The last six weeks, a few ups and downs, a handful of stomach illnesses, multiple near-encounters with death by auto rickshaw, and the ease with which I can now board and de-board a moving train overcrowded with people have become like small rites of passage into a world of deeper appreciation for this city. I end my morning run to buy a papaya at the fruit vendor at the end of my street and watch the two hawks, who seem to have made a home in my backyard, soar above me as I walk up the little hill to my apartment. The papaya tastes like the best thing I’ve ever eaten even though I thought the same thing about the papaya I ate just yesterday. There’s a faint sound of Bollywood music coming from the guard station nearby while the jungle of birds and animals outside my window greets the morning with the most bizarre and exotic sounds. For a split second it hits me: I live in India. I don’t feel like a visitor anymore.
When asked to recall the most recent shocking thing I’ve experienced here, all I can think of is how continually surprised I am at how little I am shocked by anything anymore. From a wary tourist, to an disquieted transplant, to a relatively settled resident…the process of growing into a life in Mumbai has been as unexpectedly refreshing as waking up to a cool drift of fresh air blowing through your window in the morning (Something that, incidentally, never happens here)
The “re-fresh” is of a different nature in Mumbai. Every day here will simultaneously empty and fill your soul with an experience that will most likely reorient any preconception or perception you have of the world. Incredibly refreshing! Being a part of this city is recognizing on a daily basis that you are part of something much larger than yourself. One cannot live here and last long in the illusion of “I”. That constant reminder is both enlightening and very humbling. I’ve realized that very little can really be gained or lost under your own power as the forces moving the city are far beyond your control. So you learn to accept it and work with what is within your control in respect to others around you who are also so very evidently working to do the same.
On the face of it, Mumbai is a harsh and unforgiving place, but the transparency with which every level of society coexists bears witness to a sort of unspoken solidarity between living things. Street dogs treat humans as members of their pack, goats placidly walk amidst peak hour crowds of people, cars yield to cows in traffic, families share their shelters with local cats, clusters of small children make a playground out of anything, young people without hesitation offer their seat to their elders under any condition, strangers share snacks with each other on the train. Inconceivable pluralities of different types, sharing the same physical space, dissolve any lines of segregation or isolation.
Inequities abound. Suffering is explicit. All the stories you read about the living conditions of the poor are true. Accepting this as it is made apparent to me every day is not an act of denial or a consequence of becoming numb (as I feared it would be). It’s being always aware, but remaining unaffected; being vigilant and alert, but staying balanced and focused on the present. It is having an understanding of your place in this system and doing the best you can with what you have in it. There is a reason why yoga and meditation are widely practiced here, and there is a reason why I have developed my own practice and start each day before the sun rises, in silence. There is no denying it; it is a wild and happening place. The learning curve is steep and I don’t see it leveling off anytime soon.