A new chapter: a rich and reflective return to India begins

Worli Seaface

Worli Seaface, Mumbai

Landing in Mumbai on Wednesday 10 Dec 2014 feels good. I get off the plane and feel emotional and overwhelmed. It’s been over 4 years since I was on Indian soil and its great to be back. I spend a few days at Kumaram, the Initiatives of Change base in Worli Seaface, Mumbai with the Anands. Mr Anand is a Pediatrician and Mrs Anand lives with him. They have 3 sons who are very well educated with grandchildren successfully working in different countries. Our conversation flowed much more easily over dinner once we started to chat in Punjabi and Hindi, and we learn more about each other. Mr Anand is originally from Punjab, and Mrs Anand South Indian. We are connected through the Initiatives of Change family, an international charity committed to global transformation through personal change. My IofC friends recommended I stay here to start off my India chapter. The last time I came here was to connect with my roots, see what I could of the country, and have a brilliant time. This chapter is going to be very different, as I intend to understand the country with much more depth, especially regarding the growing creative industries.

The last time I visited Mumbai was for a few days and I squeezed in the tourist spots and keenly took some photos. The best thing about returning somewhere is that you can go beyond the initial fascination and awe of a place and get to know it more closely, if you so wish, more easily done when you engage with the local community and slow down the pace of travel. I feel lucky that since my visit in 2010 I have met yet even more Indians from around the country, to visit and spend time with making my experience much more valuable and meaningful. I am reminded how awkward I feel being served by home help living at Kumaram. This is totally normal for the average Indian family, to have someone either live in your home or visit daily to do a range of chores from washing clothes and cleaning the house to cooking and doing the shopping. Bhavan regularly prepares my meals, brings me tea and is always cleaning up after me. I find it very uncomfortable that he sits on the floor in the kitchen to eat his dinner whilst we are we sat together at a table in the dining area. I guess I’m just not used to it, and it is an illustration of the level of inequality and some argue, the legacy of the British Raj that enabled a real divide and strong hierarchy to exist. Many people from villages and rural areas leave their homes and move to cities to work and live with families.

I spend a couple of days staying with some friends in another part of the city, Ghatkopar. This is a Gujarati family who are quite wealthy and their home is fabulous. I’m still in new territory even though its my return visit to India, and I find myself surprised when I enter such a stunning home so elegantly furnished, whilst the surroundings outside say otherwise to Western eyes. This is what I love about India, indeed many countries, where you have to do more than just scratch the surface. There is potentially a surprise around every corner and things are usually not what they appear to be. After a delicious dinner one evening the mother of the family sings to me in Hindi, her voice is stunning and she is a singing coach with many students. Once she learns of my knowledge of Bollywood I make a range of requests of old songs, some folk classics and she sings them to me.

The next day we go to the cinema to see a movie and my new friend packs a shawl for me. It’s perfect summer outside, but the cinema is chilly with the air conditioning on a high setting. She then warns me we will all stand to sing the national anthem before the movie starts. I think she is kidding. A few weeks later I go to see PK and find she is right. I’ve seen movies in India before and this never happened, maybe its just in Mumbai. I think its sweet.

The following few days I spend in Panchgani. Here I am visiting Asia Plateau, the conference centre for Initiatives of Change in India. I’m well networked into the global IofC family having been part of it for four years, it would be silly not to visit the centre in India during my time here. This is a great experience meeting all of the new interns and observing and sharing a tiny bit of their journey. I make new friends from Armenia, Lebanon, Ukraine, Afghanistan and Nepal to name a few, as well as meeting many locals from Maharastra that are there on a leadership development programme. It’s a real pleasure to be there and share stories and lives with yet more inspirational and wonderful people. On my last day there I am lucky enough to enjoy a wedding reception of a former volunteer. It is low on expenditure and very high on satisfaction and enjoyment; love and happiness are in the air. Everyone is on an inner and outer journey of understanding the self whilst serving the world in the best way they can. This feels like the perfect place to be before embarking on Jagriti Yatra, a 15-day train journey with 450 people across India, to explore building the country through enterprise. More about that in my next post.

Asia Plateau, Panchgani

Asia Plateau, Panchgani

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