Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Easy Come, Easy Go

Steve and I have a mantra we live by – a simple understanding that life is all about ups and downs – the basic premise that when you find a few dollar bills in your pant pockets while doing laundry in the morning, you shouldn’t be surprised if you incur an unexpected expense later that day to make it a ‘wash’. Today was the epitome of an easy come, easy go kinda day – not in the financial sense – but more so in an emotional sense. Lucky for me, it began and ended on the side of ‘easy come’. There was a whole bunch of ‘easy go’ in the middle and I’m still a little bogged down in it.

The day started with me up before the crack of dawn and getting a good bit of work done. I knew I had some down time today and the driver that Parashar had hired for us was to take me on a tour of sorts – I had a short list of things I wanted to do and see. My first stop was at a nearby Krishna temple. It was beautiful and the energy was unbelievable. I left my shoes with the guy out front in exchange for a red plastic disc with the #99 – my claim check. There were vignettes behind glass that resembled something from a history museum – mannequins set up to tell a story and a narrative on a plaque next to it – in both English and Hindi. There were scenes depicting the lives of the various Lords, which were interesting - but the most interesting of all was the second one – the one that spoke to the heart of this particular faith. There were adults, children, babies and a skeleton. The caption spoke to the fact that life is a circle and that at a human being’s core is the soul and the Hindu believe that the soul moves from one body to the next as one life ends and another begins. There comes with this notion a sense that you should ‘own’ the body you are given and the circumstances with which you are dealt. At the risk of getting too philosophical, I will stop there, but it was moving and stayed with me throughout the day. There were people chanting and dancing and most importantly, smiling – several engaged with me and grabbed my hand to pull me into the circle of activity. It was the happiest bunch I’ve ever encountered in broad daylight with no mind altering substances involved – at least I don’t think there were mind altering substances involved? I stood, watched, pondered and then placed Rs 100 in the offering box and asked Lord Ganesha to remove any obstacles standing in the way of our pregnancy. Away I went to retrieve my shoes and head to my next stop. Now, being a good Catholic boy, I felt obliged to be an equal opportunity thither and headed up to a beautiful, old Catholic church on a hillside (behind the Taj Lands End Hotel) – near the coast line. (Not to digress, but I was amazed at the number of Catholic churches in Mumbai.) I went down to the altar, said my business with the Trinity and, again, placed Rs 100 in the offering box. At this point, I’m feeling pretty darn pleased with my day, my life and myself.

Entrance to the Krishna Temple Near Juhu Beach

Another View

For those of you who aren’t aware, there is a family in Mumbai who are richer than all but about 3 other people in the world. They are in the midst of constructing a high-rise home for themselves in South (Old) Mumbai – literally, tens of stories high. We recently sold them furniture for this little piece of real estate and I wanted to see the place for myself. So, I asked the driver to take me to the home of the owner of ‘xyz’ company – he knew little English, but knew exactly who and what and where – and we headed that direction. Now, I must say the poverty was evident up in Juhu near the hotel – there were slums everywhere, but it wasn’t until we took this drive to South Bombay that it became, for the first time, overwhelming. The drive took over an hour and a half, but could not have been more than 25kms. At moments we sat parked in traffic for 2 or 3 minutes at a time. During these moments, the homeless – who beg aggressively – would approach the car and literally throw themselves against the glass and would not move away – all the while begging in perfect English for some mercy and becoming belligerent when you don’t hand it over – it is painful. You don’t see a ton of westerners – in fact, you see very few outside the large hotels – so these folks flocked to the car when they saw my white ass in the back with an Indian driver in the front – and it was no limo, trust me – but there was a perception that I had some money. The worst part for me was how many of them were disfigured or amputees. I asked Parashar about this and he shared with me that many of them disfigure themselves in order to assist their begging efforts – others remove an appendage to cure an ailment because they have no access to healthcare. Ok. That was too much information. I saw ‘Slumdog’ just like everyone else, but seeing it in person is a horse of a different color.

The trip back featured stops by two beautiful Mosques, a stop at a juice stand that the driver said is ‘famous’ and was so busy I’d be willing to purchase stock if they went public (I treated myself to pomegranate and the driver to apple) - and a lesson on why some Indian men wear turbans (while most do not), why some Indian women have dots both between their eyes and at their hair line (while many do not) and why there are live goats, chickens and cows at all the markets – short answers – family tradition(s), married versus single and to be sold for food – with the exception of the cows which are apparently only for the Muslims – the Hindus want nothing more from a cow than milk – they are too sacred to be eaten.

For those of you traveling to/from the US, all the flights depart back to the states in the evening – which means you pay for an extra night at the hotel or check out and be, essentially, homeless for the afternoon and evening hours. I opted for homeless and grew to regret it. The hotel gave me a late checkout at 3pm, but I still had some 8 hours to kill. We did the best we could to fill the time, but by 5pm I decided I would rather go to the airport and get some work done so I could sleep on the plane. All I can say is that leaving the Mumbai airport is not nearly as easy, or pleasant, as arriving – to say the least!

1. Hunt through mounds of people to find a tiny entrance to the terminal and get turned away because you need to walk 20 ft to another entrance for ‘that airline’.

2. Be turned away by a second security guard because you ‘cannot enter the airport until 3 hours before your flight’. Ok, that would be 8pm and it was now 5:30 and 95 degrees and 95% humidity outside! I must have argued with this man for 15 minutes – who was armed by the way. Who in the world says you cannot enter an air-conditioned space when it is sweltering hot outside – much less a public space? This guy was really getting on my nerves. Suffice it to say I got in the airport - and not in hand cuffs I might add. I even managed a smile out of him – more than I can say for the nurse at Rotunda that I now refer to warmly as Tiny. They actually have a flight manifest for every airline and every flight departing and they check for your name – if you are not on the list, you cannot get into the airport. Thankfully, I was on the list. I suppose you cannot walk in and buy a ticket. This was a first for me. Highly annoyed.

3. Security screening. Hmmm. I am all about consistency and let me tell you there is nothing consistent about this process – thorough you might say, but not consistent. Oh, almost forgot the Rs 600 ‘departure tax’ that Continental levied in exchange for my boarding pass – I am convinced it was a scam but I was too tired to push the issue and I asked a gate agent who was an employee, not a contract worker, who said it was new (and legit) and in the future would be included in fares. I need to make a note to loop back on this. I paid cash and it took 10 minutes for them to get me change. Highly annoyed.

4. Passport Control – check nothing. Immigration – check passport and boarding pass. Security screening – do not ask for passport or boarding pass but insist on seeing my nail clippers and sharing a laugh amongst themselves as they inspected them. No clue here. Shoes stayed on as you walk through metal detector. Gate area – check passport and boarding pass AND go thru another metal detector and baggage x-ray. Shoes came off. Hand-wanding and pat down. This time they took my cell phone apart, fully unwrapped Lord Ganesha and interrogated me about the material from which he was carved and why I bought him. Highly annoyed. Boarding Agent – check passport but do not ask for boarding pass (yes, that is correct). Uniformed agent at top of jet way – check boarding pass but not passport – maybe there is a system after all? Uniformed agent at bottom of jet way along with armed guard – check passport and boarding pass. I hate to complain about security because it is needed – no doubt – but this became ridiculous. There was also one last interrogation by the guy at the bottom of the jet way. I’m exhausted. And annoyed. Highly annoyed.

Now back to how the day ended on ‘easy come’ – just the way it started. I was in Continental’s Business First cabin (upgrade on miles) – to Newark – stopping in NY for business en route home to LA. Maybe not a huge deal, but the seat next to me was empty – and I got extra space and two feather pillows – see, I’m not really all that hard to please.

Note to self: do not lie to get upgraded. We were delayed leaving Mumbai because a woman asked for my empty, neighboring first class seat – she claimed her infant (in arms) was running a fever and she needed the child to be comfortable. Come on lady – I am not one to lie and I could have crafted something better than that on command. Not only did she not get upgraded, the captain tossed her off the plane! When he told her she had to deplane if her child was sick, she said the kid’s fever had just broken – in the last five minutes? Whatever crazy. She sure was standing in the jet way as the boarding door closed. Bummer.

Air carriers: if you have a choice between Delta (non-stop from Atlanta) and Continental (non-stop from Newark) - especially if you are using miles to upgrade – go with Delta. They score better on the seat, service and food – much better.

I will update on the embryo transfer on Thursday once I hear from the docs. I certainly am eager to hear how many and what grade – that is why I created this blog after all – to talk about making babies. I am trying not to obsess but it isn’t working.

Steve, I am almost home honey – two more days. I miss you so much. Thank God for Skype.

Jackie and Lisa B - enjoy Mumbai this week! Sorry we missed each other this trip.


1 comment:

jon said...

On the issue of the poverty: thank you for commenting on this in an articulate and very dignified manner. I get very upset sometimes when I read other characterizations of the poverty and slums in Mumbai and the lack of sensitivity, overt callousness and damning mentality on the part of some Western posters. I feel that you "get it" and the whole time you observed and took it all in without passing any judgement. A lot of us have been in your shoes with this issue, the sights and sounds are so depressing and raw that the gut reaction is to deny and repress those snapshots after we leave the country. For me I have been visiting this country for the past 20 years and the good news is that things have vastly improved (believe it or not). But I still have memories and snapshots of scenes I experienced while there, encapsulated in my mind forever, which I try to repress but sadly they are too real and raw to let go.
We can only hope and pray that the country continues to progress so that someday these slums will be razed for good.