My First Day In Mumbai
I’ll be posting mostly about textile shopping in Mumbai, but I also wanted to capture what it felt like to be there. Honestly, it was like nothing I have ever experienced. It was a rush hour mosh pit of sensation where being completely present was the only option. Any lapse in attention felt like a lost opportunity and a chance to end up under a bus.
I wanted to be in Mumbai wholeheartedly. I wanted to treat it like a place I loved. That meant walking out into the city stuffed with everything I read about how to act civilized in a place whose style of civility was not my natural habit. It put me on edge. The luxury of your home city is moving through your day using rules you’ve been taught since birth. There are no second thoughts about how a transaction is accomplished, what a gesture means, whether an exclamation is an admonition or encouragement. Being home allows you to be on autopilot and relax, but also to be a bit absent. As an alien and a guest I was not willing to be careless, even in a city where plenty of people spoke English and all of the conventions of modern life were evident.
My first excursion made it clear how much I did not know. I planned to stroll the grounds of Siddhivinayak Temple and have an opportunity to see its beautiful interior. What happened was so much more.
I was dropped off at the entrance to a market outside the temple. A man at one of the stalls pointed emphatically at my feet. I knew I should be barefoot in the temple, and there was a pile of shoes in front of his stall, so I added my own. He then handed me a tray of flowers, and pointed toward a gate across the market.
As I approached the gate, a man shouted “women’s entrance!” and pointed to my left. At that point, I was little confused, since I could not see any entrance. A young woman asked me if I needed help, and since I was holding an offering, assumed I was there for a blessing. She paid a ticket taker, while insisting that there was no fee, and led me to a long, winding line. Once there, I had no choice but to go where the line went, and she went on her way. 15 very crowded and hot minutes later, the line ended in a room with a breathtaking altar.
It was golden and beautiful. There was incense and heaps of flowers which kept growing as two chanting priests delivered more offerings to the pile. In the midst of this sat the figure of Ganesha, god of beginnings and remover of obstacles. People were packed tightly into the room, trying to move to the front in order to deliver their offering for a blessing. A man standing next to me made it his mission to help me up to the altar, pointing out openings in the crowd, and engaging others in the room to let me move one step further. I reached the front where my flowers were accepted by a smiling priest, then returned with a soft word and a touch of vermillion on my forehead. Then the crowd moved around me and I was pushed out into the courtyard, fully welcomed to India.