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Mumbai is an enigma

Jennifer Sagoo (31) arrived in Mumbai ten months ago. She is an American expat who juggles her schedule between being a full-time mum and volunteer with children’s organisations and humanitarian groups.

entertainment Updated: Sep 28, 2009 19:49 IST

Jennifer Sagoo (31) arrived in Mumbai ten months ago. She is an American expat who juggles her schedule between being a
full-time mum and volunteer with children’s organisations and humanitarian groups

Here are some questions that I would like to pose to Mumbaikars. Why can’t I ask anyone a question without them turning around and asking 15 other people, all of who end up giving a different answer, of which none end up being correct? Why do some people feel that they have the right to barge their way to the front of the line, regardless of when they showed up? I am tired of being physically pushed aside, even in the grocery store, by some impatient auntie’s sizeable backside.
Why do the hijras at the traffic lights always have to clap and touch my leg when asking me for money? Don’t they realise that ‘goris’ don’t believe in their curses?

Who created IST (Indian Standard Time)? And how did it become a countrywide phenomenon that has completely overtaken acceptable time?

I have found out that if you actually show up somewhere at the arranged time, you are the foolish one. And if you expect something to occur or be finished at an agreed time, you are the one who did not understand the directions.

Can someone also explain to me why people simply don’t show up for work or to a job interview without any kind of explanation? And even if they do begin a job, and act extremely optimistic about the position, they don’t come back the next day? Somehow everyone explains it away by saying, “That’s just how it is.” That’s just how what is?

And just what exactly is the protocol with the head wobble? I can never understand when it means yes and when it means no. This topic alone could fill volumes, but I would be happy with a simple explanation that will help me when I’m trying to catch a rickshaw.

Sometimes I see the head wobble from the driver and get in, assuming it to mean yes, but it really meant no, or I walk away when the driver’s ambiguous gesture really meant yes. Is it a subtle twist of the neck that makes the
difference?

Why are men allowed to walk around the streets wearing nothing but a dirty towel all day, bathing on the sidewalk, or relieving themselves right next to you, but a woman showing her shoulder is offensive?

Why does a two-minute conversation always turn into an extensive dialogue that has nothing to do with the original topic, and leaves you more confused than when you began?

Finally, and this is my most important question, what exactly does the stare really mean? Is it approval? Disapproval? Curiosity? Disdain? An answer to this question will help me survive in this city.

At first, I thought I was the one with a problem but then I realised that I was going to get stared at, no matter what I did. There is the old woman at the sabji market who stares like she can’t believe that westerners buy and eat food too!
Then there is the chaat guy who can barely make my bhelpuri because he is staring so hard that he dumps the chutney on
the ground.

These are just a few of the questions that I would ask. Although, the fact that these questions do not have any real answers, may be what make Mumbai what it is.

Someone once explained to me that in order to be part of Mumbai, you have to stop trying to understand, you have to quit resisting; you just have to give in and accept it the way it is. And that’s what I am now trying to do.

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