Sunday, February 11, 2007

Not Part 2

I've officially been in Mumbai a week, and in India for two. It is crazy how time bends while traveling. I in some ways feel as though there was no moment before this. Hyderabad, even a week ago, is a distant, fuzzy memory. My family and friends are pieces of love that are accessible through phone and email, and their physical presence seems doubtful. Today I had a bad day. Almost 2 weeks to the day of me arriving here, I am experiencing what LEAP refers to as a predictable bout of culture shock. Here are some symptoms and/or reasons:
"After two weeks, this has usually passed, and students hit the wall in a
couple of ways:

Culture shock
Feeling that you can't really make a difference
Feeling useless in your internship
Feeling that things are too different from what you imagined when
you chose your internship
Feeling that three months is too long to feel like this
Feeling like everyone else is having a better experience than you
Not speaking the language well enough to really connect with people
Being the only _____ person among many _______ persons
Hating everything and just wanting to pack it in and go home
Feeling unsafe, or that something bad will happen if you stay
Crying a lot for no clear reason
Feeling that you aren't getting what you came here for"

It is predictable, I am told, and like clockwork, here I am. This is compounded by the death of my aunt earlier this week; she lost a long, hard battle with cancer. There are other things pulling from home of course, but I feel quite detached from most of it, all the way on the other side of the world, in my Bombay bubble.

It's a city built by the British on land "reclaimed" from the sea. Reclaimed? when you fill in the ocean, is that reclaiming? or destroying? I'm not sure. I think to the part of Mumbai I have definitely NOT seen, and have little desire to. The part beyond the bridge that leads to Asia's largest slums. Those folks are like the land, I think. Reclaimed and added to this city in a way that has destroyed their lives and their futures. Slums are visible enough, especially on the way to the staple of the Bollywood super rich, the film shoot. Being here is great, and I am grateful for it. But yesterday I went shopping with one of the super rich, and that led me into a very strange and unsettling evening. I ended up meeting up with friends of a friend who lived in Mumbai last year. They are Ivy Leaguers, one form UPenn and one Harvard. The Harvard one is white, from my area back home and strangely enough, knows a kid I served with in City Year. The world is too small sometimes. The UPenn kid is a Californian of South Indian descent, very sheltered. They are both success stories of being on "the track" to a tip top education at the most elite American institutions. By the time I met up with them, I was exhausted, ungrounded, flustered and frustrated. It was nice to speak American English with other Americans, really laugh, share sarcasm and irony, and just hang out. But in my tiredness, I didn't have the normal deft guards up for conversation, and I noticed but didn't counter the fact that the conversation ended up being all about me. As in, classifying, labelling, understanding and ultimately placing me in my appropriate social hierarchical place. Basically amidst the laughter, the conversation went like this:

Where are you from?
How do you know Tyler? (our mutual friend)
Why are you in India?
So wait what school do you go to?
What's your major? Why did you work for so long after high school?
I've never heard of someone taking so much time off!!
So you tried Americorps and then decided on this?
You realize, and are mentally prepared for the fact that you will be the oldest person in all your classes for the next 3 years, right?
Did your gap year turn into many?

I deftly answered and kept the conversation moving, but it never turned to them. I was too tired to pry or wryly comment on their obviously successful path of conformity and the pride of their parents and family. I'm not sure if other people do this, but after social interactions, especially new and different ones, I examine them from as many angles as I can see. As I did this, I felt incredibly judged by these two well meaning, friendly, well educated boys. I started to feel bad about myself, about the choices I've made (and haven't had the opportunity to make) and regret the way my life is. I started to feel like I had to prove how my brilliance and legitimacy. They were such text book Ivys, and they are, as it goes, still on the track. They are in India working for an Indian company that sells cars internationally. I got pissed this morning when I was thinking about it. I don't know why I felt so needy of their approval. I shouldn't feel that way. I shouldn't have to, anyway.
I am intelligent, subversive, witty, attractive. I am loved
Why do I need validation from this world that I reject?
Do I want to be a part of it that badly?
Makes me really upset that I wasn't able to fulfill my potential in the socially accepted, rewarded way of going to an Ivy in the correct amount of time and then going on to do whatever I want.

The strange duality and almost hypocrisy of visiting the Bollywood world while really being against what it stands for and what it propagates in the Indian culture (as far as consumerism, white is right mentality) and it is beginning to grate on me a bit. I am really enjoying getting to see the flim industry this close and learning so much, but those slums along the way and the people who tap on my window and beseach my generosity in the name of God stay with me past the pretty faces of the actors and actresses and the self important musings of the directors, producers and the like.

Today I woke up at 7am, earliest for a shoot day, after going to bed latest than I have, more exhuasted than I have been. I was explicity instructed I had to be ready by 9 AM to be fetched by my program's asst to be chaperoned to today's shoot. It was shooting on the other side of Mumbai, a good 2-2.5 hour commute from here. It was my academic director's shoot, and it had been shooting from 6AM on location in the streets of a quaint neighborhood. It was supposed to be a very conformtable experience for me, my teacher's movie and all. We ended up, both due to the incredibly lax and infuriating lack of Indian communication skills, decision making and premium put on time to travel and wait around for over 3 hrs before i arrived at the shoot that had been going on since 6AM. I was ready at 9, despite my sheer exhuastiuon. I didn't get fetched until almost 10, and didn't arrive on set until almost lunch after 1PM. I wanted to kill someone. Shooting on location was horrible. It wasn't a comfortable experience for me, hardly anyone acklowedged me or accomodated me. I stood for hours of shots, in the heat and sun, getting attacked by crazy bugs. I was so far gone by 3pm, when the shoot was supposed to wrap that I spent the two extra hours we shot staring at the action with glazed eyes, trying to stay awake. :( Everything sucked today.

I dunno. I'm exhuasted and apoligize for not being able to save this blog post from the negative and slightly depresing look at my experience.

Comments (and concerned emails!) are greatly appreciated.


girlalex said...

Ohh honey. I know exactly what you're talking about. My experience is different, but similar. (Wonder why? hah) Anyways, I'll email you about it. I love you, hang in there!

Frick said...

I'm sorry that day was miserable, but hopefully it is only one out of many that are a great experience and fulfilling! I will call you asap my love :) Miss you