You Must Adjust
Mumbai street - another day, another auto-rickshaw ride.
Veer needs shoes, Khunbunitsa, Nazma and Siddarth need urgent dental care, Vaseema has chest pains but can’t afford to have diagnostic tests, and school fees need to be paid so that students are allowed to write their exams. There’s more issues of course, all urgent, all needs, not wants, all very dire to the person doing the asking. The minute we land in Mumbai we, via our generous donors, become a magnet for those in need. Indu’s phone rings more often, and worried parents line up at her home to ask for help. An elderly woman stops us in the lane and points to her rheumy eyes, maybe cataract pain, maybe old age, maybe more. She’s on the list of people to help.
Oh, Mumbai. We’re not strangers to the wallop of emotions you can dish out but, after two and a bit years away, you've outdone yourself.
Aagya, Sakina, Aroohi and Lavisha on the way home from school.
We left Mumbai in the very early days of covid in the tumultuous month of March 2020, when every airport we tried to fly out of, closed one by one, until we had one very expensive option left, and we took it, finally arriving home to our small silent city shrouded in covid containment. Perhaps our comfortable covid cocoon, where we got to indulge in extreme laziness with no urgent expectations required of us, has made us highly sensitive to the crazy emotions entangled within the madness of this exhausting, insane city. We’ve gone from comfortable voyeurs from afar via video chats while Indu handled the heavy emotional lifting, to once again, becoming active participants in the daily lives of hundreds of people with many urgent needs.
Our search for a place to live was easy, as long as we settle for what’s available, knowing we’d have to get to work cleaning it to a habitable state. We rented an empty unfurnished room, within it a small room containing a squat toilet and a shower head (no bathroom sink) which is all we need here, and how millions of people here live. We bought a mattress, a cooktop, some dishes, bedsheets, towels, and a fold-up table and two stools. We enjoy the luxury of piped in gas for the stove (no wondering when the tank will run out) and cold water showers after a sweaty day in the city.
Our home for the next four months.
The community has once again morphed into a denser version of what is was when we left in 2020. The first week of being back here it was as if we were hovering over the community, not actually touching down. Generous offers of lunches, dinners, snacks and little cups of chai were served to us for days on end. Over meals shared in their small spaces, sitting cross-legged, we listened to them and exchanged stories of each others lives since we were last present. It was all so surreal to be back here and we wanted the gentle, poignant embrace of the community to continue. The crash landing happened as we knew it would. The reality of the problems in the community became clear — high definition clear. The lanes are darker, the smells are more vivid, the street dogs seem mangier, and many of the core group of children we’ve come to know since 2009 have grown into adults. Some are married, some have children, some are in college, some are working, and a few have fallen into the criminal category with nothing to lose. Eventually, sooner than later, the conversations with them about their families brought all their problems to the surface, adding to the growing list of needs each family has for Indu and us to discuss. The anxiety set in. The worries surfaced. What if we couldn’t help someone?
We observe once again that physical and emotional comfort means something different to everyone. We’re remembering to look beyond what our cultural expectations are regarding family dynamics, basic housing, employment rights, human rights, basic needs, the role that community plays, the role of the jarring caste system, skin colour issues, dowry payments, and the heaviness of the combined patriarchy and misogyny that prevents females here from having autonomy over their own lives. We remember how religion plays a large part in their daily lives amidst the changing political landscape of India, all the while we have the privilege of removing ourselves from their problems by turning off our phone at night, or not leaving our flat, if that’s what we want to do.
Housing density in the community. The daylight barely squeaks through.
But that isn’t what we want to do. Our hard landing has propped our eyes wide open once again. The chai still flows, the shared meals continue to be offered and fully enjoyed, and we are once again holding tight to everything that we have come to expect and love about Mumbai, the community, and the country. We are excited to find our flat was freshly painted just before we rented it, even if the common areas of the building have been neglected for years, and that everything we need is sold on the street outside our building from small family shops or carts piled high with fruit, vegetables, clothing, marigold garlands, and the famous incense that keeps mosquitos away. We love that Mumbai is a gigantic city with outrageous visual treats and sounds, and that there’s always so much more for us to explore with Indu and the children in tow and, that as chaotic as the streets are, we always meet someone we know everywhere we go. It as awful as it can be and as beautiful as it can be.
Indu often remarks to me, “We have a habit of this”, when I wonder aloud about the problems facing so many families in the community; how they don’t believe they are entitled to resolutions. It’s a stark and eloquent statement about how they adjust to their problems, doing what they can to fix the problem, and letting go of what can’t be fixed. Their life lessons are raw. There’s a quiet acceptance of what they can expect from life when poverty is their teacher. We know we must adjust, immerse ourselves fully, and do what we can do.
Aarya and Indu waiting for us to catch up on our way out of the community to do an errand.
Indu has been the sole provider of in-person care for the community on our behalf since March 2020.The most resonating comments we’ve received since our return has been the emotional, emphatic thank you from everyone who received donations of rations during the harsh lockdown period in Mumbai. It was a long, dark, hungry period for so many families whose livelihoods were taken away immediately while the country locked down. They were left with whatever food supplies they had left over from their last meal and when that ran out, they had nothing. Indu reacted immediately. An urgent call to us to send funds to feed her community resulted in 100’s of people getting the grains and basic supplies they needed throughout the lockdowns. Indu, and the donations we received during that time, kept this community from the brink.
The ration shop where Indu purchased rations for the community during the lockdowns.
We’re very happy to be back in Mumbai to help her carry the burden of daily community care. Here’s a list of how donations have helped this community since our return in late October.
October 2022 - December 17, 2022
Birthdays/Tuition Events for the children: 25,675 rupees (CAD 513.76)
Tuition Supplies (paper/art supplies/sports equipment): 6375 rupees (CAD 127.50)
Tuition WIFI/installed for online learning: 833 rupees per month (CAD 16.66)
WIFI installed in a village in Bihar: installation fee - 5000 rupees (CAD 100) (monthly payments for service to be determined) (more on this story in the next post!)
Medical/Dental fees/medicine: 49,921 rupees (CAD 998.42)
School Fees: 166,900 (CAD 3338.00)
Total spent (October - December 17, 2022): 254,704 (CAD 5094.08)
Auto-rickshaws: (Indu/us use daily as transportation to medical appointments, to pay school fees, for families who require transportation to clinics etc)
Averages out to approximately $1 a day over a yearly period. While we are here it cost up to $5 a day when medical issues are taken into concern and numerous trips are made to clinics and test centres.
*we are using an exchange rate of 50 rupees to the dollar. The official exchange rate is currently 60.22, however we’ve calculated the cost of bank fees in each ATM transaction both in India and Canada, which results in getting less than the current exchange rate per transaction.
As always, if you’re interested, check out our DWP Instagram/Facebook accounts, where you’ll see up-to-date photos accompanied by short stories posted a few times a week.