Indu, Aagya and Aarya on an outing with us to south Mumbai to see some murals.
Indu surprised us with a gift purchased by her husband Akhilesh; a box full of Alphonso mangoes. Ripe, deep orange with green speckles, so juicy, expertly peeled and sliced by Indu. She filled a stainless steel plate with beautiful designs machined onto the surface with the bright orange mango slices and slid the bounty of beautiful fruit across the floor to us. “How could we eat this much”, we protested. But we did eat the mango slices, all of the slices. The pile of slithery fruit lasted only a few minutes.The taste of sun, moon, stars and the universe is edible it appears.
Mango season is a harbinger for our departure from India. As is Ramadan. In early March, the city begins to recognize this important Muslim religious ritual. In the predominately Muslim areas, Muslim flags fill the space between buildings, fluttering green and gold and lights are strung along the streets where the feasting will begin after the ritual fasting. The lease on our flat has ended and our visa was expiring as fast as the box of fresh mangoes.
The photo of Ripu with her children (and a friend) taken in 2015 that she found on my phone.
While we slurped the mango slices and left not a bit of flesh on the large seeds, Ripu and her daughter Shivani, who turned 12 years old a few weeks ago, searched my phone for photos of their family, sensing the few days left to while away their time looking at hundreds of photos I’ve taken of their family over the years I’ve known them. While we played with Indu’s daughters, Aagya and Aarya, Ripu let out a delighted squeal when she found a photo of her with her children as toddlers. Indu flipped through the photos and found one of many videos of her youngest daughter taken a few years ago, dancing to a Bollywood song. Veer and Ganesh arrived and slipped through the curtained doorway, and when the phone was free, they too checked for their names and their photos popped up. Ganesh who’s 12 years old, found photos of himself when he was two.
Indu busy fixing Aagya's hair for school amidst the chaos that ensues in her home every day.
As our time in Mumbai winds down, the atmosphere changes from casual to intense in Indu’s home. What was casual conversation becomes deeper, questions arise in haste, problems suddenly appear in the doorway, the curtain is flung back and a cascade of worries empties into the room via anxious mothers or fathers who need medical help or a last ditch effort to present their need for school fees for one more child. The children feel the change, they move closer to sit near us, or don’t come to tuition, feeling either betrayed or ambivalent by our leaving. We get gentle hugs and backward glances in the lanes. Our heads fill with the tiny details of poignant moments and harsh realities so as not to forget anything of these months spent in this small welcoming space that is Indu’s home and in this warren of dark lanes that is the community. Tea is offered, problems become more insistent and forlorn, poignancy invades every sip of chai, every detail of Indu’s room becomes a memory etched deeply into our minds, so we can reimagine it from afar. Even though we spend countless hours in this small one room home, when we are days to leaving, I will notice a new idol set among the slew of idols on the ledge and remind myself to ask Indu about it, or that the mirror was recently cleaned, or that the paint above the tiles is darker than I noticed before, or there are new tiny fingerprints by the door, or the smell in the lane becomes more pungent.
Idols in Indu's home for luck, prosperity, health.
The memories, the problems, the lives lived in cramped rooms, the laughter we all share when we struggle to express ourselves, in elementary Hindi and mix of English — the intertwining of two vastly different cultures lives on in the palm of my hand and all I have to do is click into my photo library to feel the humidity, taste the poha, feel the warmth of a dainty cup of chai, smell the pungent lanes, and remember what it’s like to breathe the air so thick with pollution it coats the back of our throats.
One of those moments in Indu's home.
Our last night in Mumbai, and what has become our tradition, is for Indu and her family to have dinner with us at a restaurant. This time we invited 14 people. Imran, Shabina and their children Itaba, Farhan and Alina arrived last to join us, settling into the last chairs at one end of the table. Indu, Akhilesh, and their children Aagya and Aarya quickly filled some of the seats. Jyoti and Vijay and their children Samiksha and Sumedh arrived first and sat at the other end of the table, and Karan filled in the last chair. Indu picked the restaurant - a familiar one where we met her family on our first night back in Mumbai months ago. This was an opportunity for everyone to feast on non-veg items, something they only cook occasionally at home. We ordered platters of tandoori chicken, baskets of chapati, vegetable dishes loaded with spicy gravy, our favourite dal makhani and rice. When Jyoti ordered a fresh pineapple juice, six others did the same. There was butterscotch, strawberry, chocolate and vanilla ice cream to finish. The waiters kept our water glasses full and the plates cleared. The utensils were left untouched except for the ice-cream course, because eating with hands is so much better. When the meal was cleared, the ice-cream dishes were licked clean, and the container of mouth freshener was rescued from Indu’s four year old daughter who was pouring it into her mouth, we headed out into the humid Mumbai night where horns honked and the lights of the traffic shone on our faces while we all said our good byes through tears, hugs and promises.
Indu will carry on in person on our behalf keeping in contact with us through WhatsApp, email and texting. Help will be offered, families will get what they need — and we’ll be on call day and night from a different time zone until we return.
There are countless stories to tell in the coming months. Stories of young women on the verge of a new modern life, and young women whose parents have weighted their dream with traditions. The stories of mothers who manage to work twelve hour days though the pain of tooth decay, and the dreams of a few who aspire to medical careers. For up-to-date short stories about the community check out our Facebook/Instagram accounts.
Below you'll see how donations were used from: February 9, 2023 - March 31, 2023
Ashwini Shinde/Dentist/Cosmo Dent/Chandivali Rd
-3 root canals/restoration: 20,900 rupees/CAD348.00
-Prescription/Antibiotic: 350 rupees/CAD5.83
-Painkiller/Medicine: 118.30 rupees/CAD1.97
-Wellness Forever/Ashwini prescription: 307.55 +106.46 (414.01 rupees)/CAD6.90
Global Diagnostic/Imran Hashmi/for wife’s (Shabina) medical tests: 4200 rupees/CAD70.00
Nirmala Choudary/Dental/root canals/fillings/8 teeth: 12,500 rupees cash /CAD208.33
Waiter at restaurant: needed dental work/2000 rupees/CAD 33.33
Siddharth Ingle/Dentist/root canals/Khairani Road/partial payment: 3000 rupees/CAD50.00
Ashwini at the dentist
Attendance at a wedding of a community member/cash gift: 1000 rupees/CAD16.00
Transportation to/from wedding for Indu, us, two children/auto-rickshaw/metro: 800 rupees/CAD13.00
Megha Ingle birthday gift/cash: 300 rupees/CAD5.00
Naeem birthday/Cakes and Rolls shop/birthday cake/cookies/chips: 640 rupees/CAD10.66
Naeem t-shirt gift: 250 rupees/CAD4.16
Om Sai Foods/cake/gift for Nirmala invite to home: 420 rupees/CAD7.00
Shivani Kumar/birthday cake/gift: rupees 350 (cake) + 180 (chips) + 30 (plates) + 200 cash gift/760 rupees/CAD12.66
Cell Choice/Nahar Amrit Shakti/Chandivali:Tuition centre/speaker for computer: 1350 rupees/CAD22.50
Patel Book Centre/work books: 200 rupees/CAD3.33
Samiksha Wankhade/text books: 2000 rupees/CAD33.33
Housie Gifts: 2810 rupees/CAD46.83
Lucky Gift/Art Supplies shop, Powai/747 rupees/CAD12.45
Ganesh - enjoying the waterpark
Waterpark Picnic/41 people (6 adults/35 children)
Medipals Chemist/medicine for potential car sickness: 116.50 rupees/CAD1.94
Food for the 2 hour bus journey : (purchased from street stalls/small shop)
-water 48 bottles: 480 rupees/CAD8.00
-ladoos/2 one kilo bags: 480 rupees/CAD8.00
-bananas/54: 240 rupees/CAD4.00
Rented Bus transportation (all day): (8000 rupees + 130 x 2 for road tolls) 8260 rupees/CAD137.66
Waterpark Admission/Kawal Resort/Vasai/2 meals/chai/swimming/41 people x 450 rupees/18,450 rupees/CAD307.50
Bus Driver lunch and tip: 600 rupees/CAD10.00
School Fees/ongoing/paid February 21, 2023
Khan Yashra Fatima M. Kalam/7 std : 5000 + 150 rupees/CAD85.83
Khan Yasab Hohd Kalam/5 std: 5000 + 650 rupees/CAD94.16
Shaikh Mannat Saik/9 std: 5000 + 150 rupees/CAD85.83
Total: 99,335.81 rupees/CAD1654.20 (exchange rate based on 60 rupees/CAD 1)