Tuesday, December 28, 2010

First India thoughts

I have no idea why it has taken me so long to sit down and start writing. Evenings and nights sure have been crazy, but I had plenty of time during the days.. Anyways, I'm back on track :)

  • Economic disparity
You cannot escape the fact that the income differences in this country are huge. Alarmingly so. The rich are getting more $ as I write, and at the same time there are more and more people literally living on the streets. 
I haven't been anywhere near the slums yet, or the bigger slums I should say, as there are homeless people everywhere. Women with babies on the pavements, children playing on the streets centimetres away from moving cars, people whose 'houses' are little areas of cement between the lanes.
The crowd I've been hanging out with in M City is very well off. Luckily, I've heard some people mention voluntary work or charity donations they make
throughout the year. I've also heard one or more of them make a remark on a civil war or social revolution, which is bound to happen in this country.

The disparity is seen everywhere. Let's say that normally you have 3 or 4 price ranges in European countries. Cheap, affordable, expensive, luxurious. In here there would be about 10 of those. I haven't eaten on the street yet, and have been strongly advised not to do so, but I guess a dinner at a food cart would be around 30 IND (0,70$). In an eatery somewhere in Colaba (most southern part of M City, where all the backpackers hang out), it might be around 50-60 IND (1,5$). In Juhu, one of the three most expensive neighbourhoods, pasta in an Italian restaurant will start at 600 IND (14$), a salad in a nearby cafe will be around 300-400 IND. No idea how expensive the 'expensive' places in here are, but they are completely and utterly out of reach for the vast majority of the Indian population. Just to give you a little background - the affordable snacks at 300-450 IND are a couple of days worth of salary to the staff at my house, as they earn 100 IND a day.
  • Begging
Is everywhere. 
I usually take a riksha if I need to go somewhere alone and I don't really mind the noise, the smell (only sometimes will it really hit me), the wind ruining my hair, the bumpiness of the roads or the fact that people stare at me whenever they realise there's a white girl inside. The part I hate about it is the moment we stop at traffic lights. Why? Because within 10 seconds I will have at least 2 little girls, more often than not with a small baby in their hands, touching me and asking for money. How do you learn to say no? And if I ignore them and not give in, does that mean I'm an insensitive, ruthless person? Because it sure feels so.
I don't know the exact numbers of homeless people in Mumbai, but remember having read in some guidebook that it was about 8 mln or so. Horryfying, if correct. It's more than 4 Warsaws living on the pavement! You can try to imagine then, that wherever you go, aparat from the rich parts of the town, you'll have people allover you, trying to get at least 10 IND. And when you're a tourist? A white girl? Exactly my point.
  • Cars and other luxuries
A thing that has really caught me by surprise is how long it takes people to get a car here. The waiting period can be anything from 2 up to 6 months! And I'm not talking about the high-end personalised ones, but your regular Honda Civic.
The next thing is the tax they pay here, which is outrageous from what I've heard - they pay double the price we do. And still there's so much waiting time - what does that tell you about the poverty in here?
In Poland we also have a high luxurious products tax, which makes f.e. make up more expensive than in Western Europe. But in here, in a good restaurant you'll have to pay 1/4 more - yup, the tax on drinks is 25%. Etc.
  • Family
I've already mentioned family in my previous post. I've attended two family dinners, of about 20-25 people each, a surprise birthday party for one of my boss's cousins, been to a 5 000 m2 family bungalow with 30 family members under one roof.. Family is THE word in here.
And looking at aunties chat and gossip with their nieces, brothers hugging and being most caring about their younger sisters, uncles partying with nephews; being drawn into their circle, although nobody knows me, being asked if I was happy, hungry, sleepy, healthy, glad - about a million times; seeing how lovingly they look one at another.. It has been both depressing and very much uplifting. 

Depressing, because my family's pretty small and we don't get to have that kind of gatherings, they're not filled with so much touch, laugh and joy. Because my cousins and I don't talk on the phone every second day, we don't go out together, haven't been bonding our whole lives.

Uplifting, because it can be done. Of course there's drama, people don't always agree, there are catfights between sisters and aunties, children can be naughty and siblings might fight. But the vibe is different, warmer, somehow more cordial. Uplifting, because I can build that as well.
  •  Friends
I think friends are made fairly easily in here. Of course, it all depends on the level of intimacy and trust we're talking about. But starting the foundations for a future friendship seems not as hard as in Europe. Then again - it's all about the openess and warmth this nation has. 
The great thing, from what I've seen, is that people take care of their relations. Call and see each other often, are in touch with BFFs from junior high long after getting married. I've noticed more 'bonds for life' between friends here, than anywhere else.
  • Food
Is so varied! Veg and non veg, spicy and mild, the kinda sweet I cannot handle and the kind of sweet I adore. Tons of rice, potatoes, dal, my beloved dosa, roti, papad, naan, paneer, in curry or spicy or sweet or salty or whatever else. Plus all the meet stews/sauces or however they should be called. 
The family I stay with is Jain, but not the most orthodox ones - those don't eat anything that grows below the ground, plus no onion or garlic. That's why my khana (food) at home is all veg, and that's why whenever I'm out everybody makes sure I eat some meat. They seem more determined on it than I do hehe
Unfortunately, traditional Indian food is very oily and fatty as well.
  • Colours
All the colours of the rainbow.
In clothes. Although the people I hang out with wear mostly western outfits, the less wealthy part of the society is all about sari and salwar kameez. I love it! And can't wait to dress up Indian style the first moment I have an opportunity to do so. I'll be attending a wedding in Jan, and am literally counting down the days!
In food. Green, yellow, orange, red, brown - you name it!
  • Households
Mumbai's land is one of the most expensive out there and still all the flats and houses I've seen were amazing. Spacious, with terraces, on the top floors, two stories etc.
One thing that I didn't know before coming here is that every Indian needs a bathroom. The ones who can afford to have bigger flats, cannot imagine having to share that piece of space. So for example, the flat I'm staying in has 5 bathrooms. Quite a change from Polish standars, huh?

As to the staff - everybody has staff here. A cook, a helper, a cleaner, a driver.. For Indians it's totally normal not to open a window in the room they're in, but to call on a helper to do it. For me, it's bloody difficult to get used to not even peeling my own fruit. To someone doing my bed, bringing me breakfast, getting me a pen when I can't find one. I guess it sounds amazing, and were I at home right now, I'd probably think "so what is she complaining about?". I don't mean to complain, simply stating my feelings. In Europe, we're told to be independent and self-efficient from a very young age. If your mum cleans your room when you're over the age of 10, there's something wrong with you. You're spoiled and can't take care of yourself. In here, it's ok to be a 30 year old and have a helper get you a fresh towel, so that you don't have to get up to open the closet's door..
On the other hand, I'm all pro-staff in India, 'cause it gives that many more people a roof over their head, good food on the plate and a feeling of belonging somewhere else than on the street. If you live in with a family and are a good employee, they help you and your family out. If there's a weeding, a sudden expense, a funeral that needs to be taken care of - it will be.

  • Partying
Now the good stuff!
There's some crazy partying in Mumbai in December. I've been here for 11 days, and haven't gone out twice. I normally come back at 4, although have had nights out till 6, or 8 on Xmas Eve.. Some cool clubs, fancy bars on the beach; rich, young and beautiful all around.

Kino Cottage in Versova, Xmas Eve

Plus, who knew bollywood mixed up with electro could be so much fun? :D

BTW, a bolly song everyone's going crazy for at the moment.
What's my name? ;)

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