Charmaine lived in India for one year and spent 5 months living and working with NGO’s in Mumbai from November 2012 until April 2013. People either see India as a no-go, or they see it as a beautiful, challenging experience. Here, Charmaine sleeps, eats, and breathes Mumbai every day, it wasn’t just a one-off experience or a passing through event, it was her life. Her crumbling apartment, her bumpy rickshaws to work, the children’s faces at School, the chronic belly pain every day, and the rooftop parties in the evenings. Charmaine gives you a little insight into life in India, in hope that it is an eye-opener to some who believes India is just pretty, bright Sari’s, awesome sunsets, and poor people on the streets smiling for your cameras. This is the real life and its shocking. You need a strong heart and mind, and acceptance to welcome their world, their way of life, their culture, and to make it your own.
French Neighbours, Equality, Flat hunting, and Shop Shopping
Severine is a naturally beautiful goddess, wearing no makeup, and fresh-faced with shiny brown hair chucked up in a messy ponytail. She is so strong and it was so refreshing to be with another young, white, lady who is equally fed up as I am about the way you are treated here. Of course, the way you are treated here isn’t as bad as what makes the front page of travel magazine or anything. Nothing that will really raise an eyebrow, because it is nothing less than ordinary here. Marc and Severine were our neighbours’ in the suburb Bandra West and they went, well.. “Shop-shopping”. As part of their last year at University, they both moved to India to open up a French-inspired Cafe. They were on the prowl for a shop in the making, and a building in the right location for the making of macaroons, to be served on swirly French table sets out in the sun, and tomato and mozzarella Panini’s to go with your strong French coffee. All things French and wonderful!
When they were shop- shopping, the broker organising the viewings asked HIM what he thinks of the place, asks HIM all the questions and only looks and talks to HIM. Like her opinion or say doesn’t matter, that she just tags along for the ride, as if she just lurks in his shadow in silence like a sheep at the back of the flock. However, they are a team, a fantastic one at that with a strong business idea, and they are both equally as important as one another.
It was the same story with Tom and me when we were looking at apartments to rent and they would shake his hand, not mine. They would ask him if he likes the place, tell him all the information, and asks what he thinks. However, I will be living there too and just for the sake of it, I would get my voice heard and say “No. I don’t like this place”. Even if it was an affordable, pretty appartment and I could see Tom pondering the place in his head, I just felt like I wanted to make a peep loud enough for everyone to hear! Following this, I would gaze over at the broker, and have him witness what it is like for women to take charge and call the shots. He would hear my peep but look over at Tom. Tom gave a confirming nod. “Job done” I would think, although I don’t really know what I am proving to who.
Sometimes it can bring you down a little when you come here with your boyfriend, and you are treated very differently. It’s not all about not being able to call the shots, or to have a say in your shared life together. It’s the stares in the street, the different carriages, and the different cues, the not being allowed in certain restaurants while someone screams ‘NO WOMEN’ at you… it’s as if we are a different species or something. I have obviously acknowledged where I am, and that the culture that lies here, with the hierarchy of men and women, it’s totally different. I guess, and I hate to admit it, this truly was a culture shock at its finest, and it made me miserable. We are still human. Just like men. We are all human here, living, breathing humans, and when you see a person on the street, hiding their leprosy with rags, sometimes you just can’t brush it off so easily. These were awful memories and the man-made separation between individual humans sat so heavy inside us both. A human being that cannot afford to get better, someone who is now stuck in a circle of misery for life.
Fortunately, I was not sick, living on the streets, or missing limbs, but I am a white, western female and I have to stand my ground in whichever way possible and make sure this place doesn’t knock me, or my beautiful friend Severine over. Together, we are powerful and we are strong. Or in my eyes at least..
Money = Power. Welcome to high end Corruption.
The corruption here between the security and police officers against anyone below them is chronically insane, do they really take a second to think about the people they are taking advantage of? Do they ever stop to think that we are humans too and we do not deserve to be treated like this? It is difficult because you can tell they think of you as animals that they’re trying to tame in a sick, cruel way. I have realised so much here already, most of it pretty sad and overwhelming. But most of it to do with the people of India.
Mumbai is very up and coming, the city is becoming strong and powerful and the money is there. I mean, the whole Country is kicking its ass in gear, India used to be a frowned upon place if you said you were travelling there, nowadays its known to be a great, amazing, yet difficult experience. Nevertheless, the horrible and gutting thing is that Mumbai and the people of Mumbai are two completely separate things. The high standard of Mumbai is no match for the lower class citizens. Of course, there are people who live here comfortably, the rich and famous Bollywood stars. The more well-off families, with a westernised half. Or maybe just those 100% original large Indian families, in which one in the family had a break through, and now travels the world for work. Like our property owners children. They had a break in medicine, which is why when we met her asking her to rent us the apartment; we were sat in a sea of gold.
Last night we were in a posh bar in Bandra called Bonobo. It costs us £10 for four beers because they whacked on a load of service and tax charges. This isn’t the only place that does this either. Another popular, big named club down in Lower Parel called Blue Frog, their alcohol was not the issue, but the tax and service charges were like nothing I had ever seen before. To be fair, it didn’t matter about the price of the beer, the tax, and the charges, the point is, you still paid over £10 for four small beers. In comparison to life back home in the UK, you would see that as a good offer! However, we were living in India, in a more expensive city sure, but we were paying less than this for three large meals in a restaurant! I know they do it because they can, because they have big names and acts coming to this Blue Frog from all over the world; this is where Mumbai met the first class acts from millions of miles away. This acted like Mumbai’s vast window into the world of underground music and implausible acts! All in all, maybe it did make sense, it was just extremely unusual.
Right outside the Bar Bonobo, there were the same poor, matted haired children begging on the same corner as last week, and the week before that. It’s like a completely different realm, a whole separate, darker universe. In the bar there were these coked up, beautiful, smart looking businessmen and women, ordering drink after drink, looking swish and respectable with rings bigger than their fists. Smoking away at their Marlboro Lights, puffing the smoke out onto the amazing open top bar, blowing at the stars, dancing to the music whilst holding ‘mind blowing’ conversations. Keeping this glamorous image in mind, you then take a walk down 4 flights of stairs, and you’re back to dodging and avoiding beggars pleads and cries. What a contrast, right? Weaving in and out of the children’s grabs and tugs, asking you to buy whatever cheap, yet useless item they were trying to sell. Stepping over the sleeping men in the street and brushing off the flies dancing together with the mosquitoes. Turning down people’s offers to buy this and buy that, and even turning down to buy plastic hangers, not once, not twice, but three times, by a man with no legs, scraping at the ground to drag himself along. If the people of India, the citizens of India, have the money to develop this city, if people can afford overpriced beers in Bonobo and afford to sniff endless lines of cocaine, then why doesn’t anyone have the time or the money to develop the people first? Develop and help the people, then build a decent city and let it rise from the ruins.
The city had risen and the people are still falling. I have never been in that situation before where you walk out of an expensive bar out into poverty. How does that work? What a terrible mix and match. How can the wealthy people really watch people in their own country die, become diseased, and struggle to live? How can these people just stand in this bar and just ignore what is just outside?
This was just one image that was hard to choke down, in a sea of a million other images that were also difficult to process. But, this was India. What did I expect? I couldn’t change the world, I couldn’t help all these people, I couldn’t break the chains and free them all from their unhappiness. But, there was still no harm in trying my best, right?