Rustom, he whom Kumud chose as a birthday present from the RSPCA in Malaysia almost 14 years ago, and who has travelled from Kuala Lumpur to Amsterdam to Chicago and now to Mumbai, all on KLM Cargo or Delta Cargo flights by the way, made it home last week.
Rustom had spent the past month in the excellent care of Suraj and Sanam at Perfect Pooch on the outskirts of Mumbai (www.perfectpooch.co.in). Suraj even showed up at 3 a.m. to collect Rustom with me from Mumbai airport when he first arrived.
His dispatch from Chicago had been arranged by Clay Dabbert at Aark Air International (www.aarkair.com), and colleagues at KLM Cargo in Chicago and Amsterdam watched over his travels.
Importing a dog into India involves submitting an application to Indian Customs ahead of time, for an NOC (No Objection Certificate) as well as an application to the Quarantine Department. I mean, you’d hate for someone to import a disease not already known in India.
Writer Relocations took care of all the prior approvals, and so at 3 a.m. Sanjay was present at Mumbai Airport to collect Rustom, who’d spent a night at the Animal Hotel of KLM Cargo in Amsterdam in between his Chicago and Mumbai flights. For a 14 - year old dog he was frisky and in good shape.
His first walks around the neighbourhood have been an experience as we try to find patches of green.
Right now he’s plonked in Mira’s room.
A friend and neighbor of ours in Chicago, who shall remain anonymous because she’s called Carol, said to us as we were packing up and leaving Chicago: “When you close one door it opens on to another one. It’s just that the hallway in between the two doors is a bitch.” How true.
The end of the hallway is coming in sight. We moved to our apartment on Thursday.
Mira and I walked down to Mantralay today, the State’s Administrative Building to see the flag hoisting. The entire set up isn’t exactly designed for the public, in the aftermath of the 2008 terrorist attacks. The few of us who live in the neighbourhood and had bothered to step out to watch were kept at a safe distance by secret service security guards and stand - ins for Dad’s Army.
The evening was spent with Indian friends from Holland who had all since moved out. Sandeep and Nandita live in Dubai, where Sandeep is forming a private equity fund for investing in small cap Indian equities. Ani has moved to NYC from Washington DC after joining Citi Bank, and Priya and Nandan and their sons moved to Mumbai from Holland a few years ago, where Nandan works for TCS.
Among the global Indian tribe hundreds of thousands of such stories play out all the time.
The consensus from the evening’s conversation was that Holland just works, although it moves at a snail’s pace. The U.S. is probably the most comfortable place to live, from a service point of view, and India is one of the most dynamic (“you feel the energy”, Sandeep said), but boy is it a wild ride.
Our unusually quiet street being cleaned in honor of Independence Day. The street is called General Bhosale Marg, except no cab driver could find it by that name if his life depended on it. “Just ask for Cooperage, or Point, and people will know it”, one of them said when I asked. Understanding the word ‘Cooperage’ took some time, as he moved his tobacco around his mouth to create actual space to speak.
I take back all the times I have made fun of my teachers in Chicago or mimicked about their british accents (Ro-Haioo! Only my friends in Chicago will get that joke!).
From the first day at my new school, I found my teachers quite ‘interesting’. Here’s just a taste of truly Indian teachers.
My geography teacher said: “Dee farst factor dat apphects dee climayte (as in, mate, like pal) is dee altitood. Wot it ees?” (we say altitude); “wot it ees?” (altitude); “wot it ees?” (altitude) “Wot it ees?” (by this point we are hysterical, cracking up and wondering when he'll shut up) he says the same thing for:
‘“Lattitood. wot it ees?” (latitude!!!) he says this about 8 times, by which point we are SO bored, that some kid decides that when he asks: 'wot it ees?' (in a HUGELY indian accent) and the whole class messily grumbles 'latitude' some kid says: 'altitude!!' “wot it ees?” (we all say latitude) and someone shouts: "pyjamas!"’
My chemistry teacher shouts everything she says: she screams as if we are 10 miles away! She stares at us with eyes that literally pop out 1 cm away from her face, glaring at us with a look that I can’t help but think is somewhat evil. "I DO NOT WANT TO BE SHTRICT TO YOU ALL, I WANT TO BE FRIENDLY TO YOU. BUTTT, IF YOU DO NOT DOO YOR HOMEVURK, YOU WILL BE GETTING A RED MARK ON MY REGISTERRR. NOW, DEEZ ARE THE PROPERRTEEZ OF A LIQUID. PROBABLY...” (pronounced: Pro-- like the short for professional, Bab-- like 'bad' but with a B on the end, and Ly-- Leeee).
My gym teacher is so weird and yet he thinks he is so cool and in charge of everyone. He was giving us some talk on the sports calendar of the year, and it took me ages to figure out that when he keeps saying "eevnts" he means events. :-P
Another teacher says: "I will not tolerate the chewing of the gum. If I catch anyone chewing the gum, you will be in trouble. The gum is prohibited in my class. Is anyone chewing the gum?"
The next week, as soon as my Geography teacher entered the room, the class was abuzz with “wot it ees?” “wot it ees?” “wot it ees?” and laughing until our sides hurt. The teacher had no idea what we were doing (at least, that’s what we thought! Let’s hope I am correct...)
Some of my teachers enter the classroom in a massive Sari, huge earrings and looks on their face that say: ‘I am probably a grandma, so don’t you mess with me.’
Quite a change from my 27 year old teachers in skirts, heavy make-up and accents that no longer seem strange compared to my new set of “Gurus”.
However, Indian teachers do have a certain welcoming aura around them. My Hindi teacher has a look that makes me feel like he could be my grandfather: Fun, bursting out into a song, giving you endless amounts of sweets and laughing along with each and every joke.
My Environmental Management (EVM) teacher could be a long lost aunt, who is always willing to play games, as long as they’re educational and a game of charades makes the EVM class very entertaining. My French teacher could be a replica of my mum. The way she patiently explains each problem, while intertwining conversations about general day-in-day-out stuff is wonderful.
I guess school is kind of like a second family. I mean, you make fun of your family, right? But you’re always grateful to have them there, because a day without family, and a day without humour, is barely a day at all. Even if the day is spent at school...
The movie Inception was a big hit in Mumbai. Not sure how well it did in the U.S., but Indian audiences lapped it up. Four layers of dreams, and never sure at which level of non reality you find yourself? Right up the alley of cosmically inclined Indians. The story of what it’s like to watch a movie in modern India, with hot snacks delivered to your seats, will have to wait.
Life in any city can be dream like, with the final outcome of the dream, good or bad, several years away. You can be surrounded by physical perfection (functioning traffic lights, neat pavements, public transportation) and yet the city can be in a very slow decline, dying bit by bit. I remember being in Tokyo on a trip seven - eight years ago and feeling almost instantly that this was a city in decline, with an almost suffocating sense of immobility, an unwillingness to change.
Or, you can be living in Mumbai, with little or no civic sense, with thousands of people encroaching on the pavements, and yet have the feeling that this is a city that is going places. Mumbai wasn’t always like this. For the past 10 - 20 years the mismanagement combined with a freeze on new construction, the sense of stagnation was palpable.
But now there are close to 2700 new construction projects going on simultaneously. There are cranes everywhere you look, especially from Tardeo and Lower Parel onwards to the North, East and West of the city. The more historic South Mumbai, with buildings put up by British administrators and Parsee and Jewish benefactors, seems isolated from the building boom.
It’s taking us time to get used to seeing people living on the street. While Mumbai’s billionaires put up some amazing housing for themselves, entire families continue to live on the streets. It’s much more a fact of life than it is in other Indian cities, with Mumbai exerting a tremendous pull on the poor.
On a daily level, with monsoon deluges coming down and taxis horning to the left and right of you, life is less dream and more reality.
Btw, the banner photo was taken from our holiday home outside of San Gimignano at 6.20 am. What light! It lasted all of five minutes.