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Archive for May, 2012

So today the bharat bandh is going on. It’s this massive protest/strike/riot that was organized by the main political opposition party in India against rising gas prices. The hotel staff didn’t want us vulnerable Americans walking beyond the DMart at the end of the road, which isn’t even open because no one can get to work.

Incarceration begets incapacitation. Feeling hemmed in, I had breakfast (a puri, some chickpea curry, and lots of mango juice) with my roommate Mina and TG while watching news reports on the bharat bandh. The on-scene reporters on Indian CNN speak way too quickly, which was funny because people trying to sound like journalists in the U.S. always do the slow and deep Walter Cronkite thing (which is equally funny–NPR is notorious for this, really).

I had a shower and did a bunch of hand laundry. I’ve spent most of my day reading The Fault in Our Stars by John Green which I borrowed from Mina. I thought it would make me sad, but I was most touched by the author’s descriptions of Amsterdam. I like places more than I like people (really like) in general.

I know that people are expecting lots of introspection and American-girl-in-India and whatnot from this blog but that kind of stuff is pretty trite to me.

I wish the fruit-wallas were around. I’ve been told to have pink guava by my friend Betsy and I could really go for some fresh coconut water.

That’s it.

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Let me start this post by saying how a casual day in India turned into a phenomenal one just by arriving to one scheduled meeting. Entering one building and taking a few steps was all it took to be in awe.

To clarify our internship and speak with Dinaz, the woman taking us under her wing, my professor (TG) took Shauna and I to Amitabh Bachchan’s office. It makes me giddy just thinking about it. Unfortunately, you probably don’t feel the same way, so I’ll give you a little taste of who this man is.

Amitabh Bachchan

  • Amitabh Bachchan jump started his acting career in the 70’s and since then has become extremely popular. He’s won numerous awards and is seen on billboards and in commercials all over India.

I’ve tried to think of an American actor equivalent to Amitabh Bachchan but no one can compare to this man. Denzel and Tom Hanks come close, but even my peers here agree that no one can match Amitabh’s accomplishments within the Indian film industry.

  • Here’s a clip from Slumdog Millionaire, winner of Best Picture in 2009, to reaffirm Amitabh’s fame:

[http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CWEx5gACui8]

Once we stepped foot into the building, we were immediately surrounded by Amitabh Bachchan. Not the actual man, but representations of him through a variety of artwork. At first I thought, he seems full of himself. Later I learned all of the artwork was done by fans!

After a flight of stairs, we knocked on a door and were greeted by Dinaz AND Mira Nair, both of whom are good friends with TG. Yep, my professor has some really awesome friends. However, while I’m getting all giddy again, you’re asking, who is she?

Mira Nair

Mira Nair is a well-known Indian filmmaker based in NYC. A few of her films include Salaam Bombay! (1988), Monsoon Wedding (2001), and The Namesake (2006). Her latest project, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, features Kiefer Sutherland, Kate Hudson, and Liev Schreiber. Our first task actually required us to find actors and actresses for voice-overs for the film.

The biggest smile grew across my face as I reached out my hand to introduce myself to Mira. I was truly pleased to meet her and could only hope to one day be as successful as she. I hope she remembers my name!!!

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During my stay here in Mumbai, I’ve been continuously amazed by the stunning divide in regards to the wealthy and the poor in this city. In a mere rickshaw ride, this separation is immediately apparent; one can see how the sumptuous excesses associated with the rich can immediately transform into hamlets that are devoid of those excesses.

This delineation truly became apparent to me yesterday (Tuesday). An excursion to the J.W. Marriott hotel showed the other half lived. The hotel itself was luxurious almost to the point of absurdity. It was a place not too far removed from a hotel that one would see in Las Vegas. High ceilings, fountains, expensive wares for sale, hand towels to dry your hands in bathroom; this hotel had it all.

Upon leaving that bastion of ornate opulence, the rickshaw ride back to our apartments immediately translated a tale of two cities: the aforementioned temple of extravagance versus an existence that communicated simple living. Of all the cities that I have visited in my world travels, Mumbai is the one city where the split between the rich and the poor is incredibly profound. Short increments of distance and time give an indication of that separation.

Despite that division between the two cultures, I think that it is important to note that it appears that people are content with the existence they have carved out for themselves, no matter their socio-economic status. Poverty has not worn people down; they wear it as a badge of courage, in other words, it’s a source of pride. They are not shameful of their surroundings in the slightest.

I keep on mentioned the word divide, or some variation thereof, but any appearance of “division” seemingly is not part of vernacular of the citizenry of Mumbai, outwardly at least. Everyone’s existence is on their own terms.

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She Found Her Voice
Picture Taken At Whistling Woods International

Dear Bollywood

I need help. I need a voice. I mean, I know I have one, but it’s really rather quiet. I feel you can definitely help me out with my dilemma. You with your glitz. You with your glam and heroes and flashy fantastical musical numbers. You who is adored by millions. I’m not looking to be adored by millions or anything, I’d just like to be heard. So how do you do it in this country of 1 billion people? Well, here’s my theory.

  • First, you have a little bit of everything. Your movies have comedy, drama, love, action etc. So does that mean I should be a chameleon? I can do that, try to please everyone.
  • Second, you’re friends with a lot of popular people: SRK, Amitabh Bachchan, Abhishek Bachchan, Hrithik Roshan. OK, so, I have to find people who are really liked and befriend a lot of them.
  • Third, you are loud. You are not just loud volume wise, but loud in the way that your songs are sung by people all over the world and by the way people try to learn all your intricate dances. Alright, check: be loud and over the top.

Hmmm. This doesn’t seem right. This stuff seems perfect for you, Bollywood. I love that you have a little bit of everything for people to relate to and enjoy. And I love SRK! Bollywood could not be Bollywood without him! And your songs and dances!? Those are some of my favorite parts of your movies. But me? No, I don’t think any of that will work.

Since my arrival in Mumbai, I have really felt nothing but happy. I haven’t felt homesick, granted I definitely miss certain aspects of home, but I’ve been completely content with living in the moment. I have always been the quiet person: not funny, not loud, not full of stories, just the observer and I’ve never been ok with that. I guess that’s just the American in me. I have always wished I was funny and just a bit more obnoxious, but that has just never worked out, and that’s why I’ve always really only had a couple of friends. And no, do not take this as a pity party: it’s not. I just wished I had a little more to make me a more desirable person. It wasn’t until I came to Mumbai that I realized I don’t have to be desirable to everyone.

Sure I understand that not everyone is going to like me, even though that would be nice. Secretly everyone wants to be liked by everyone they meet. Isn’t that just a part of being human? But India has taught me that too many people exist to be thinking about pleasing them all. I know it may sound silly that it took me coming to India to come to a full realization, but it is what it is. India has so far taught me to live life to the fullest, laugh when you can and love everything every second even when things just suck.

My voice is small. And I don’t say a lot, but when I do, I mean what I say and have a reason for saying it. I am the storyteller I am today because I’ve observed others all my life. I’ve heard what people have to say and how they say it. I’ve experienced death, new life, love and heartbreak, and I’ve fully felt all of what those experiences had to offer because I am me: the silent observer. And that’s just fine. So far, I’ve been able to take in so many aspects of India because I’ve been looking out.

So, I’d just like to say thank you Bollywood. Thanks for being loud, friendly and having a little bit of everything. And thanks for letting me silently observe what you have to offer. You’ve helped me open my rigid mind.

Sincerely

A Girl Who’s Found Her Voice

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Unbroken Chai cup amongst the garbage on the side of the road.

When someone visits a new place for the first time, it may be very easy to decide right away that you either love it or hate it. In a place like Mumbai,  I think it would be relatively simple to become quickly annoyed, saddened and homesick: annoyed at the never ending honking, ever present abundance of people, and variations of disturbing smells; saddened by the poverty and slums; and homesick for the clean air, silence, and regularities of your everyday life.

But in my time here, I have come to love India (what I’ve seen of it) and dislike very few things. I’ve mentioned some of the less than pleasant parts, but they definitely do not define my experience here nor do they hinder my belief that India is a great place to be. One of the reasons I feel this way is the hidden parts of the culture, people, and area that really make India a great, one of a kind place to be.

The community is infused with obvious cultural signatures; such as the spicy food, super sweet desserts, fresh fruit, the always present religious tributes, the fully covering but flowing clothing, and many other traditions. But it is the hidden beauties that make Mumbai hard to dislike. Sometimes the amount of people can be overwhelming, but they all individually come together to create a population of incredibly hard working people who spread their energy and life in a way that makes the environment irresistible.  The area and nature aspects are breathtaking. The plant life is very beautiful and unique… amazing pink and yellow flowers pop up in some dirty area or fruit grows in places you wouldn’t expect it to, and it just makes me smile. Even things like graffiti on the bridge walls or in the slums, show how individuals are able to express themselves even amongst so many people.

Every day I seem to notice some small thing that makes me realize why I love being here so much. When I come across one of these moments, I smile, take it in, and create a lasting memory that will help me remember why India is an amazing place to be.

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Dear Bollywood

Nine days.  That’s how long it has been since I stepped off of that fifteen hour flight from the place I call home: America.  However, as soon as I landed I immediately felt some sort of connection to Mumbai.  It’s honestly rather hard to describe, but maybe it had something to do with the sparkly lights of the city shining under me as the plane landed.  They just seemed so friendly and welcoming.  Or maybe it was the customs official who was quite pleasant for being, well, a customs official…  I don’t really know exactly myself, but I don’t think it was just one facet that got me.

I’m hoping my infatuation with Mumbai isn’t like the infatuation a person has at the beginning of a new relationship.  So far, I don’t think it is, but that’s what they all say.  What I have observed so far, though, is that this city is so full of life, laughter and love.  I haven’t yet found a time where Mumbai just stops.  For example, as much as I love London, it is definitely the city that goes to sleep at 10:30.  Mumbai, though, finds a way to keep trucking all through the night.

My first description of Mumbai is that it radiates life.  In fact, every time I go out, I have a bit of input overload!  But that is just one of the reasons I am in love with Mumbai.  I love people and seeing what they have to offer, and in this city, everyone has something going on.  When I’m in our car (or auto rickshaw!) I can’t get over the absolutely insane traffic.  I have never in my life seen a city with the traffic patterns Mumbai has.  If you have to get somewhere and it would normally take maybe 30 minutes, give yourself an extra hour to get there.  Seriously.  But this isn’t, at least not yet, something to complain about. So far, it has given me the chance to see what it going on in the streets instead of swiftly passing by all the action.  We also recently visited Dharavi (Asia’s largest slum) and if that did not give me a kick of culture I don’t know what will.  Dharavi is probably one of the most fascinating places I have ever been for many reasons.  First off, I had not a clue what goes on in slums: granted, not all slums are like Dharavi.  However, this particular slum is home to about 1,000,000 people who work, play and simply live all day.  Americans have been taught to pity inhabitants of places like these, but I pity the people who don’t see how truly amazing the people of Dharavi are.

My second and third descriptions of Mumbai, laughter and love, go hand-in-hand.  I don’t necessarily mean literal laughter and love, even though there is plenty to go around.  More specifically, I mean happy people.  Everywhere I look people are chatting, smiling, playing and, yes, laughing.  America doesn’t seem half as happy as Mumbai.  (I don’t mean to be dissing America so much.  I do love it, but I think it needs a reality check.)  Again, this may be an exaggeration: me lost in my euphoria of being in such a different place than I’ve ever been.  But it is true that I’ve never felt so welcome.  People here have been exceptionally nice, trying hard to accommodate and communicate with us.  And just to reiterate about Dharavi, for people who have nothing, they have everything.  I cannot overemphasize my respect for them.  They understand physical possessions and wanting more, more, more are not the keys to a full life, but friendship, love and hard work are.

I know I write as if Mumbai is heavenly, like it has no imperfections, but of course that isn’t true.  Nothing is perfect unless it realizes and accepts its imperfections.  It seems as though Mumbai is on its way to “perfection,” but it still has a long journey ahead.  I cannot wait to see what Mumbai has in store for me in the week ahead.  Here I come Red Chillies Entertainment, and here I come SRK!  Get ready.

Sincerely

A Storyteller in Heaven

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After only a week or so here in Mumbai, I’ve experienced more things than I ever thought imaginable. While thinking about a correlation between all we have done so far, three words came to mind: sweat, sand, and soul.

Here in Mumbai, all you have to do is stand around and you’ll be sweating. It’s no wonder most people here stay so thin! I’ve played sports all my life so I’m used to getting sweaty, but never have I sweat like I did during our Bollywood dance class. Regardless of my sweat soaked clothes, that class was one of the best times of my life!

The crew after we filmed our dance routine! We gave our instructors Newhouse shades as a thank you.

Just yesterday I wore jeans for the first time figuring if everyone else can do it, so can I! I was wrong. I couldn’t get the heat off my mind and the sweat continually emanated from my body. Even though I’m not used to wearing pants in such hot weather, it’s actually better for you because it traps in the cooler air.

Driving through Mumbai, I couldn’t help but notice how everywhere you look there was hardly any vegetation or grass. This is due to the never-ending construction occurring here. One side of the street may have a new apartment complex in the works while the other side of the street is piled high with stones for repairs. So what has taken the place of the luscious grass we’re so used to seeing in the states? Sand – and no it’s not that soft and inviting sand you find at a beach.

The sand takes over the shops, the rickshaws, and even the people. Getting sandy feet and hands are inevitable, and trust me, sand and sweat are not a comfortable mix. Additionally, most products displayed outside must be dusted everyday. I want to so badly give the children here a yard to play in so they’re not running around in the sand barefoot.

The biggest thing I have taken away from my first week here is that the people truly put their heart and soul into not just their work, but their culture and beliefs as well. When we visited Dharavi, one of the largest slums in Asia, I was finally able to understand that this is not poverty, but a lifestyle enriched by culture rather than material objects. They don’t bother with petty complaints about the sand and sweat.

I’ve met more friendly and loving souls here in Mumbai than I would in a month spent back home. What many people do here to support their families and keep themselves prospering is very admirable.

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