Mumbai was a great introduction to India. The city is a great microcosm of what one associates with India: great opportunity, great innovations, great crowds, great riches, great poverty and, most of all, great food. For us Mumbai was literally the Gateway to India
But more than anything Mumbai is a city of hustle and bustle. As Meg noted on our first walking tour of the city “I have no idea what everyone is doing, but they sure are busy doing something”. And Mumbai is city where everyone is busy doing a million different things at the same time in the same place. It is city that has 16 million people and it always feels that way with people, cars, mopeds, carts, and animals everywhere, all the time. This activity is one of the city’s great charms. And with so much activity and so many people there are endless entertainment options: from restaurants of every variety (aside from wonderful Indian cuisine, we also enjoyed fantastic Chinese food) stores and markets selling every imaginable ware to charming architecture and fascinating museums, Mumbai truly has it all. In a word, we loved Mumbai (and Jed even bought a t-shirt saying that.)
Being New Yorkers (or more accurately for Meg, having lived in New York for several years while still being a Minnesotan,) perhaps part of this can be attributed to our general affinity for big cities (we would say that Mumbai plays the role of NYC, with its place as the cultural and business capital of the country and its belief that the country revolves around it, to Delhi’s role as Washington, DC as the nation’s seat of government). Another large part of our love of Mumbai was the wonderful exposure we got to the inner workings from our very generous hosts, Brinda and Anand Somaya.
Spending a week with them in Mumbai was a cram course in Mumbai-ness; we probably learned a month’s worth of Mumbai knowledge in a week with them. From insight into the sites, food explanations, cultural pointers, and introductions the Somayas were the ultimate insider’s guide to Mumbai (take that Lonely Planet!).
Another way we got to see Mumbai’s many sides was through Meg’s volunteer work with SNEHA- an organization devoted to addressing the health needs of women and children living in Mumbai’s slums. Spending time doing health related work in various Mumbai slums provided a well-rounded picture of all of Mumbai. From working with the SNEHA staff to accompanying a community health working on a post-natal visit to meeting community members and local physicians in helping to prepare for a wide-scale hemoglobin-testing project, the experience was very rewarding. As part of this we spent a day at a health post in the Varsha Nagar slum testing adolescent girls for anemia.
From this we got great insight into the local health center (both services it provides and the limitations thereof) while documenting the high level of anemia caused by health and nutrition issues that, unfortunately, are very common in India. For more information about this amazing organization, visit www.snehamumbai.org.
After reading all of the above, you can probably understand why it was so hard to leave Mumbai.