Mumbai Meri Jaan

Namaste from India, and welcome to my Fulbright mtvU-blog! For the next 9 months, I will live in Mumbai and use this site to post videos, soundbites, photos, interviews, and updates on my project exploring Bollywood culture and its impacts and influences on underprivileged youth in Mumbai. As part of my project, I aim to coordinate with entertainment professionals at Rohit Roy Productions and the youth of the Akanksha Foundation to develop the theatre and drama program of the foundation and to create a Bollywood performance by the youth. My ultimate goal is to produce a documentary of the children’s journey, which will be screened at a fundraising gala that marks the 20th anniversary of the Akanksha foundation’s efforts.

So it’s a funny thing about this city that I now live in. I’ve learned that there are no rules, regulations, or accountability. Cars drive on the wrong side of the road and traffic lanes just don’t exist. I wait six hours for the Tata internet guy even though every time I call him he quotes an arrival time of ten minutes. There is absolutely no order—yet, in some abstruse, Darwinist way—it somehow works. In the midst of utter chaos, there is an esoteric structure that the people have grown to live by and love, and I honestly don’t think they would have it any other way. Mumbai is a city that gets under your skin and in your blood, and while it is frustrating and heartbreaking and everything is a negotiation, there is a beauty in its breakdown, and I can’t help but be moved every day by the poverty, magnificence, resilience and music of this city. I am completely in love with Mumbai, and while every day remains a struggle, every day I am exposed to the soul that is Mumbai Meri Jaan – “Mumbai, my life.”

So I arrived in Mumbai just as the Ganpati Celebrations were underway. Apparently the months of August to September host the most number of celebrations in the year, and there is literally a party every day where the rich, poor, old, and young gather together in pursuit of religion, art, music and dance. The city is a noisy and anarchic discotheque, and I can barely cross the street without seeing an impromptu dance party displaying every color of the rainbow. Ganpati celebrates Lord Ganesh, who is the God of New Beginnings and the Remover of All Obstacles (so we’ve heard it’s a pretty lucky time to have moved here!). Families and communities keep these idols of Ganesh in their homes and give them religious offerings while praying for the future. On the 11th day of the celebrations, there is a massive party in which over 20 million people take to the streets of Mumbai. Communities carry their respective idols down the streets (sometimes for 10 miles) and then immerse the statues, with a final prayer, into the sea.

I was fortunate enough to watch from a new friend’s rooftop in Dadar, where we saw multiple parades converge at a center circle to form one single, vibrant line straight to the Arabian Sea. The streets formed a kaleidoscope of colors as the people danced with joy in celebration of Lord Ganesh, their lives, and each other. We went down onto the streets to join the dance parties and beat the drums, soon after which the skies opened and down poured one of the most intense monsoons of the season. That didn’t stop a single person however, and the music, the laughter, and the dancing continued. Currently, India sees the Navaratri Festival, a Hindu festival of worship and dance. For nine nights and ten days, Indians worship the nine forms of Shakti/Devi (the female divinity) through the traditional Gujarati dance of Garba at different venues across the city. I look forward to attending the final day of the dances, the holiday of Dussehra, in which an effigy of Ravana is burned to celebrate the victory of Good (Rama) over Evil. The amalgamation of so many different kinds of people from different walks of life all celebrating life and religion and music in the same way is so exciting to watch, and I can’t wait for my first visit with the Akanksha foundation to witness the power of music at its most grassroots level.

Thanks for reading, and I hope that you stay tuned to my blog for updates on my escapades in Mumbai. Comments are most welcome!

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