city with its 14 million inhabitants and such a juxtaposition of opposites – the rich versus the poor, spiritual versus the material, crude versus courteous, despair versus survival, mean versus friendly and beauty versus beastly.
When I first arrive in a new place I just walk out the door and explore which often leads to me getting lost. I get distracted and go into a building and come out and head in completely the wrong direction – story of my life. Is this some form of physical dyslexia I wonder?
On the street I am approached rite off the bat by a holy man. He came up to me and put an orange and yellow ribbon around my wrist and tied it before I cud even say hello. He dipped his middle finger into an orange paste and touched me between my eyebrows on my forehead. Somehow it felt good. This is my first bindy. It felt like a welcome to India. Like I was being christened on the street. I had a good vibe from this man yet it was clear he was about to ask for a donation but first he put a brite yellow marigold into my bag. I was told later that that is good luck and I am supposed to leave it in there for 2 days and then take it out. There are always rituals around religion.
I give him 10 ruppees once he got around to the donation dialogue and then left and was accosted by an aggressive young guy almost demanding that I donate money to the Krishna temple across the street that helps out thousands of people. He starts following me as I know now is part of the dynamic of beggars and people selling their wares. You can’t even make eye contact sometimes because that divulges to them some interest or curiosity or pity and they zone right in – sometimes relentlessly. Yet that is okay, I have been trained with that dynamic in the hood in Vancouver. The addicts there are master manipulators. It is their tool, their survival mechanism as well as being so street wise and savvy that they pick up on fear and vulnerability in a second the way an animal can. If one exudes that they become prey and it is the same thing on these streets. Yet I am a bit open to it. I want to see where it will go. I still only chat at any length with people who I feel good being with yet I observe the cons and the ripoffs, some so original and in a way I think, ‘kudos to you for your creativity’.
The drummer boy
Then a young persistent guy comes up and tries to sell me a drum. ‘No’, I tell him. Apparently they don’t comprehend the word ‘no’. It just doesn’t exist in their vocabulary or they believe it is a big maybe that can be turned into a yes with enough. And he pesters me and I get annoyed. So I say ‘No, I am not going to carry a drum around for 6 months. I am traveling and it makes no sense for me.’
He persists in his aggressive sales pitch, so I look him in the eyes with that look I can muster up when I have had enough and seethe out ‘No’. Then he lets it go and I look at him and ask him his name and for the next hour I get to know him
He leads me to a great local restaurant and orders me an amazing Indian platter with a smattering of different dishes. Rice with an array of delicious textured tastes of curried vegetable, dhal, curd (yoghurt) and chutney served in little steel containers and served with flat bread (chapatti) and the thin crispy slightly spicy fried bread (papada – which I love). He sits with me yet says no to any food because he is a Muslim and is practicing Ramadan right now – a month long fast. He is at day 14. Bloody hell.
I eat with my fingers, which I quite like because you can connect with your food, feel its temperature and energy. I dunk my chapatti into the dips. I would also tear off a piece and use it as a finger spoon to scoop up the dishes, and I‘d take a bite from a crisp papada in between. All the while the drummer boy looks on, poor guy. He says after 7:00 he can eat and drink again if I wanted to join him. Always rules with religion. There are too many rules for me. And I keep hearing ‘there are no rules’ when I meditate or pray. I am not one for rules.
He confides to me that he can not read. He has a big family, seven brother and five sisters and he cud not get to school. He did not seem embarrassed by this, it was just his reality. He claimed that his disabled brother made the drums that he sold. His brother was born missing part of one leg, and showed me where it ended, above the rite knee. I believed this yet when I saw other boys about his age carrying around drums with very similar markings, I wondered . . . yet does it matter?
I ask his age and he pulls out his ID for me to read the date he was born because he did not remember it himself. He is 25.
‘Do you not celebrate your birthday?’ I ask. I don’t think he answered me. He did the query about whether I am married and have children and wants to know my age too. He said he thought I was about 30. Okay . . . ‘No, higher.’ And he says ‘40’s’ and I say ‘I am in my 40’s’ and left it at that. He was curious why I did not have children.
‘ I never wanted them and will never have them’, I tell him. He seems perplexed at this. Too long a story that involves a past life so I didn’t get into it.
He left me at the restaurant so he could try to sell some drums cause the weekend is the best time for it. He offered to show me around some more but after Sunday because he could make money on Sunday.
Before coming to India I was on a raw food diet for one year. I guess there are rules there, sigh. It was for my health. It is claimed that if you keep your body alkaline, disease can not live in your system. My body was alkaline for a whole year yet the lump in my left breast still remained and grew. In India it is not so easy to maintain a raw food diet yet I have met people that do it or have done it. There just aren’t many greens or healthy vegetables available that you can eat raw. India uses pesticides and produces GMO fruits and vegetables as well and finding anything organic was difficult.
The Indian cuisine was not what my body was used to and the first night my belly was churning around. Yet I made a lot of flippant decisions about what I ate and drank yet I was blessing everything that went down my esophagus and thinking of it as providing nutrients for my body, because ‘thought is’. And my message during meditation was ‘believe it and it will be’, so I thought I could apply that to food.
They say when you pray you talk to god and when you meditate you listen. Meditation for me is not just about clearing my mind, it is about clearing my mind to allow messages to come. And they do. Many of them.
This young drummer boy became my friend and never again asked me to buy a drum. He would spot me on the street and come up to me and talk. He is handsome and has a brilliant smile. It was a pleasure to see him.
He has a one hour commute from home each way by train everyday. I would always ask how his day was and if he sold anything. It was always so apparent on his face. His face either glowed or looked heavy with discouragement.
He was also quite weak some days in the blazing heat with no food or water since 7 am. That was another rule, no water. Imagine! He said he would go into a mosque and rest in mid afternoon sometimes.
He always put a smile on my face. There’s a sweetness about him. He was one of a few young boys that I met and befriended in India.
I also met Sara, a young American girl, in a restaurant. One of the great tips I got from someone that had traveled to India was to go into the restaurants where there are lots of Indian men. Indian men know good food and they don’t spend a lot of money for it. I was in just such a restaurant when I see this dark haired girl, all dressed up in Indian attire yet her skin was light. I wonder if she is Indian yet . . . and then I look down at her feet . . . aha, North American travel sandals. I am sitting alone and ask her to join me. She does. We become friends and hang out, have meals, great conversations and we shop together.
Sara is 23, pretty, intelligent and from the US. She impresses me by speaking some Hindi which inspires me to learn some as well – just simple things and salutations. Yet speaking some words help and the local people were sometimes impressed to hear my attempts. She is also working with educating under privileged children. She travels alone and I am impressed by her intelligence, independence and her interest in human (conditions).
She wasn’t in Mumbai long before she met Shaifi, a very bright Indian man who also had similar interests like working with street kids in the slums. I saw a romance budding when I met him and her at the infamous Leopold Bar. The restaurant that became very popular because of the incredible book ‘Shantaram’ written by my idol Gregory David Richard. Shaifi is 26 and, eventually, Sara became the first girl he was intimate with.
I had a beer that evening when I met Shaifi. My first real beer in a year.
© 2018 Estate of Kat Kosiancic