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Thursday, January 19, 2012

Welcome to India!

Namaste, Salaam, Shash-ria-kaal-ji!
Greetings from India!
India is a land of contradictions! 
There is so much beauty here yet so much ugliness.
Tradition nestles comfortably with modernity. 
Tall buildings overlook the slums of Dharavee and roads are shared with cars, buses, people, dogs and the occasionally cow, horse or camel cart depending on where you are in India. 
Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Jains, Parsis and countless others have lived side by side in peace and harmony (for the most part); partaking in each other's religious and social festivities and at the least, sharing a healthy dose of reverence for the right of the other to practice their religious beliefs. 
There are at least 33 recognized languages in India with Hindi being the national language. 
The average Indian speaks at least two languages and literacy is up to a 100% in Southern India.

A busy street in Bandra, the suburbs of Mumbai.
 Be ready to have all five of your senses overwhelmed from the minute you step off the airplane.
The first thing to hit you is the smell. 
It's the smell of India that is a combination of dust, dirt, smog, sweat, the spices, a lysol like disinfectant and some remote resemblance of fresh air. 
Now please understand that I am not complaining. I rather like the smell. 
It's the smell of my childhood, the smell of my people, the smell of my mother land. 
Once we walked out of customs to the greeting area, I was immediately struck by what appeared to be the sea of brown, Indian people waiting to greet their relatives. 
This "sea" of people is a pretty normal sight no matter where you go in India.
India's population in 2011 was estimated at 1.2 billion people. 
In comparison, China's population is estimated to be about 1.3 billion people and America's population is estimated at 311 million people in 2011.   
Comparatively, India is a rather small country.  
There are literally more people per square inch in India and thus the "sea" of people. 

A snapshot of the sea of rickshaws also know as auto-rickshaws or "ricks" or simply "auto". These are smaller than the average car and therefore more efficient to navigate the busy streets of Mumbai.
 Indian's flock to the big cities such as Delhi, Calcutta, Bangalore, Mumbai or Bombay for an opportunity to make a living.
But due to the limited land available, people build up instead of out and thus we see buildings and skyscrapers lining the skies. 
Those who are too poor to afford the fancy flats (condos/apartments), have chosen to build on top of each other, literally, in the countless slums all over India.

The Indian currency is in Rupees and Paisas which is equivalent to the American Dollars and cents.
On an average, 1 US Dollar is equal to 50 Indian Rupees.

These pictures were taken from the 1st floor of the shop we walked into. The manager was nice enough to let me take pictures not only of the streets but also of his shop. This was rare since most designer stores do not allow photography since they want to prevent people from copying their designs.
Motorcycles and scooters (not pictured here) are also preferred modes of transportation.
Indians are beautiful, intelligent people.
Old India divided its people by the caste system but the new India divides by one's ability to earn.
There is a distinct upper class, middle class and lower class which is determined more so by a family's bank balance, their physical address, the cars they drive and their lifestyles.
The upper class is rich and live in the fancy high rise condos, own cars like Honda, Toyota and luxury cars like Mercedes, BMW and Range Rovers etc and live to party! 
Most of them have full-time drivers to maneuver the horrendous traffic and literally are at their beck and call. 
All of them have at least one or multiple live in maid/servant who tends to the cooking, cleaning, laundry and overall upkeep of the home.
They eat in expensive restaurants a few nights of the week and watch the latest Bollywood film released the opening weekend. 
In fact, Bollywood films are only in their local theaters for a few weeks. 
Their children go to the best private schools that have obscenely long waiting lists and usually come to  the United States to pursue higher education with the intent of returning back to India.
The Western higher education provides a competitive edge in their business dealings and social circles. 
Thus, most are fluent in English and prefer it to be the language of business and communication.
They also take regular holidays (vacations) to the hottest destinations all round the world and make sure they take plenty of pictures to post on Facebook, which they upload from their latest IPhone or Blackberry.
They have more than they need and want more!
The high rises in Bandra.

These are facing the Indian Oceann.
The growing middle class is an interesting lot. 
Many of them own small businesses or have several members of their family who have jobs in an office somewhere. They might also have a young adult in their home that work the night shift in the many call centers that have sprouted all over India.
These are families who have in recent years seen a distinct increase in their monthly incomes from 10,000 Rupees a month to the amounts of 25,000 - 50,000 rupees a month. 
The additional income has allowed them to perhaps relocate to a nicer neighborhood, own a scooter, a motorbike or a smaller car.
They eat in the local restaurants maybe a few times a month preferring to cook at home so that they can live within their means.
They have at least one maid/servant who comes in daily for a few hours a day, to clean, cook, do laundry etc.
They have Facebook accounts and are savvy internet users.
Their children go to the private schools which they usually have to pay a lump some premium to gain a spot in. 
They too make it to the theaters on a regular basis to catch the latest Bollywood release.
They have just enough and want more!
Buildings which have seen better days but house the middle class and upper middle class families.

Notice the clothes line in almost every balcony.
Indians still prefer to handwash their clothes and dry them on their clothes line.
Given the smog, dust and pollution, even the clean clothes end up with this distinct smell.
For the few that have washing machines and dryers, they still avoid using it to keep their electric bill low.
Further, since no fabric softer is used, clothes are rough to the touch and deteriorate much quickly.

Then there is the lower class!
This consists of the labor force that are the oil that lubricate the machine that is India and keep it running smoothly.
These are the everyday people.
The drivers, the lift (elevator) operators, the chaiwallas (tea guys), the kaamwallis (the female servants/maids in the house), the rickshaw or taxi drivers, the shop and factory workers.
They take public transportation like the local bus or train, ride the bicycle, take the rickshaw or taxi or simply walk to where they need to go.
They are happy to have a roof over their heads. 
Many come to the cities to work while they send home the 2000 - 4000 Rupees they earn monthly.
Their families (mothers, fathers, husbands, wives and children) might live in a village in another state where the standard of living is much cheaper.
They sleep on the job or in their cars or on the sidewalk with as little as a sheet under them and over them.
It seems that they live to work and work to live.
It's a matter of survival for them.
They have so little and want just a bit more.

A shot of the slums where their windows open to the open sewer below. Imagine the filth, flies, germs and the smell.
Yet people live in these conditions.

These "homes" start off as illegal little shacks and over time take over entire neighborhoods.
Notice the old, rusted tin sheets used as siding and walls.
 The large blue containers is the only supply of water.
Since these are made-shift homes, there is no plumbing.
Electricity is stolen from the city lines and illegal lines run amok providing electricity to these homes.
Some of these homes are fully equipped with fans, air-conditioning units, flat-screen tvs, refrigerators etc.
More to come in an upcoming post on the slums of Mumbai.

This is my India!
Home of one of the 7th wonder of the world, the Taj Mahal!!!
The land that was once rich with silks, gold, gems, tea and spices!
The land that the British came and stayed in longer than they should have;
 leaving their mark on us long after they left.

Welcome to my journey through India.

PS: Please note that the above mentioned are simply my personal observations, experiences and opinions that I've formed from my numerous interactions and conversations with the locals while visiting India.
Somebody else might have a completely different experience of India.
I strive to share with the intent to give one a taste of India and hopefully, entice one to go visit and see this beautiful land on their own.  

Love and Light,
From one sufi to another,


  1. Amazing Anita...
    I can see the passion in your work..

  2. Thank you so much for sharing your trip with me. I have gained a whole new insight into this foreign land that I hope one day to explore myself.

  3. So glad you guys are enjoying it! Please keep following and posting your comments!!!!

  4. Dear Anita, thank you for sharing this glimpse into "India". I hope you will share more of your experiences, images and description of this enchanting country.

  5. Anwar Ladhani (Dad)January 19, 2012 at 11:05 AM

    I am impressed.!!

  6. AAmchi Bombay !!!!! Mumbai !!!!

    thanks for sharing.....:)

  7. You have captured the essence of India beautifully. I look forward to future readings!!

  8. Anita,

    What a vivid description of India and the lifestyles of the people of India! Thank you for sharing with us your experience. Wish you well in your goals in life. Look forwarding to your next write up.

  9. Aamchi it Anita. Thx for sharing....:)