It's been almost two months now, and this morning as I sit on my balcony the rain is pouring down in heavy sheets. This is the first time it's rained since my first week, and the smell of almost two months of accumulate dust wafts up to me. I mop the floor here three times a week to keep it clean, but it's usually not enough.
Sometimes Mumbai is completely overwhelming. Making my way through crowds of 20 million people (give or take) heading all over the city, up and down the train lines, into the market, out of the market, weaving in and out of faded lane divisions on the roads - it seems endless. Sometimes I get tired and am happy to close my apartment door and knit all evening. But I also love it. People here are living their lives side by side - on the streets, in the train cars - and that's part of what makes it such a special place.
The other day I took an all-women's train. Most trains here have 3 or 4 cars reserved only for women, as well as special compartments reserved for the elderly, and for cancer patients. But this was an entire 12-car train running at rush hour and reserved only for women. It was exciting, being in that kind of space. It reminded me of the gendered areas in Israel, which cause such tension with their strict divide between men and women. Not that I don't love the women's section at the Kotel, because I do, but here it's different - the focus is on the women's safety and comfort, as opposed to keeping men and women separate. The women here seem to have a certain type of fighting spirit. In the West we often assume women from less-Western societies to be oppressed and disempowered, and while there are for sure many issues here surrounding women in society, the strength of the women around me is really inspiring.
Last week I woke up in my apartment on my mostly middle class and Hindu street in Mahim, got on a packed train car, and got off downtown in an area called Churchgate. I walked through manicured parks, and busy market streets, past elaborate architectural relics left over by the British, and by entire families sleeping on the street. I stopped in at my favourite yarn shop, a whole-in-the-wall where you stand in one spot and try to explain to the girls that work there what colour you're looking for, and then they fetch it out of large plastic bags and weigh it on a scale. I went into a Starbucks and sat on air-conditioned leather couches surrounded by expats and international business men, before getting back on the train and getting off at the the non-profit where I work.
And that's what's so exciting about Mumbai, is that something is happening everywhere, and everywhere it's completely different. So many different narratives, all taking place within the same landscape. I wouldn't call them contradictions, they just fit together. Just like running across a busy street with traffic coming from all directions, somehow it just works.