I’ll begin by admitting it has been a long time since I’ve updated my blog. Moving to Mumbai and getting a new life set up here has kept me plenty busy. Moving into a new apartment, figuring out where do I buy groceries and basic household items, and even small things like establishing an entirely new social network. But enough excuses. I’m properly settled in Mumbai… exhale. The initial destination that started it all and what I’ve been prepping for since November 2014. I’m here.
In lieu of providing a detailed recap of my time here I’m going to try and capture what life is like for me. For starters, you have to come to grips with the poverty, the lack of cleanliness (of the streets), and the traffic, . Those are all very real parts of life here and if you can’t accept it, it will be hard to see the more endearing and charming parts of the city. Once you accept those facts, the adventure begins.
I am renting a very nice two bedroom flat on the 6th floor of an apartment building located in an area of Mumbai called Bandra West.
It is an area home to Bollywood stars, beloved cricket players, and in general is a very nice area of the city. However, when picturing it, you can’t compare it to other high end suburbs/buroughs of major cities like a Brooklyn or Georgetown. By Mumbai standards it is a very nice part of the city, and it is extremely lush with large trees and greenery all around. One of the things that I really enjoy about the place I’m renting is with it being on the sixth floor, I’m right at the canopy level of the surrounding trees, so I kind of feel like I’m living in a treehouse.
So let me answer a few common questions I get, or at least I had before coming here.
What’s my commute to work like and how do I get around?
For starters the driving here is absolutely crazy. A three lane road will be stuffed six cars wide. The rules of the road include: use your horn as a sonar and just worry about yourself. I’ve seen plenty of cows, goats, chickens and dogs wandering down extremely busy roadways. But, I haven’t personally had to conquer these elements as I’ve been fortunate to get a car and driver from my company which is fairly standard practice here if you’re an expat. Understanding how this works has been an experience and taken some getting used to (I can hear all the sympathetic teardrops falling softly on the keyboards of friends and family reading this). So wherever I go, my driver goes. I have the same guy day in and day out, Moorthy, and he does a great job. If I have a meeting in South Bombay, he drops me off and is waiting until I call him, showing up within 5 minutes. While I’m at the office, he’s hanging out in the parking garage. He’s where I’m at, until I send him home. I’m not going to lie, it is very nice. But there is a little guilt you initially have to get over, knowing that the guy is just waiting around until he gets a call from you. I’ve gotten over that, and now just enjoy it.
On most evenings and weekends, when I don’t have my driver, then it’s time to grab a rickshaw. These. are. fun. Despite the consistently stagnant traffic, these things get around quickly. And they’re really cheap. You can’t use them to go from my part of town to South Bombay (South Bombay is the old, original, colonial part of Bombay and takes about an hour and 15 minutes to get there without heavy traffic) because they’re actually outlawed in South Bombay. However, they’re great for cruising around Bandra and the adjacent suburbs (I use that term in the Indian sense as this is nothing like any American suburb I’ve seen).
What about the necessities like laundry, cleaning, cooking?
Labor in India is cheap. So if it’s something that is labor intensive, getting someone else to do it is the way to go. After getting a couple recommendations I ended up finding a woman that would both cook and clean for me, five days a week. She also handles the grocery shopping, laundry, and dishwashing. For her to come to my place four hours a day for five days a week it will cost me about $175/month. I’ve never had a maid or a cook, and it is awesome. I’m fully aware that I’m becoming accustomed to a way of life that I won’t be able to replicate when I get back to the States so I’m enjoying it while I can.
Having the household help has been especially important as I work a lot. Currently I work every other Saturday, so when I get a full weekend off I try to take advantage of the local sightseeing.
This past weekend was especially exciting for me. Over four years ago I got my private pilot’s license when I was working in Owensboro, Kentucky. Since that point I’ve been able to enjoy the challenges and freedom that flying affords, often times with my father. It is something that I truly cherish. As I was moving overseas, my Dad and I made the decision to sell our plane, and I didn’t think I was going to be able to continue my hobby while working abroad. But then, at the urging of my father, I did some research and discovered the Bombay Flying Club and a glimmer of hope emerged. After many, many unsuccessful attempts to get a hold of them (for some reason Indian phones do not have voice mail) I got the number of a local pilot that worked at the club and made an appointment to visit this small airfield tucked under the very active Mumbai International Airport. So on a Saturday afternoon, I finally made my way onto the heavily secured Juhu airfield. Arriving at the small building marked Bombay Flying Club, I got a tour of their fleet which include Cessna 172’s, a Piper SuperCub, a Maule, a couple Cirrus’s, and a Cessna 206. I was really impressed by their collection of general aviation single-engine planes. After the tour I sat down with one of the Captain’s and found out the very welcome news that my private pilot’s license from the States is transferable to India. Of course there will be the requisite 4-6 months of bureaucratic paperwork, a written test and a checkride, but it is possible! While the paperwork is ongoing I’ll still be able to take up their planes and familiarize myself with some of their planes I haven’t flown before. All in all it’s great news. So after getting the background on the club, the small airfield is actually the first airport in India being founded in 1928, we went up for an hour flight around the North part of Mumbai. What a way to see the city!
It turned out to be a great afternoon for a flight and it really put me in a welcome mental space for the rest of the weekend.
For those that know India, understand the prevalence and importance of festivals here. They are large, festive, and frequent. This past weekend proved no exception as Sunday was the final day of the Hindu festival, Ganesha Chaturthi. This festival is for the god, Ganesha, and an idol of that god is housed both in a prominent family’s home or a large makeshift temple assembled in a local community or neighborhood. During the time the Ganesha is on display, daily prayers are made to the god which is known as the remover of obstacles. Colorful, intricate flower garlands are wrapped around the idol and changed almost daily while on display. Then after either 1, 1 1/2, 3, 5, 7, or 11 days of hosting the Ganesha, it is taken to a large body of water for the immersion, or returning to Earth. The largest of these immersions occur on the 11th day and the sights and sounds of the festival will sweep you right into the fervor.
So far it is the people and the food that I enjoy most about India. Some of the most gracious and welcoming people I’ve come across, I’ve met here. Additionally, the foods which differ significantly from North to South offer such extraordinary flavors and impressive use of fresh ingredients that the palate is always left wanting to try the next dish. As I was making my way on Sunday towards one of the large immersion spots, Juhu Beach, I was engrossed in the sights, sounds, and people all around. The people were laughing, dancing, hugging, and singing. Processions were led by drummers and troves of dancing men, women, and children. Vivid floral arrangements abounded and faces were covered in bright powders. I felt like I was truly experiencing the magic that India holds.
While walking around with camera I found it quite funny that about every hundred meters or so I would get stopped by a group of men or boys asking me to take a picture of them. More specifically they were either asking for a picture or they just wanted to shake my hand and welcome me to India. I’ll be honest in that during the initial display of enthused kindness I was a bit suspicious, almost expecting that while one person shook my hand, another hand would come from the crowd to pick my pocket. But I didn’t experience anything like that. These were people that were just genuinely excited to see a foreigner celebrating with them, and wanted to share the experience with them. Some of the pictures I took during those requests turned out wonderful so I’ve included them below.
Within the two months I’ve been here I’ve been fortunate to experience a lot and meet some great people, locals and expats alike. However, there is so much more that this country holds and I am certainly looking forward to experiencing them. Until next time!