Thursday, November 5, 2009

Acclimating but Not with Grace

I went out on a walk alone yesterday, once my host (from here on I'll call him my friend or by his nickname Titu) showed me a few places on my itinerary by having a taxi drive past them (he's very thoughtful that way).
Bought two varieties of spiced chai at Tea Centre...had a minor (ok somewhat more than minor) panic attack when I was told at their shop that a significant portion of my money was counterfeit! Out of 1500R they would only accept 1 note.
(long story short, found out later that for whatever reason they said so, this was NOT the case, the bills were fine...)

After leaving the Thomas Cook (foreign exchange) office, I walked to some pret-a-porter womens clothing shops where I purchased 2 kurtas (tunics) in plain earth tone fabrics to match the rest of my wardrobe.
I then wandered past University of Mumbai (fabulous architecture there!) and down one side of the maidan (literally "open field") where cricket matches are held.
I ended up in Colaba in a Indian Navy housing area where schools, a Catholic cathedral and lots of those old Victorian era (for my purposes meaning 1890s-1920s) once glorious mansions are crumbling in the tropical heat.
Great for photography!
I lost some of my fears regarding the people and was able to ask questions and answer people more easily when I was addressed.
I made my way to Leopolds where I had a mango lassi and some jeera pulao (cumin rice) for lunch.
Next, shopping at a few street vendors where I bought some paisley stationery with matching envelopes as well as a fabulous dupatta (type of traditional scarf) that matches my wardrobe.
Made a local pay phone call from a PCO (not sure what it stands for) where you put in a 1R coin for each 30 seconds talk time.
Then, hot and mentally wiped out, I found a taxi near the Taj Hotel and was delivered safely back to Titu's home across town for the grand total of 80R (less than $2).

Today I am a bit fatigued...female issues as well as needing some emotional/mental bounce-back time. I learned that I can do everything I need to do, but it is still a bit of an effort and I need some time to regain my interior fortitude before venturing out again.

Personal space/privacy and being able to live inside my own thoughts & feelings is a major issue for me. I am a quiet private person at my being in a noisy over-crowded busy environment where my time is not really my own is a strain.
I just do not process life like so many other people do!
Conversation, especially with strangers, especially when I feel I'm being judged, is very difficult for me. Trying to relate to others whose thought patterns and social expectations are different is EXHAUSTING.
It's not that I find other people offensive, nor do I want to be anti-social. I just know I am not on the same level, I know I am not going to be understood, and I find having to watch what I say/do instead of just being as I am very draining.
I don't want to make a bad impression, but I can't keep up with certain ways of being/doing that I am expected to adhere to in certain circles!

All in all, things are improving. I do not claim to understand the way people interact here, even those of the same family or social status, let alone between classes/castes.

Which reminds me, I should mention, to give those back in the States or other western countries reading this more perspective, that although legally the caste system is no longer adhered to, it is still very much alive.
One small example:
Titu took me to a nice South Indian restaurant for lunch a few days ago where if it's busy you have to share your table with a stranger. While we were eating, a woman wearing elegant clothing and very nice jewelry came and sat at our table. She was very friendly, but after a few pleasantries she flat out asked him "Where is your family from? What is your caste?" and he answered without hesitation, as if it were the most normal question in the world.

This morning we went into a shop. You know, as westerners we walk into a shop and typically pick up what we like for ourselves and take it to the check-out. This was not an upscale shop, just a walk in bakery/mini grocery. But here, the customer tells the shopkeeper what he wants, then the shopkeeper tells an assistant who goes and retrieves it. We asked for bread, and a loaf was put into my hands. I simply thought it was for me to hold, but learned I was supposed to approve its freshness and then say whether it was acceptable!

So so much to learn! Am I truly up to this task? I hate making blunders! I hate looking like a fool! And yet, surely I can't be expected to know...can I?

Tomorrow, once I have rested and balanced out a bit, I plan to walk through a local shopping district here in Malabar Hill and over to Marine Drive...walk along the sea for a little ways...or maybe have Titu's taxi drop me somewhere along the seafront and walk back most if not all of the way...


  1. Thank you for all of the updates-it's quite interesting and I appreciate the feelings your pour out-it makes me feel like I'm there with you-but I'm not that brave!

  2. Glad to hear you are putting yourself out there. It's really the only way to ease some of your fears. Just remember you are doing what I know would be impossible for me and I admire you very much. You give me courage!

  3. Good to see that you are doing better than what you thought you could do earlier!!! Hope you have a great time at the Elephanta Caves.


  4. PCO is an abbreviation for Public Call Office for making telephone calls from a pay phone.