We were in Mumbai, formerly known as Bombay, for most of the past week, and as a group, we had the best experience so far on our journey.
Mumbai is on the west coast of India on the Arabian Sea, and is India’s largest city at a population of about 16 million people. It was once a series of 7 islands, but land has been “reclaimed” from the sea to connect it. It is known as the business capital of India, and it is very much a modern metropolis. It’s a more progressive city than other places we have visited – we saw such unfamiliar sights as women’s shoulders and couples being affectionate in public.
Evening along the Arabian Sea
On our first afternoon, we visited Mani Bhavan, Gandhi’s residence whenever he was in Mumbai, which has now been converted into a Gandhi museum and library. I’m really into Gandhi (who isn’t?), and it was inspiring to walk halls that he walked. They’ve preserved his bedroom the way that it was when he lived there, and there are photos and artifacts throughout the building. We also got to meet Gandhi’s granddaughter, who is now herself an elderly woman, and she shared with us some stories of what he was like. I’m still amazed that anyone like Gandhiji could actually exist, with such integrity and ability to inspire others. The more time I spend in India and witness the immense diversity of its people, the more I wonder at what he was able to accomplish.
Part of the oddly compelling doll exhibit depicting major events in Gandhiji’s life. (An aside – “ji” can be added to the end of someone’s name to indicate respect.)
On Sunday morning, we went on a city tour and saw the beautiful Gothic buildings of the University of Mumbai and the fantastically ornate Mumbai Railway Station. We also visited a Jain Temple, in which people cover the lower parts of their faces with scarves to keep themselves from tainting their interactions with the idols. Swastikas are also very prevalent in the temple decorations, which is unusual to the western eye and the associations we have with that symbol.
Inside the Jain temple
University of Mumbai
Detail from the Railway Station
We also stopped to look down at the dhobi ghats, where dhobi (washer people, traditionally men) do the washing for many of the city’s residents. There are no laundromats in India, so unless a family has a washer and dryer in their home, it’s handwash or use a dhobi. In many places, people do their washing in the river, but because there’s no river in Mumbai, only the sea, they built a series of stone (maybe concrete?) troughs to do it. They let the clothes soak overnight, then the next day they scrub them by beating them against the troughs, then they rinse them, dry and iron everything, sort things back into individual households, and deliver them back to the clients within 24 hours. All of this for about 3 rupees per pair of trousers or 5 rupees for a shirt, which is about 10 to 12 cents each, The pictures below give you an idea of how immense this undertaking is. Men rent a cubicle from the city and have to pay also for the water. Many of the dhobi are from villages an will go home and visit their families only once or twice a year, usually at a time when they are needed for help with crops. The ghats extended as far you could see.
On Sunday afternoon, many of us took a ferry over to the island of Elephanta, where there are cave temples with sculptures ranging from 2nd century B.C. to 12th century A.D. It was a funfilled afternoon talking with locals on the boat, exploring the caves, alternately cooing about cute monkeys and avoiding being attacked by them, and generally having a great time. I couldn’t quite get my mind around the fact that I was actually on a boat in the Arabian Sea.
Me and my young friends from the ferry
The largest cave at Elephanta
We had two very interesting school visits – one to Muktangan, an elementary school that serves a low income community of mostly former textile workers (most of the textile factories they depended on have now closed) and another to The Cathedral and John Cannon School, a high school that serves a more affluent community and follows the British system of education with the intention of sending most of its students abroad for university.
Muktangan’s goal is to create a model of community-based inclusive, child-centered, low cost, quality education. The people at Muktangan have done amazing work with training women from the community to become teachers. We had a fun and interesting morning meeting with teachers and stepping into classrooms. The pictures below are from when a group of us sang songs and danced with a class of students. We kept trying to teach them new songs, but they already knew all of them because the teachers use so much music in the classroom. I believe the picture below is from their version of “The Hokey Pokey” – the Boogie Boogie. Oh my heavens, they were cute. They are in need of a lot of help to continue to expand their program. Two things they requested were old teacher’s editions of textbooks or educational software, so if any of you want to make contributions, please let me know or contact the school directly.
The faculty of the Cathedral School were extremely generous with their time, and we were able to sit down and talk at length with teachers about exactly what they’re teaching and how. Between the English teachers and the librarian, I now have a long list of poets and authors to explore. While it’s interesting and heartwarming to spend time in elementary schools, it was nice to spend some time at a school that was more in tune with what I actually teach.
While in Mumbai, we also had a visit to Kaivalyadhama, an institute for Scientific and Philosophic Research , Training and Therapy in Yoga, where we learned about the benefits of yoga, got some advice on asanas that would be beneficial to our students, and then practiced some. We all left the session much more relaxed.
In all, Mumbai was fantastic, thanks in no small part to the very thoughtful work of the Mumbai Fulbright branch. We were all a little sad to go, but excited to be heading south.
I’ll sign off with a couple of my latest bicycle pics.
Gandhi on a bike, the best quality I could get with the glare on the display case
on a wall across from the Taj Mahal hotel