Saturday, February 2, 2008

Mumbai It Is

First Impressions of India

Indian cuisine and culture are things that I have grown accustomed to through family friends and reading international news. However, I knew after a few dozen pages into my travelers guide that it would be quite impossible to familiarize myself with "all that is India". The history and culture are simply too rich and deep to understand the quagmire that is India, but the realities of Mumbai offer quite a crash course. Here is what two days of Mumbai has taught me:

My first lesson was taught quite early on as I was still in the Airport. People here know how to deal with crowds. Bumping, pushing, and aggressive maneuvering are all part of the lesson plan, and if you take offense, and they notice, a sorry or excuse me always greets your American urges to bump back! This lesson continues throughout your daily activities as you are never away from loads of traffic, markets, and people. The human density that makes up Mumbai is simply remarkable - 16 million people, no less on an island of course.

The second lesson comes as a result of the first. My teacher was a sign at the hostel I am staying at which is run by Jesuits. The sign tells patrons that water is an extremely valuable resource so it must be used only when needed and that energy is only available from shared outlets outside of rooms. Water and energy are items often taken for granted in the States but here they are resourses that are often discussed in local politics. The amount of people have led to a crunch that is something I have never witnessed before. Infrastructure expenditures are where much of the money is being spent in Mumbai and it is understandable but hotly debated. Roads, bridges, subways are only some of the things being built to ease the immense amount of traffic and the endless commutes through bumper to bumper metal. However, affordable housing is a topic that must be addressed as many sources say 55% of Mumbai's population live in slums. The most famous has more than 1 million people in 1.7 square kilometers.

My third lesson is that India has got a great deal of money coming in and floating around its country in large corporations. A topic I will be writing about later is a development driven enterprise that is called "private-public partnerships" that puts together large corporations and government ministries to run service programs. The amount of growth that is being seen is quite remarkable. Immense bridges, fortune 500 companies, open markets, and bollywood, they all show that wealth is being created, but it appears to be in the hands of the few and surely not reaching the grand majority of Mumbai's population.

My fourth lesson was perhaps the best glimpse into India life. I have never seen religion play such a major role in the life of a city before. It is quite obvious who are mulsim, who are hindu, and who are catholic. Of course other religions are abundant as well. For instance, the Parsi community, which seem to be responsible for much of the philathropic works of the past and present, is always a popular topic of discussion. The impact of religion will be something that I undoubtedly will return to after experiencing more because its impact is immeasurable.

My last lesson is a vital part to understanding India. Indians are extremely friendly and honest people. Every person I have met through the foundation, churches, and families have shown me that hospitality and a friendly demeanor is something that is fundamentally at India's core, but that still does not mean a taxi driver won't try to charge you double!

The lessons will continue and the next post will share more about the organization that I have chosen to include in the project. Check back on Monday.

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