Mumbai : the beach and life in India (2011)
That afternoon I decided to visit Juhu beach on the west of the city which is located on the shores of the Arabian Sea and stretches for six kilometers. Many celebrities live in the area and its a sought after destination for shooting films. There is a food court at its main entrance famous for its 'Mumbai style' street food.
It was really nice and although a popular tourist destination, there were very few tourists, the majority of the people were locals who were engaging in all kinds of activities. Playing cricket, soccer, bathing in the sea (which we were advised not to, as its supposed to be very dirty, skin disease might be the result), even women with their saris bathing, people chilling, families, guys trying to sell stuff, kids coming to beg, women making henna tattoos, small kites on the air and the Mumbai skyline on the horizon... the soft breeze was refreshing and we walked enjoying ourselves. Out of the blue a guy stopped and said he liked us, so he put his friend to take a photo of us with him. This is a common scene in India which will happen to you numerous times everywhere.
It seems that the beach is a popular destination for couples, privacy is not easily found in India.
Bamboo is the way to go high up when working and restoring old buildings, you can see there are no safety precautions at all.
I was searching for the Prithvi theater, a Bohemian place which we are told gathers all kinds of artistic people. After here and there, we found ourselves into a slum. People were very friendly to us, smiling and laughing and a kid was calling me uncle. They gave us a few directions and greeted us goodbye. Eventually we found the place which was nice indeed, offering food, performances and acting workshops.
Leaving Juhu beach I found a message written on the back of a tricycle going through the mad streets. Decided its time to test my stomach and eat a lot of street food. Picked up a busy stand where people were eating like crazy, an Indian guy stopped us and said that was the best food in India for 15 rupees. And yeah, it was. Firstly some 10 dumplings fried and filled with delicious vegetables.Then another two with some green watery sauce in it and had to eat it all in one bite. For all these we paid 50 rupees (less than one euro) and finally we were offered a treat, another dumpling for each one of us with some spices and more vegetables. Everything was really delicious and my stomach took it pretty well. Afterwards visited a small bakery and bought a nice croissant filled with cheese and garlic, so yummy! Compared to the street food the croissant was a bit more expensive, 40 rupees, around 60 cents of a euro.
That morning the housemaid came with her youngest daughter. She was really sweet and managed to snap some photos.
Later that night I found out from Natasha that the maid had 4 daughters and was waiting to have a son. Her husband was an alcoholic who didn't care at all about the kids, she was working as a maid for Natasha and another house, trying to provide a better life for her kids. She was sending all four of them to school. The last daughter she had they couldn't raise her due to lack of money, they gave her to some relatives. And then she became pregnant again, thus the small child who came today was born. And they were now waiting for a son... Natashas' mother had spoken to her that this is stupid and she shouldn't go forward with trying to get another child. Together with the other family they are paying for all the schooling expenses of the 4 kids and their books. For their food sometimes too. And of course, the salary as well.
Another girl came to do manikiur and massage to the girls. She got paid a total of 500 rupees for a few hours of work, the money some others are taking for a months hard labour. She was educated, knew English and was working in a beauty parlor in the past. Then she got married and now worked in this way visiting houses and giving beauty treatments and massage, working a few hours and earning a respectable amount of money. Was around 20+ years old and lucky because her husband was a good man, they were living in an apartment and not a slum, she was happy. And you could actually see it in her smile. She was lovely, every time she talked she shook her head, an expression I would see all over India and I found it very cute.
Connections between people remain strong in India, even between neighbors living in a block of apartments. But is is mostly in the slam that it's all about the community. Some people get so used to it, that even after getting a good job, they continue to live in the slum and support their families and community. In the apartment blocks is the same, everybody will help everybody if needed. If your internet connection is down, you will go to your neighbor downstairs to use her computer. If you have no water, same. If you have no food, your neighbors will give you.
At night I went out with Natasha and a friend of hers, they were doing together a "make of" project for a film. Such an interesting guy, told me more than I ever knew about the economic system in India, his thoughts about the Greek economy etc. He was young, working in a bank on the credit sales. He seemed to have trouble with his girlfriend who has arranged a skype meeting and he was late into it. After letting him off at his place I wondered around with Natasha for many hours with some of the most rewarding conversations ever.
In India family relations are extremely strong. Everybody will stay with their parents until they get married. Once this happens usually the girl will go stay with the guy, together with his family. But not on the northeast of India, where the society is still matriarchal. There the women have the upper hand, after the marriage the guys last name changes into the brides one. Women have the responsibilities and take actions, while on the rest of India is usually the opposite. Normally in India, a girls life ends when she gets married. Meaning that if she was working (always in a city, as in villages most of the girls don't go to school, education is not necessary, they stay indoors and only learn how to cook and do household chores), she will quit her job and devote herself to her husband and raising kids. She will not need the job because the husband will support her. What if this goes wrong and there are marriage problems...? They have to live with it, try to fix the problems. This is an idea that I would get more often in conversations about the matter with other people in other parts of India. Divorces are extremely rare and are supposed to be a shame. They happen only in the big cities and usually with wealthy families. What if the husband dies? The girl becomes a widow, shaves her head and abandons life as she knows it, enters a "widows" monastery and stays there for the rest of her life [saw one of these later on, in Varanasi].
As in many places especially in the countryside, weddings are prearranged the day the child is born. For the girls, they get married sometimes at the age of 8-10. Some of them become widows at the age of 12-14. They get punished in exile for something they have never done, or understand. If the girl tries to marry somebody else, or is suspected to be seeing somebody else than the prearranged person, usually results to an honor killing, her father or brothers will kill her to restore the honor of the family. These kind of incidents happens a lot. Normally its forbidden by the law, but nobody speaks about it, so it goes like that, unpunished.
The girl who stays all day home learning to cook and clean, is forbidden to leave the house. Further more, when she gets married, she is forbidden to go anywhere without her husband. Her husband will be the only one man and person in her life. As a result, girls are a burden for many families. Doctors in India are forbidden to say the sex of the child which is to be born, because in some cases if its a girl, she will be killed after the birth on a special ceremony. The way they do it is by filling a big pot with milk, once the baby girl is born they throw her inside there and the baby drowns herself. Everything is arranged. So now doctors keep the sex of the child secret, a family will know only when the child is born. Families who can't support kids, will continue having kids until a son is born. Like the maid whose kid I photographed. And some of these kids will be given away, in the best scenarios to relatives, in the worst scenarios, who knows...
Respect for the parents is on the highest scale in India. You will do as your parents tell you, no matter what. If they tell you that you get married, you do. If they are to kill you for dishonor, you die. You will never go against their will, you will never argue hard with them. And you will need to take care of them when they grow old, anyway you can. My host had hosted a Greek guy (named Vangelis) who came to India because when he was studying in the UK he had an Indian girlfriend. They were together for years, but then the parents of the girl found out and told her its impossible for her to marry somebody who is not Indian. They told her to quit her studies and go back to India to get married to a person they had arranged. And she did. Just said goodbye to him and went back. So Vangelis came all the way to India to find her and try to change her mind, to let her family forever and go marry him and live together. She didn't. Her parents will was her first priority. So Vangelis left to go back to the UK with a broken heart and a lost love.
Which is the best...? Somewhere in the middle. India is changing. It is not good to loose the culture, but not when it is going against the will of the people and makes them unhappy. People, especially women, must have a choice. In big cities movements are on the rise, the youth starts slowly slowly to open up their minds, and their parents too. But its a very slow process. Little by little though, big steps happen.
About the terrorist attacks that happened in Mumbai back in 2008. Militants had taken control of the city for three days shooting people indiscriminately and blowing up parts of the city, targeting mostly tourists. Around 160 people got killed and double than that wounded. The age of the militants? 16 years old kids. All of them. They were ten in number, nine got killed, one was captured and is still in jail in India. When that kid was captured, he shared his story. How his poor family sold him to the recruiters for missions like this when he was 9 years old and was in a military camp in some mountains ever since, training for that single mission. While the attacks were going on, they could hear what they were saying in their radios, they have the clips. At some point the militants were thirsty, they didn't know how to open the tap water to drink. They were commenting on the buildings, how they looked, the ceiling, the television sets. It was clear that those kids, who were now taking down one of the biggest cities in India, shooting and killing people, had been living a life in confinement, deprived of any other connection with the outer world. How many of these kids still exist in camps like that, I wonder...
Natasha told me about how much she changed by traveling and how different she is viewing things and life after coming back to India. She went to Australia and came back to India just to see her dog who was 15 years old and she loved him so much. Then she went back to continue traveling in New Zealand, and during that time her dog passed away. It still hurt and she told me if she ever got another dog it would be after a long time, she still couldn't get over it. I could feel the love for her passed away dog, by the way she reacted to all the stray dogs on the streets. In New Zealand she met a hippie guy through couchsurfing, he was walking barefoot everywhere and was always very calm. Eventually she stayed at his place and then went into the mountains to a nice community, where she joined a juggling circus group. She stayed with them and went to a juggling festival which she loved it. And after that she hitched her way all over the country alone... inspiration!
GPS coordinates for places in this post, click on them to be redirected to the exact point in google maps. Click on the names to be redirected to their official websites (if applicable).
Juhu beach: 19°05'51.4"N 72°49'34.7"E
Prithvi Theater: 19°06'21.5"N 72°49'32.6"E
Click below to read the connected previous and next post:
Mumbai touchdown, friends, trains and dabbawalas
Mumbai: cows, coconuts and slum kids
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