Saturday, 2 December 2017

#35 Mumbai, meditation and a monkey mind

SCMG's apartment was beautiful. It was full of leafy green plants and there was a large Abbey Road poster framed in the corner. His guitar leaned casually next to it.

It was so nice to see him again and really made me reflect on everything that had happened in the months between meeting him and returning to India. In a way it seemed a lifetime ago and in other ways it felt like we had met in Pushkar just the other day.

That evening we went out for a beer and then moved onto one of his friends apartments in the Fort area of Mumbai.

He seemed to know so many people and could call up anyone at anytime to hang out. Mumbaites have huge social circles. I was in awe. His friends were drinking with the singer of a blues band which was apparently very well known in India. I had no idea who they were so the level of celebrity was lost on me.

There was another man who worked for the Indian publication of the Rolling Stone magazine. I was super impressed by this and despite vaguely feeling like I was hanging out with people from a way cooler social circle than I should have been, they were lovely and very down to earth. Plus by this stage I'd had enough beer not to worry.

One of the girls brought out some North Indian food and it was some of the best food I've ever tasted in my life.

We made our way home shortly after and went to bed in the wee hours. This staying out all night theme was to become the norm for the rest of my time with SCMG.

I woke up late the next morning to the smell of something delicious cooking and relished in the feeling of having absolutely nothing to have to do.

That evening we went to a gig at SCMG's second home, a club called Antisocial. The woman we met the night before was performing with her band, Soulmate, in the basement. There was a huge crowd for a Tuesday night. In Mumbai, every night is a good night to go out. SCMG and I shared a long island iced tea because I have always been meaning to try one and had never got around to it. This seemed like the perfect moment to cross it off the bucket list. After the gig we got an auto home and crawled into bed in the early morning once again.

The rest of the week passed in a blur of lazy mornings, beer, ciggarettes, a few chilled evenings listening to SCMG play the guitar and meeting a lot of new people much cooler than me.

The night's were fast and the days slow. I was over stimulated, and on the verge of boredom at the same time, which was a curious state of mind to process as I attempted to understand Mumbai life and the contrast and complexities that came with it.

There was almost too many options for entertainment that it was so difficult to decide what to do.

Most middle class apartments have cooks and cleaners who come in to take care of the mundane tasks in life and this makes a huge difference to the attitudes and day to day lives of young urban professional Mumbaites. It appeared to me a very hedonistic lifestyle. We just did exactly what we wanted.

Of course I had to keep in mind the Mumbai I experienced was altered just by being present in this household. SCMG put as much of his life on hold as he could whilst I was there and, like any anthropological observation, the environment was altered just by the very fact it was being observed.

With this in mind I realised I would never be able to fully understand Mumbai life or have one true 'Mumbai experience' as there is no such thing.

The week in Mumbai did teach me one thing, and that was that there is still a very big white superiority complex raging in India. The India I experience is vastly different to the India Indians experience.

SCMG said something that really made this clear when we were out on two occasions. The first was at a very fancy, and in my opinion pretentious, club. I had no nice dresses to wear so I wore jeans, a very plain t-shirt and my jandals. I was feeling very under dressed when we reached the club but he told me I would be fine because I was white. Apparently this makes up for not making any effort to dress up and sure enough, we had no problem getting in, even though there was a guest list.

The second occasion was on my last night in Mumbai. We had been sleeping so late the rest of the week I decided to stay up all night because I would have to leave at 4 am to catch a taxi to the airport anyway. So we went out for some beers at a craft beer place and as we were sitting down, a very extroverted, slightly intoxicated girl called us over to drink with her at her table. We joined her and had a lovely conversation about all kinds of things from music, tattoos, New Zealand, Indian culture and hospitality.

One of the first things she said was "Come join me. India is known for its hospitality right?"

These words echoed those of my own. I've said it so many times before ever since my first trip. In my experience so far, Indian hospitality is out of this world. Later I was discussing this with SCMG.

"This only happens because you're white you know," he said.

Suddenly it all made sense. All this time I had been wandering through India thinking there was something amazing about it that I couldn't put my finger on. I'd been directly benefiting from some deeply ingrained desire to help the white girl.

All the random photos I'd been asked to be in, the invitations to join people for dinner, add them on whatsapp, the polite curiosity from strangers, this was quite possibly  direct result of what SCMG called 'a white superiority complex.'

I'm not going to attempt to delve into the deeper levels of colonialisation that resulted in this, nor will I comment on whether it is good or bad. It just simply is.

Of course, not everyone has this complex, but the long lasting effects of colonialisation definitely explains why the experience I had in Thailand and Vietnam was so different to India.

So after a quiet evening of amazing Indian street food, craft beer sampling, conversation with strangers who became new friends, and more guitar playing, I said goodbye to Mumbai and SCMG with a slightly heavy heart in the wee hours and started my long journey to Sikkim via Delhi.

It turns out that despite feeling like I'm getting older and wiser, I'm still very capable of being irresponsible and reckless. Staying up all night before 14 hours of travel is not the best decision I've made but a decision, perhaps, I had to make for some reason that will become clear later on.

I arrived in Bagdogra, Sikkim in the afternoon after having slept most of both plane rides there. I barely remember taking off or the safety instructions.

To travel in Sikkim, tourists need a permit which can be obtained easily for free at the airport. Once this was done, I learnt I could travel all the way to Gangtok that very afternoon in a shared jeep from Siliguri instead of staying the night there as I had planned, and even though I was very tired, I was keen to get there as soon as I could.

I was meeting Temporary But Meaningful Friend (see Chiang Rai blog) who turned out to be not so temporary after all and had decided to travel to India as well.

We planned to do a 10 day silent Vipassana Meditation course in Gangtok with only the mountains to talk to and then spend some time travelling together over the next few weeks.

So I met her in a cute little coffee shop on MG Marg, Gangtok, where she was having a coffee with a lovely older gentleman. We caught up about what had happened over the past couple of months since we first shared a cosy dorm in Chiang Rai.

She had met a nice American guy in Kolkata, who was also travelling in Sikkim, who joined us for lunch and the three of us headed to the same hotel.

That evening TBMF and I went out for beer and Thali (It seems like I've been drinking a lot of beer lately!). Thali is a plate of rice, curry and a selection of chutnies, sauces and condiments around the edge of the plate, which you mix together with your right hand with the rice. It's delicious, filling and fun to eat. Not to mention very good value for money - $4 NZD for a meal.

We had a good chat about everything that had happened in the last few weeks, discussed boys and life, and shared one final, very strong, local beer at the hotel where we watched silly YouTube videos and laughed until our side's hurt.

The next morning we had a breakfast of Indian snacks with the lovely American guy on the ridge above our hotel, washed down with several chai's before heading to the Vipassana registration head quarters.

I've thought a lot about how to describe the Vipassana course and, despite wanting to keep this blog as authentic and honest as possible, I've decided to keep the experience to myself.

If anyone has been thinking of doing one I would say it was one of the best, most difficult, painful and valuable experiences of my life so far. At first my mind was like a monkey, climbing all over the place, but I came out of it feeling at peace, refreshed, liberated and my mind felt stronger than ever.

When we were allowed to break our silence TBMF, Lovely American Guy (LAG) and I decided the best way to describe it was a defragmentation for your brain. It simply cannot be explained in words. It has to be experienced.

The three of us spent the next week hanging in Gangtok, drinking ALOT of tea, sitting in coffee shops, playing cards against humanity and making the occasional day trip to see the sights.

The hotel we were staying in had a four bed dorm for a very reasonable price and served amazing food so we were very comfortable there. The owner was so lovely and supplied us with all the blankets and hot water we needed as well as answering any questions we had. (If you ever go to Gangtok, make sure to stay at Hotel Pandim. Say hello to the owner Kesan and order their curd and honey muesli for breakfast - it's the best!).

I will leave Gangtok with very happy memories not just because it is a beautiful place but because I had brilliant company and the days passed easily and happily despite not doing many touristy things. It was great to just stay in one place for a while and really let ourselves soak up the atmosphere, explore the town properly and plan our next steps.

Mumbai life 

Soulmate performing at Antisocial, Mumbai

South Mumbai is full of beautiful colonial style architecture

View from Hotel Pandim over Gangtok, Sikkim

View from the Vipassana centre. Ten days of this view made it totally worth it.

We had delicious breakfasts and chai every morning at Hotel Pandim. It really became a highlight of the day!

No comments:

Post a Comment