Category Archives: LIFE

Mumbai: Stuck in the Middle

When you step off the plane at Mumbai’s sleek international airport, a few things immediately happen:

One, you’re instantly overwhelmed by the city’s scale. Before stepping out of the terminal, you get a sense for just how massive the experience that awaits you is. After all, this is a megacity of 25 million people crammed into a space that’s half the size of London. If you’re used to the New York minute, the Mumbai minute will take you by storm.

Two, the coexistence of massive wealth and massive poverty. The flashy logos of Gucci and Louis Vuitton live alongside children begging for scraps of food. Walking through Bandra, you can book an ultra-luxurious hotel room at the world-class Taj Land’s End Hotel only to see families living in tin shacks not half a block away.

Three, Mumbai stimulates the five senses and doesn’t let go. The smells of freshly fried street food, the purring of rickshaws weaving through otherworldly traffic jams, and the vibrant colors seem to echo into all parts of this global city.

For me, I was hit by one more thing– the notion that I was arriving in a city where I was neither a tourist or a local. As I observed my surroundings, I thought back to comedian Aziz Ansari’s piece in The New York Times where he describes a trip to his ancestral home city of Trivandrum. He recalls being stuck in the middle of two cultures. The India he identifies with is a country he’s never lived in, only one he hears about through stories, relatives, and artifacts.

I, like Ansari, grew up with an Indian name, with Indian parents, in a household where Indian languages were regularly spoken and Indian food was regularly consumed. But there I was in a coffee shop in central Mumbai, in India’s most cosmopolitan city, and I felt lost. I wasn’t an outside observer with no knowledge of the country and its customs but I was in no way a Mumbaikar.

“Sure, I appear Indian, but my clothes and sneakers were clearly American. Even in India, I was kind of an outsider.”

Aziz Ansari, The New York Times

I was stuck in the middle.

A whirlwind of thoughts flooded my brain. Just because I have Indian heritage, does that allow me to critique the country’s practices? Since I stuck out as an American simply by the way I walk, does that mean I don’t belong here? That I’ll never truly fit in? That even if I dive deep into my roots, staying in flats and eating the cuisine I grew up on, I would still be viewed as a foreigner?

I wrestled with these questions on my flight home and I continue to do so to this day. It’s bizarre to see New York on one side of your boarding card, Mumbai on the other, and knowing that home lies somewhere in the middle.

Drink the world in Downtown Syracuse

By Rohan:

Step into Wolff’s Biergarten on Montgomery Street and all of a sudden, you are transported from a chilly Syracuse evening to a festive indoor biergarten. The space is complete with the signature wooden tables, flags from Germany’s provinces, and passionate soccer fans leaving their worries at the door in exchange for a pint of Hofbrau München and a good time with friends.

When I walked into Wolff’s this weekend, I felt like I was back at Munich, knocking back a beer under a starry night in the English Gardens. For a city its size, Syracuse is home to an abundance of international restaurants and bars. Last night, I was determined to see it all; to taste the world without leaving downtown.

From Wolff’s, we headed over to Benjamin’s across from the famed Italian eatery Pastabilities. We traded our jolly German digs for a speakeasy themed to the heroes of the American Revolution. The walls are adorned with portraits of Franklin, Jefferson, and Hamilton. A giant replica of the Constitution welcomes patrons as they relax on the outdoor courtyard and marvel at the night sky.

Just down the street is Kitty Hoynes, a pub that serves as a testament to the strong Irish population in the Syracuse area. Stepping in through that threshold, I was whisked away to festive evenings in Dublin’s Temple Bar district. A duo performed classic Irish tunes onstage as locals gathered around, cradling glasses of dark, frothy Guinness as they celebrated life with complete strangers.

My friend and I smiled as we watched a gorgeous spring day turn into a chilly winter night. We marveled at the great Irish artists that plastered the walls, from Yeats to Joyce to Bono. The cold mugginess was suddenly normalized. We were in Dublin, a city that fights grey skies with good times. Last night, Syracuse proved to do just the same.

A Sixteen Year Old’s Perspective On What Travel Has Done For Her

By Sathya:

“The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.” Christopher McCandless.

Travel is the ultimate source of happiness in my life, and has been since I was ten months old.  My first airplane ride was an international, 17 hour flight from Mumbai to Newark.  As I grew up, while most parents let their kids travel the world through Disney’s Epcot, I was exposed to it all firsthand.  From exploring the cultures of Cambodia and Thailand, at the mere age of five, I was impressionable and absorbed as much of the experience as possible.  Starting at such a young age till now, I have been exposed to other customs, and have been guided by my mother on safe travels.  Embarking on these journeys has put a level, enriched and aware head on my shoulders to help guide me through everyday life.  The joy in my personal life enhanced through world travel has changed my horizon to be a more culturally empowered young woman with an enriched appreciation and understanding of world culture and diversity.

Traveling always brings a sense of fear, but overcoming the moments of anxiety are what make lasting, positive impressions.  Self-protection, caution, and responsibility are necessary traits when exploring unfamiliar parts of the world.  At age 13, I was in charge of my 11-year-old cousin, as we raced ahead of our parents to climb Mt. Vesuvius.  That same year, while navigating through the Tokyo subway, I ran ahead of my mother and sister, Siddhi, eager to catch the stationed train.  Disregarding my mother’s shouts for me to slow down, I found the goal of catching the train far more appealing.  Finally, feeling accomplished I dove into the car just as the doors shut swiftly.  I let out a breath of relief, but shock quickly took over me. My mother and sister were staring frantically at the train, seeing me trapped on the other side.  Luckily I had jumped into the first car and the conductor soon saw my mom waving her hand trying to get his attention, and he immediately opened the doors.  I instantly ran into my mother’s arms and clung to her as a wave of immense relief flooded through me.  The severity of the situation hit me soon after.  A series of possible dangerous situations overwhelmed my mind, “What if she hadn’t been able to get to the train driver? Would anyone have helped me?”  I was in a foreign country,  I did not speak the local language, I had no cellphone, and I had no clue as to what I should have done if the driver had not stopped the train.  Later my mother explained how important it was, especially overseas, to make sure I stayed close to her at all times.  Furthermore, she told me how if this were to ever happen again, I needed to get off at the next stop and wait for her to come find me.  Although this experience proved to be frightening at this age, I gained clarity and insight.  I had let my excitement land me in a potentially dangerous situation, and from that point on I can say that I’ve become empowered and stronger in my sense of self-control and patience in frightening situations.

Every country has its unique customs and cultures and people who see the world in a different light than others.  Obviously there are certain elements of danger in every area of the world. I’ve seen many dangerous boroughs in cities; the red light district of Amsterdam, the favelas of Brazil, places that I would not have liked to stray through for too long.  Naturally, traveling as three women around the world, my family has often heard, “aren’t you afraid for your safety without a man traveling with you?” more times than we can count.  Despite this, our trio has been more than capable of exploring nooks and corners of cities from Cairo to Hong Kong.  One incident that we encountered on our travels stands out more than others in leaving an imprint on my personality.  In Istanbul, Turkey in the Summer of 2011, I began to understand how each country had differing opinions of a woman’s place in society.  In Turkey, I heard a comment so shamelessly stated that I had to turn around to make sure I had heard the man correctly.  As my mother walked hand in hand with Siddhi and I (who were 12 and 17,  respectively), through the streets of Istanbul back to our hotel, a boy in his 20’s approached, asking if my mother would sleep with him.  I was absolutely shocked at the boy’s smirk, a smug grin plastered to his face as his friends chuckled from the side of the road.  My mother did not let the comment faze her, as she continued pushing through the crowd, avoiding eye-contact and any facial expression that would reveal her disgust, pulling us along with her.  Later, a few blocks past the boys my mother first tried to explain to me that they were simply asking if we wanted a free hotel room.  Siddhi and I simply raised our eyebrows and my mother realized we knew exactly what he had meant.  I learned that day, that not everyone held the same beliefs about women.  I had heard of “ roadside romeos” before, but I never thought I would experience their shameless acts.  In some areas, woman unfortunately have to restrict what they say in order to not attract unwanted attention.  As horrible as what that man said was, it opened my eyes to a new side of the world, a world with disrespect.  I gained a dose of reality and also became more conscious of the wrongs in the world that I may have overlooked previously with my naive outlook.  This practical knowledge made me smarter, more attentive, more alert, and more aware.

I have explored so much of the world in my short 16 years, and plan to continue to do so.  The encounters in each country and dealing with other social settings have molded me into a more well-informed young woman who is mindful of her actions.  From observing the fear of Tibetan monks afraid of Chinese oppression in their own homes to kids joyfully melding work and play on the streets of Cambodia, the many shades of humanity never cease to amaze me.

“The very basic core of a woman’s living spirit is her passion for adventure.” Christopher McCandless.  My journeys have taught me this and will continue to weave distinguishing characteristics into my personality as an empowered young woman.