I don’t mean to resume my the Mumbai story with shopping, especially after talking about Dharavi, but after a long group discussion about our morning, that’s what some of us did. We took a car to the streets of Colaba and started on one end of the street. By the time dinner came into our minds, we’d only gone through half the market. I had dropped money like it was nothing, buying different tapestries, art pieces, and small trinkets. Another girl got the word “sister” carved into a necklace for her (guess who?) sister, but in Hindi letters. The streets buzzed with people and sales; glittering anklets and imitation neck pieces blinded me from food. We finally sat down at a small Indian place, with the satisfied exhaustion that comes from a long day of shopping.
The next morning, we had a presentation on Mumbai’s dabbawalas, who deliver lunch box carriers. Dabbawalas are part of a huge business of collecting lunches from residences and delivering them to the respective worker during lunchtime. Majority dabbawalas are of limited literacy so they’ve created a coding system for themselves. The presenter spoke very passionately about them, showcasing dabbawalas’ dedication, punctuality, and humility. These workers put in physical work for 8-10 hours every day for 6 days of the week almost every day of the year. Their foolproof system allows them to deliver lunch on time to the correct owner every day and return it to the same residence. They carry out their services in extreme weathers and with extreme efficiency, delivering excellent customer service every single day. They have a deep sense of responsibility for their work, knowing that if they are ever late or absent, their customer will not be able to enjoy their home-cooked meal for the day. The gist of the presentation was: Be like Mumbai dabbawalas.
After the presentation, we actually went to the rail station and waited to see dabbawalas at work. We didn’t get to see that much action but did get in contact with some of them waiting for the trains. If anyone’s interested in their work, the film The Lunchbox is a great one. Its storyline is around a dabbawala who mistakenly delivers a housewife’s cooked lunch to another worker and unknowingly allows the two to communicate via letters. We were told Mumbai’s dabbawalas disapproved of the movie, fearing that people would take the “mistake” of the delivery system to be a real-life phenomenon, thus hindering their business. Hahaha. It’s a good film, though.
That afternoon, our group broke off into several directions. Some ended up going to the pride parade, which was rocking, according to them. I missed it because I went to the museum. Name: Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya. Sounds too noble to say aloud. Now, I actually don’t like museums because frankly, I get bored by the quiet atmosphere and looking at things, but this one was poppin. It had a diverse range of galleries, one for natural history, one for Mahatma Gandhi pictures, taken by his nephew, one for textiles, one for miniature paintings!!!! They were so cute!!! And there was this beautiful outdoor area right in front of the entrance to the building.
That night we attended a Dartmouth Alumni + prospective student event. Yes, even in India we will be subject to Dartmouth’s attempts to promote its name. The event was at a microbrewery/ restaurant, owned by a married couple from Dartmouth. Our professor gave a small speech about urban space in Mumbai, followed by a very nice dinner. We meet Geeta, co-owner of the the restaurant, who’s currently a journalist for the New York Times (?). We’ll be seeing her again in a couple weeks here in Hyderabad. She has such a youthful personality! I talked with her for maybe 20 minutes total but she just makes everyone feel cheerful.
(I just thought of something that I forgot to mention way way way earlier this blog series: these aren’t meant to be highly interactive. At times, it sounds like we did this and that this one day and then saw that and ate that. And I try to convey the history or the impact of a trip as much as possible but really, this series is like a mindless travel blog diary with pictures and stupid accounts of my travels. So enjoy!!!)
Dinner was long and yummy. Our professor, whom we jokingly refer to as Dad, looked like he was having a good time, so we children suffered through the terrible wait. He was in the big kid table; actually, this might have been the first time he was around people his own age, lol, so we let him have his fun.
When we finally got back to the hotel, we scattered like ants back to our rooms. Some of the others went to a hookah bar. It looked fun. I wouldn’t know. I wasn’t there. (Can you taste the salt from that statement?) So I had a nice long conversation with my parents instead.
On our last and final day in Mumbai, we drove to Bandra, a posh suburban town. We were given 15 minutes to walk along its street and into Mount Mary Church. The town was quaint and hip, definitely had that village feel to it. We were in Bandra to have conversation with people in the film industry, asking them about gender portrayal in films and tv show. We had lunch there as well, a 10:1 carb to protein ratio (a plate full of white rice and one tiny cube of chicken) and with that, we culminated our Mumbai experience.
This trip was longer than the Chennai one and allowed us more individual free time. It was almost too much free time for me though; I would rather have been taken on another tour of a place. But on a serious critical level, I wish there was more talk about women and gender, because that’s what this program was supposed to be centered on. In what different ways are women navigating the streets of Mumbai? How are they taking advantage of limited space and exhibiting agency in this busy urban place?