Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Do Talk to Strangers

So a little delayed in publishing this one but still wanted to share.

As I write this, fireworks are booming outside my apartment. Another pop comes from the street. Why are there fireworks being lit at 9:51 pm on a Wednesday night in September? Ganesh has visited Bombay for the past 10 days. Tonight he is heading to the sea. His energy will remain with the families who honored him but his physical form will disappear (or so we hope) into the sea. If you wanna learn more about Gapati and how it's celebrated in the state I live, you can read about it here.

Today we had a half day of school to celebrate the final day of Ganpati.

A friend and I went to the suburb to the North, Juhu, during the early afternoon to see Ganesh immersions. At this time of day, there were mostly small Ganeshas being brought down to the beach from their homes.

Families invited us to join their prayers and songs. They shared their sweets with us too. 

A sandal broke.  Mine were sticking to the sand too and I didn't want my precious Havaianas to break; so I slipped off my flipflops too. We walked barefoot along the beach that was covered with Ganeshas, dirty diapers, and empty backpacks. The human impact was balanced by snails, hermit crabs and shells. And Mom, because I know you're reading this, I've been feeling great so no need to worry.

People stopped to tell us the story of Ganesh just in case we didn't already know. We did; it's been shared before, but I appreciated their wanting us to truly understand the celebrations around us.

I made sure to find a Ganesha that had washed back up onto the beach. I knelt down and whispered in my wish into his ear. I'll take his help to remove any obstacles in the way of my wish.

When we left the beach, the energy was just beginning to build.

Driving back into Bandra, I was reminded again of all the smiles and invitations we got from strangers to participate in their celebrations which reminded me how important connecting with India is. How inviting everyone is, even to me, a complete stranger. Time to share some highlights before I wind up sounding even more cliche than I already do.

A few highlights (which really means photos I like accompanied by some Ganpati music)...

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Drive Slow! Life is Not a Race.

One of the things I wanted to do when I purchased my new car was to drive myself to school in the mornings.

When I bought my cute white car, which still remains nameless, it came with manual transmission. In most countries outside the US, manual transmissions are cheaper and a lot more common than automatic.

Until I bought the car 3 weeks ago, I'd never driven manual. Not in Drivers Ed. Not in some ancient or enormous car my dad made me drive. Not in a one of the countries I've lived in. Nope. Never.

In Mumbai, you have to remember, we don't have grocery store parking lots. We don't have school parking lots. We don't have open roads. We have 20+ million people living in a city whose roads include cars and trucks. There are double decker buses and motorcycles.  Rickshaws and bicycles carrying deliveries. There are men carrying baskets on their heads filled with yummy food and fruit vendors pushing their carts. Oh yeah, I didn't even mention all the pedestrians.

I also haven't mentioned the quantity of speed bumps, pot holes and other potential road obstacles.

I knew I'd need to practice driving stick to reach my goal.  I asked if my friend Martin, who's been my car guide along the way, would give me some driving lessons. He agreed and my good friend Shannon asked if she could crash the lesson (figuratively).

Today's lessons would be in Bandra along Carter Road which stretches around the Arabian Sea in Bandra and other suburbs. Our focus would be to practice manual by driving in real Mumbai. Okay, I should be honest. It's more like semi-realistic because Sunday mornings in Mumbai are quiet and a small percentage of the 20+ million are out in the streets.

Martin pulled the car over to the side of Carter Road. I was up first. Before today's lesson, I'd done a bit of a little blended learning about driving stick (which really means watching YouTube videos and reading a few online tutorials) just to make sure I was up to speed since lesson #1 was about 3 weeks ago.

I didn't kill the car the first time I pulled away. I just almost hit a rickshaw. As I was busy watching for traffic from behind and concentrating on making sure I had the clutch pushed down, the transmission in first gear and was working on the finding the balance between the gas and clutch, I hadn't thought about the left side of my car one bit.

One of the things that adds an extra challenge as an American learning to drive anything in Mumbai is you're driving on the opposite side of the car and road. Oops. Forgot about that. Luckily my Driver's Ed teacher (Martin) pushed the steering wheel away from the rickshaw so we didn't get off to a crashing start on driving lesson #2.

Other lesson highlights:

  • My Driver's Ed teacher only had to push the wheel a couple more times to make sure I didn't hit any people and vehicles.
  • I drove like a grandma or my first driver here who let everyone/thing else have the right away. Luckily my teacher knew I'd be annoyed at the comparison so I'm definitely more (read that as a little) aggressive than I first was.
  • Being in the backseat you realize just how challenging the other side of the road driving is.
Driving range #1 in Bandra (two blocks of open road)
    • Our driving instructor gives lots of positive reinforcement. 
    • My fellow student is also really encouraging even when you almost hit something. She only made one noise for a close call.
    • Having your Driver's Ed teacher drive you to Starbucks in Juhu for completing lesson #2 is the perfect reward.
    I did have a few minutes where I felt like maybe I had it. Maybe I could really drive in Bombay. I drove into a very crowded fishing village area. I had to pass through narrow lanes. I had to navigate lots of people, trucks and rickshaws. This meant lots of slowing down which when you're learning to drive manual can be one of the hardest parts. I don't think I stalled the car once.  If I did, I can't remember because I was so worried avoiding people or other things. Shannon and Martin, please don't tell me if I did stall because I just wanna remember my awesomeness.

    I'm getting better. It's about learning to find the friction point and the place where the engine wants to bite without causing the car to shake, stall or lurch to a stop so much. I also need to work on the added layer of being a little more aggressive like my fellow Mumbaikers. And I need to work on that final layer of sharing the road with all my Mumbai "friends" (which I refer to as anything else on the road). So, really, I need to work on everything.

    Shannon and I have plans for Sunday Driver's Ed to continue. We figure if we can make it on our own to the Juhu Starbucks, then we've passed.

    For now, I'm embracing the sign on the left.
    Go Granny go!

    Sunday, September 8, 2013

    Puja My Ride

    So the big news so far for me in year three is I bought a car. About 3 weeks ago I purchased a used car. For the few car enthusiasts, who may read my blog (I don't think there's a single one) I bought a 2010 Hyundai i20.

    In India, it's common when you purchase a new car to perform a puja or blessing. My good friend Khush asked if I was going to perform a puja. Me, being me asked, "Well should I?" and of course, Khush being Khush said yes. She said it would give the car good luck for me and take away any previous bad luck.

    Khush said I should bring an egg to school and that she could help me with the rest. I wondered about an egg because having had a car egged before, I'm well aware of the damage that can happen when egg meets car paint. When I questioned it, she said, which now in hindsight is kinda obvious, that we wouldn't get it on the car. Of course not! Just it's just the combo that surprised me.

    So two weeks ago on a Thursday during our lunch, chosen because it was an auspicious day and well I wanted my car, Khush and I descended down to the basement of the school.  The elevator doors opened and we exited to the dark and damp basement. Surprisingly there was more going on than parked cars. Men working, lots of machinery and a couple of school security guards sat watch. I saw my car parked further away toward a far wall. We brought the egg and other items over to it. Khush set them all out nearby a pillar on the ground.

    Then we started the blessing during which Khush not only served as the puja priestess but also my photographer.

    First I tied a flower garland of jasmine and marigolds onto the front grill. Easer said than done!

    Next Khush said to, "Take the egg around the car five times." To me that meant to walk the egg
    around the car five times. As I started my first of five laps, Khush laughed and said, "No. Stand
    in front of the car and twirl it around five times." As I did it, I had to think about all the bad things
    being removed from the car. Then I took it over to a grate and smashed it to truly rid it of all the
    previous bad car karma.
    Next I sprinkled flower petals under the tires of the car to just make sure, when we left the parking garage,
    all of the bad influences would be rolled over and left behind. 

    Then Khush told me to bless the car, I'd smash a coconut on the ground and then sprinkle the
    water from it onto the car. Having never done this I asked about how I should proceed. She said, "You just
    smash it." So I did. As you can tell from the action shot, I used a little too much force. I completely
    smashed it; loosing all the water onto the basement floor.
    A good priestess however, says, "Don't worry about it. Just still wave it over your car and
    think lots of positive thoughts." While you're thinking this, she also chants, "Positive thoughts.
    Positive thoughts," just in case you were feeling worried about loosing the
    precious coconut water.
    Finally, you light some incense with help from your puja priestess. I twirled them in a clockwise
    circle five times around the car again thinking lots of positive car thoughts like, "Smooth driving.
    Parts are working smoothly. Positive people and fun times. Just don't let anything break this week!"

    My blessed car!
    About 15 minutes in all from the 3rd floor to the basement to the puja and back up.

    I really appreciate Khush for all her help with this. Not just because so much of her doing it but taking time of of her hectic day to organize it, schlep down to the basement with me during lunch and just making my new car purchase special. My car and I both feel very blessed.

    Thursday, September 5, 2013


    It's been just about 6 weeks since I landed back in Bombay to start year three.

    The third year in any place is like returning home. You know where you can find Pizza Villa and what time the J closes. You know exactly how to get from your friend's parents' house to Ollie's. You know where you can get a great view of the fireworks on the 4th of July but without the traffic at Hopkins Park.

    For anyone who's moved anywhere, away from "home." Those first two years is a lot of work. A lot of navigating and bumps in the road. A lot of wrong turns and U-turns. And sometimes there are surprising things that make it more challenging like the road you live on being paved with hot asphalt about 10 minutes before you walk on it in flipflops.

    But year three. The driving is easier. You know how to navigate work and life more easily. Where you need to practice aggressive patience and where you need to occasionally use the horn.

    Year three. Sigh. Year three.

    A bit of a cheesy reflection to my start but it's been good so far.