A Story Come to Life

In a city of twenty million: is one consumed in their one, out of twenty million’s, world, or are they absorbed in the twenty million world’s going on around them?

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As a tourist in Mumbai, I was in completely taken in by both types of absorption. Let’s start with the fact that Mumbai is gorgeous. I was honestly in love at first sight. Let’s put aside that I had barely just gotten over the nightmare that was the bedbugs at the end of my time in Bangalore, and the horrifying sunburn, acquired in Kerala, covering the front of my body (caused by the Malaria pills I was on that cause sun sensitivity – I forgot) and that my stomach was completely rejecting me (I was spending a grand amount of time in the toilet). I was still in love. 

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Shantaram was coming to life before my eyes. It was surreal. Sidenote: if you haven’t already caught on that I think this is one of the most amazing books I’ve ever read and put it on your list of things to read – well you really should already, you will not regret it. The colonial buildings, the boulevards of trees, the old black and yellow taxis, the ocean breeze, the parks, the churches, the temples, the mosques, the people – all the people everywhere: It was all exactly as he described it.

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I went to Leopold’s and had a sprite (I didn’t think my stomach would like me if I had enjoyed the beer I wanted). I walked to India Gate and was swarmed by beggars and street people. I got henna stamped by a woman, who was surrounded by her ten children. I strolled through Colaba, wandered around the University grounds and chatted with a local who wanted to take me for a drink, so he could practice his English….

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I wandered emporiums, admired churches and visited my favourite Café Coffee Day for an iced coffee. I was approached by a group of young Indians, they asked if they could video interview me for a school project – I obliged, had my coffee and chatted with them for a while about women’s rights and the differences between them at home in Canada and in India. It was interesting seeing their points of view. 

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I went to the slums. I walked through where everything for all of Mumbai is made. I strolled past where Slumdog Millionaire was filmed – the railroad tracks and tunnel at the beginning… I watched kids having their morning shit there – just like in the movie. 

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I had Shantaram and Slumdog Millionaire both coming to life all around me. The two most visual depictions of India that I had encountered, I was in the midst of. It was amazing. You see things and wonder if they are really like that? They were, but in many other ways they were so much more than I could have imagined.  

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I’ve been home for a while now, am back to work and have started back at University (what am I thinking?!) Life is back to normal, but the kids and people I’ve met and encountered this summer aren’t ever far from my mind and won’t ever be. This trip changed the way I think about lots of things. Indians are survivors. We could all learn a lot from them. 

I hope you all enjoyed my emails. Until my next journey…. xx.

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riding the rails…

I had be told that I must experience the train in Indian, not I didn’t ride second class – which is where most Indians ride, so I don’t think I got the full experience, but my time in air conditioned first class was experience enough.

A porter carried all my luggage to a waiting room to start, as I was quite early for my train. I came straight from the airport, after grabbing some food. Now he puts me and my luggage in the waiting room and tells me he’ll come back in two hours to take me to my train platform. Perfect – I don’t have to figure anything out.

I’m the only white person in a room of a couple hundred. All the deep brown eyes in the room are on me, glued on me, staring with no shame. It’s as though I’m standing there naked. I put my ipod in my ears and try to read my book – hoping if I’m doing not much they’ll all lose interest… It works to a degree.

My time waiting passes quickly and I’m on the train before I know it.

It’s not exactly the ‘first class’ I imagined…. but I’m in Indian – so I shouldn’t have expected it to be too much! It’s two sets of bunks in a small room. I did manage to have a bottom bunk so all my stuff is close and I can sit and look out the window the whole time.

My roomies arrive:

– An Indian guy about my age who is in army training. Lovely guy – tells us about his older brother being killed a year earlier – he was in the army as well. He has an army family.

– A young Indian couple, a few years younger than me, who are quite infatuated with each other, but are very friendly. They come in very handy for translating for all the people who work on the train and only speak Hindi!

We’re having a lovely evening, chatting and getting to know each other, and then a train worker comes to check our tickets – the nice Indian guy is in the wrong berth , he has to move over to the next room.

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We head to bed shortly thereafter and are awoken in the middle of the night when we stop in Agra and our new roomie joins our room… not super impressed by how loud he is….

The next morning I get up, wash my face and change my clothes and pull Shantaram out for some reading. Slowly everyone else gets up and breakfast comes, which wasn’t very good – but oh well.

The man who got on the train in Agra looks like he might fall over when he looks at me – I’m guessing because I’m white – not because I had a booger on my face… He’s probably in his late forties and soon becomes my nemesis. Reasons for this follow:

– he won’t stop talking

– I have my headphones in and a book in my hand and he still won’t stop talking

– he keeps offering me food (not a good idea to take as people may drug it)

– tells me how he knows it’s not a good idea for me to take food from him, but he’s eating it too, so it’s fine

– he tries to reposition my pillow for me

– he asks for a picture of me

– he asks what my pills I’m taking are for

– he won’t stop talking!!!!

I pretty much want to punch this guy out the entire time and he just doesn’t get it – at all.

The view along the way changes, plains turn to rolling hills, villages turn to slums, fields of crops turn to packs of dogs. I saw quite a few people doing their morning motions beside the tracks – a sight to see! I saw children running alongside the train and stations full of beggars. There were lines and lines of people at some stations and other were empty. At many stations, different men would come on the train to sell snacks, chai or icecream – all spending a bit of extra time trying to convince the white girl that she needed what they were selling – one thought I should give him a kiss!

The view never got boring, though I did put a decent dent in my book – between dealing with Mr. Annoying while the young couple was canoodling in their upper bunk.

When the train arrived in Bangalore I was ready to get off, but my buddy had to give me a hug and kiss on the cheek first – that I stood through like a statue wriggling to become free from his grasp. Horrifying.

A lovely porter carried my bags from the train to where I would be picked up – about ten minutes walk and then my coordinator came and I was off! My next volunteering adventure is about to begin!