Tag Archives: Reflections

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.

Can an airport inspire poetry? Heathrow sure does!

By Rohan:
A little girl plays with her mother’s hair.
She twirls it in one arm and lets it go like a wind-up toy.

Her hazel eyes gaze into the window of a Harrods, the store’s iconic bear staring back at her.
She’s enchanted by the plush toy, hypnotized.
 
Next to the family is an older man, probably Spanish or Portuguese. 
His cardigan suggests he was once a professor but his face resembles that of an artist, a Picasso or a Neruda. 
His arms are crossed, a worn messenger bag is tucked between his feet. 
On his right arm is a bracelet. 
A memento from a grandchild or a reminder of a distant friend. A friend that might be waiting on the other end of his boarding pass.
 
Next to him, an Indian woman. 
Her intricate earrings match the pattern on her sari, her solemn eyes stare wistfully into the distance.
She’s looking for someone, thinking about someone. Her feet rest on her suitcase. Feet that show experience like rings on a tree. 
 
I’m just a fish in the ocean.
The fly on the wall.
The traveler in the airport.
 
After six hours here, I’ve stopped seeing people.
I only see stories.
They may not be true, but they’re real.
They’re screaming.
They’re everywhere.
 
For this is Heathrow, the world’s truly international airport.

Life reflections at the Reflection Pool in Madrid

 

By Rohan:

I am not religious by nature. I was never forced to abide by my parents’ religious beliefs and I try to learn about all faiths to gain a greater understanding of people. It recently occurred to me that I’m a very spiritual person. Not spiritual in the sense that I look to the stars for my future, spiritual in the sense that I am aware of life’s mysteries and believe that not all of them can be solved with science.

I’m currently sitting at the Parque de Oeste in Madrid. It’s a peaceful evening. The full moon looms overhead, acting as a spotlight on one of Europe’s liveliest capitals. It’s relatively quiet. Only the shutters of tourists’ cameras and faint sound of dying evening traffic are able to disrupt the still reflection pool at the Templo de Debod. Most visitors come here to see the sunset, but they only get half of the story. While dusk provides dramatic vistas of the city with skies that seem to be painted in dreamy shades of blue, there’s something oddly calming about nights here.

I turn around to the Plaza de España. In the distance, I hear a few street performers crooning. The moon stares right back, its light causing the Royal Palace to glow. Today reminded me that everyday life is tumultuous. We’re constantly worrying about what’s next, who we have to impress, where we have to go. In the words of Ferris Bueller, “life moves pretty fast, if you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you might miss it”. Much like life, travel can be hectic. My friends and I all have a myriad of things to do before our semester abroad comes to a close. Today’s visit to the temple taught me something. Life isn’t about the main event. We spend so much time fixating on it that we forget how beautiful everything around us is. We all lead hectic lives with jobs, school, family, and friends taking over most of our decision making. It doesn’t hurt to take an evening to appreciate everything. To look into the still waters of a reflection pool and find peace, even if it’s in the heart of the city.