Recently, I returned from a two week trip to India where I visited the cities of Mumbai, Indore and Ahmedabad. I spent most of my time in Mumbai (or Bombay as the British call it—and quite a few Indians as well), and only two days each in Indore and Ahmedabad. The experience was intense. Never had I experienced populations so dense, people so genuinely warm, or poverty so profound. Add to the experience, the fact that I stood out like a sore thumb as a white face in the crowds, and was constantly shooting video or stills, and you can imagine just how surreal the trip was.
Look right, then left, then right again
I spent my first week in the country in the city of Mumbai. Crossing the street is a lesson in situational and spacial awareness. The key to success is fearlessness: just walk with purpose directly in front of cars and they will miss you. They won't stop or slow down necessarily, but they will swerve and miss you (if only by inches). In the U.S.A. drivers think of pedestrians as objects that rarely are nutty enough to walk directly in front of our cars—and are therefore woefully unprepared in the event that they do just that. The drivers in Mumbai, Indore and Ahmedabad fully expect to be dodging, weaving and avoiding people, other drivers, dogs, cats, livestock and potholes throughout their journey. They are some of the most skilled at avoiding collisions that I've ever seen.
India is her people
The crowds are truly an intense experience, especially on the trains. I rode the trains from Church Gate and C.S.T. stations several times. At certain stops (Bandra in particular!) the train is absolutely flooded with people—I'm talking barely room to breathe, and certainly NO room to tie your shoe, turn around, wear a backpack, and in some cases get to the exit when your the train arrives at your destination. As an American, one expects that this will cause tensions to be high. Not so. People are calm, patient, and even helpful—particularly to the white guy with all the bags to get on and off the train.
In Mumbai, on average 10 people are killed by the train every day. My colleagues were unfortunate witnesses as the train on which they were passengers, struck and presumably killed or at least mortally wounded someone. This was before I arrived in India, and I'm so very thankful I myself was not there. They had difficulty sleeping that night, and I'm sure the memory will last far longer then they'd like.
The recurring theme while in India, was hospitality. Complete strangers invited me into their homes for food, tea and water which I accepted happily, and gratefully—particularly the water which was so very necessary in the "island city" of Mumbai where the humidity had me completely drenched with sweat almost every day of my visit. It's humid in my hometown of Baltimore, but it just doesn't compare to the incredibly moist atmosphere of Bombay.
Ganpati Bappa Morya! (Oh Ganpati My Lord, return soon next year!)
As luck would have it, I arrived in Mumbai in the midst of the the Festival of Ganesha. This lead to my favorite photographs of my trip, some of which are included in this post. As part of the festival, immersions of Ganesh idols take place all over the city. I was lucky enough to experience the final day of the festival, and some immersions taking place right near my hotel, just behind the Taj Hotel, in the shadow of the Gateway of India. While taking photos, people offered my bracelets of flowers, food, and blessings. As they began to notice me, I was soon surrounded by smiling, happy people about to embark on some serious partying. Before I left, I was chanting "Ganpati Bappa Morya! Ganpati Bappa Morya!" Very much to the delight of the people in these photos. It was no doubt, a once in a lifetime moment and I'm thrilled to share some of these moments with you here.