Indian Winter, Part II

In Part I of this series, we talked about the flavour of Mumbai, India, with its apartment buildings, its shops, and its markets. This time, we’ll take a peek at some of the city’s inhabitants.

Bugs are Everywhere

Yes, in India they surely are. As in any tropical country, ants are strong on the forefront, battling to overtake humanity. Leave one chapatti crumb (and yes, I mean, one), and within the hour, an army of ants will lay siege on the area. And they aren’t your large, mild-tempered Canadian ants, either; rather, they resemble minute warriors, ready to viciously bite if threatened.

It wouldn’t be a tropical country without the mosquitoes. By six in the evening, although It’s still relatively light out, the mosquitoes start roaring out of their hiding spots. (Fortunately, so do the bats, to catch the mosquitoes). I’ve never been bitten so badly in my life! And this is despite the use of mosquito coil, mosquito spray, sleeping with blankets over our heads, and closing all windows before the anticipated mosquito happy hour. These mosquitoes were terrifying, since I’m used to the way Canadian mosquitoes whine and deliberate before biting. Not so for the Indian Anopheles! You have no idea where they are in the room, or what location their bite will be in. They are tiny, noiseless, and evil. My husband says that if you are Indian-born, you have an innate sense of mosquito location and bite potential?and he’s probably right, since he and his family were hardly bitten at all.

A Dog’s Life

Mumbai is also known for its stray dog population. Although the numbers are now significantly reduced, It’s common to find homeless dogs dozing in the shade, wandering about the marketplace, or attending church functions through the open doors (there’s no glass or netting). Initially their presence made me nervous, since I’m subject to dog phobia, but soon I noticed that the animals were intent on their own business. In the graveyard, however, it was a different story. Standing in a windblown cemetery, with groups of stray dogs eyeing you, crows cawing atop the crosses marking the graves, and a background chorus of hissing snakes?now that was definitely a creepy experience.

Neighbourly Spirit

The people in India were the most rewarding experience of all. Although there are, of course, both good and bad in Mumbai, I was fortunate to experience the good. My husband’s relatives were wonderful people, with a special warmth and deep-down caring attitude. In India, the there is still a strong emphasis on community spirit and family ties, something That’s refreshing to see after growing up in our independence-promoting Western culture. Aunties and cousins dropped by before or after work to say hi, bring delicious food, enjoy the children, or pray with us.

One positive trend I noticed was interest in small children. If little ones are visiting their houses, the hostesses hurry to offer biscuits or small treats or candies. Everyone wants to hold the baby?not just women, but men, university students, and teenagers, something you wouldn’t expect to see in Canada?and the needs of the young are scrupulously attended to. Usually the children leave a gathering with a small toy.

Part of the reason why community spirit is so strong in sections of Mumbai is the close proximity of everyone to one other. Flats are low-dwelling, with many buildings having only about four floors. The windows are usually open, so anyone walking below is in full view, and It’s easy to catch some of your neighbour’s conversation. Of course you’ve already met your neighbour, probably as you both were hanging your clothes out the windows to dry (machine dryers are a scarce commodity). The result: everyone knows everyone else in the building, and everyone knows everyone else’s business, too. Children grow up together and attend many of the same schools together. The problem of friends moving away is uncommon in India.

And if you live along the streets in makeshift shelters or in the vast networks of chawls (floor-ground dwellings that were once part of the slums but since have progressed), then you are even more intimately acquainted with all the goings-on in your neighbourhood. Although this has downfalls, one benefit is its effectiveness at helping to keep children and teens ?in line.? Bullying or playing a mean trick? Stealing candies? Someone will notice, and your parents will know about it even before you arrive home.

When It’s time to celebrate, the community spirit and general neighbourhood interest in other people’s lives usually means a great party. Indians just love get-togethers and have an amazing ability to drop all credentials and party. At our family gatherings, there was the added interest of meeting a Canadian (myself); as one auntie put it, she embarked on a three-hour journey just to see me in person.

So far I’ve painted a basic picture of a thriving city in India. But there’s still a lot missing, so watch for Part III in the next issue!