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Wednesday
Dec192007

Mum-Bye

We've now had a few days to decompress and reflect on our trip.  To put a cap on this section of the blog, I thought I'd share just a few over-arching themes that remain indelibly scribbled in our minds.

First, Mumbai is a magical place.  Not magical in an "idylic, fantasy" way, but rather in an "I can't believe the city can even function" way.  Since returning, I've come to describe Mumbai as the city where everything is broken, yet still seems to work.  A business associate of mine who lives in Dehli put this notion in a much more concise and impactful way: "Mumbai runs only by the hand of God."

Second, there's an unmistakable whiff of "future" in Mumbai's air.  What do I mean?  Well, to the downside, the city is a shining example of what happens when you deplete and over-populate.  My main take-away, however, was not apocalyptic.  Rather, it was hopeful:  Mumbai shows very clearly why India will play an increasingly important role in the way we all live our lives.  With increased importance, prosperity should follow.  And with prosperity, should come relief from suffering.

Finally, speaking of the relief of suffering, Mumbai shows why Mother Teresa was right: "Peace begins with a smile."  With the squalor, poverty and suffering that floats on the surface in this city, it's deliciously tempting to throw up one's hands and say it's too overwhelming for civility to matter.  Yet, during our time in a city of 13 million, we saw no fights, no territoriality over personal space and no animosity toward others.  By and large, everyone we passed on the street carried a smile - a smile that said, "yes, I know it's helpless, but nevertheless I stand ready to help."

We look forward to returning to Mumbai, and seeing more of India, in the future.  Thanks for your attention to this blog and do check back from time to time to see how other journeys develop. 

Monday
Dec172007

Wheels Up

 

BA%20777.jpgThere's more pictures to post and more posts to make (so keep checking), however we can report now that we are home safe and sound.  We had an amazing journey.

As a practical matter, the trip home is considerably longer thanks to the gulf stream.  The headwinds, at one point, registered 177mph, increasing our flight across the atlantic by two hours!

Our return was helped immeasurably by two little words I would highly recommend to anyone that can afford it: business class!  My colleague took the step to call and upgrade the Mumbai to London portion of our return trip on British Airways to "Club World", their business class brand.  It was more money, of course, however I can say with all sincerity that it was worth it.

To begin, we were greeted at the curb by a British Airways representative and ushered through security with no wait in line.  Given the crowd at the airport, this alone saved us a good hour and a half wait in total confusion.  We were through security and in the comfort of their lounge in 30 minutes.

Second, Club World on British Airways features lay-flat seats.  I can't tell you how cool this is when boarding a plane that departs at 2:40AM.  Moments after take-off, we had the seat down and we were racked out.  I slept almost seven hours of the flight, awakening to a "Full English" breakfast of eggs, bacon, sausage, hash browned potatoes, rolls and tea.  Man, this is a great way to fly!

While many airlines fly to Mumbai, we found that BA had the most convenient connections with an average lay-over at Heathrow of three hours.  If you're going to make the trip, give British Airways some consideration.

Saturday
Dec152007

Bips: Bollywood Bride?

12427-1214695-thumbnail.jpgToday's mission was to help my colleague with a very delicate matter. He asked me to help him find his wife. The request was one of honor often reserved for (or insisted upon) by Indian parents. As such, I felt quite honored by the appointment.

To find an appropriate wife, we asked our driver to go to the best location. In Mumbai, that place is Bollywood. Bollywood is the epicenter of Indian's entertainment industry and thus would give us our best chance of finding a gorgeous and eligible actress worthy of my colleague's affection.

Making the challenge harder was the fact that my colleague was unwilling to settle for just any Bollywood Starlet. To be successful, our search must land one young lady in particular: the dazzling Bipasha Basu.

In a city where eight foot wide trucks can fit into seven foot wide allies, trying to find the women recently voted sexiest in Asia in just under two hours did not strike us an impossible task. Like so many times this week, Mumbai did not disappoint.

At the J.W. Marriott - reportedly the best hotel in Mumbai for star-gazing - we found her! There, in the lobby, dressed in black, stood Bipasha looking picture perfect. As we approached, we learned she was there to invite guests walking by to join her for "Nocturnal: the hottest New Year's eve party in Mumbai". This was the big chance.

Without fear, my colleague approached her and, in his best hindi, proposed right then and there. (Actually, he asked her to say "21" in Hindi, which, while puzzling, I assumed was a necessary part of the indigenous courting ritual.) When she did not reply, however, we came to learn that Bipasha, or Bips as she's so well known, was, um, shall we say... a bit wooden. After another minute, it was clear she had the depth and personality of a... words escape me... oh!, the depth and personality of a life-sized cardboard promotional cut-out.

Disappointed, but unfortunately not surprised, my colleague decided this was certainly not the kind of woman that could interest him for long. Sure, he might use her as a trophy back home, but that would get old pretty quickly. (Plus, there was the small problem of smuggling her out of the hotel and lashing her to the roof of the car unseen by security.) With the spell of passion broken, it was time to move on.

While it appears the marriage won't work out, at least my colleague can go home knowing that he gave Bips her shot at the big time. It was the least he could do.

Saturday
Dec152007

Lots of Dots

Kids are both observant and unceremonious, often blurting out innocent questions as they see them. In a phone call with my wife, one child asked Mommy to get the answer to every American kid's biggest question about India: "what's with the dot?"

My young one was referring, of course, to the small symbol many Indian men and women wear on the brow between their eyes. I was embarrassed to say that I didn't really know, so instead I gave the wisdom so many parents in my position offer: "it's complicated." From that point, however, I was determined to find out about the dot while in India.

It turns out my original answer was not too far off. First, there's not a "dot" but rather "dots". Women wear a "bindi" to symbolize marriage status, while men's dots are ash or other coloring and symbolize piety; they touch the temple alter, picking up the coloring and touch it to their forehead.

Second, interpreting the markings can be somewhat complicated as it may mean different things for different ages and observances of Hinduism. As I'm still not clear enough on the traditions to give a complete explanation, I'll simply satisfy my child's immediate curiosity. Traditionally, bindis were worn to signified being married. Today, however, I understand bindis are also worn as a fashion item by women who are not married, children, and by women who are not even Hindu.

As for the other dots, I came face to face with lots of them on our visit to Shree Siddhivinayak Ganapati Temple, the temple to Lord Ganesha. Ganesha is one son of Vishnu, a high Hindu god, and is the most popular Hindu deity in Mumbai, making this temple the city's largest and most famous. Most people exiting the temple wore an orange dot to signify their attendance and participation in prayer. (Photography was not allowed, so you'll have to take my word for it!)

Friday
Dec142007

Special Blessing

The%20U.S.%20modern%20military%20is%20turning%20a%20high-tech%20tool%20on%20the%20pigeons%20of%20Times%20Square%20pic%20via%20DIGITALFOGdotcom.jpgThe Indian subcontinent is filled with reverence for nature. In the Hindu pantheon, for example, you'll find many animals or animal-man transfigurations. Observant Jains, another religious sect, wear masks to prevent even the accidental inhalation of bugs for fear of hurting them.

This is all well and good, however this Westerner wonders if they haven't taken it a bit too far. What prompted the question? It was the uninvited reception of a very special blessing.

Walking through one of the markets, we passed a large circular cage absolutely teaming with pigeons. This was not particularly interesting in and of itself, however we did note passers-by stopping to pay homage to the creatures with food.

As it turns out, the cage is not a cage at all, but rather a fence, allowing the birds to fly freely out the top. Which they do, alighting to nearby trees in droves. Which brings me to our blessing. (Anyone see where this might be going?) So, on our stroll through the market, we happened to pass underneath one of these trees filled with pigeons. In so doing, we exposed ourselves to the holy experience: being rained on by pigeon poo.

Our immediate action was, I think, quite predictable. We surveyed the damage with grimaces. It was our friends reaction that was noteworthy; he placed the palms of his hands together under his chin in a sign of prayer and told us we had received a blessing that would bring us very good luck.

In the grand scheme of things, I suppose he's right.