Mumbai: The staycation I didn’t know I needed

As you know from the last post, I was utterly exhausted and unraveling by the time my big trip finally arrived. Happy to report I did not pass out, throw up, or breakdown. I found it suspicious that I didn’t have any nerves about spending time in India, even though I’d mostly heard that it was unlike any place I’d been before in terms of craziness, intensity, and chaos. But I also knew that 20 million people live in Mumbai. That’s a lot of people to live in a state of societal anarchy every day. 

So I get up and go – to see for myself what is true and what is actually just a sliver of the truth. 

But to explore you need energy, and I had put a second and third mortgage on my cache of spoons. A few hours after my 9 pm takeoff on Wednesday, I pulled on my compression socks, popped on my eye mask, and positioned the headrest stabilizers to lightly lean against. And I was outtttttttttt. For 9.5 hours I slept like a hibernating bear on that plane. Shortest 12.5 hour flight ever. 

I continued this trend at, I kid you not, Nap Manor Hostel. One roommate said he had never in his life seen somebody sleep that much. I awoke on Sunday refreshed and ready to return to vertical life. 

Now it’s Friday and it feels like I have lived in this apartment for 2 nourishing months with Linita and Darshan, my host family. They were saying tonight at dinner that me staying here strongly feels like fate. I could have landed anywhere in Mumbai, but I came here. We were meant to meet. We immediately connected and by today we feel like family. 

I haven’t eaten so well or gotten this much restful sleep since before I flew out to Indiana for my Uncle Al’s funeral on August 1. I’ve gotten back into daily yoga and learned new techniques and information about meditating, which I do (almost) daily. 

As I write this, the nightly stray dog chorus howls across the city for a few rounds and then it’s silent again. The AC quietly hums in the background, unlike the typical American window units which buzz loud and unceasing. Mumbai weather right now feels exactly like Maryland. Yes, it’s hot and muggy, but with the windows open and the two ceiling fans spinning, I’m comfortable with no AC for 70% of the day.

But I have done things beyond relishing the ease of my home space. 

Thursday I woke up, pulled on my adventure pants and flamingo t-shirt, and ran out the door to have breakfast at Alace and Amu’s house. I met Alace in Writer’s Hour and we’ve become very close friends this year. Hanging out with her in person is the reason I decided to visit Mumbai. 

Alace’s family is originally from Tamil Nadu, a state at India’s southern tip, so I was treated to a homemade traditional Tamil breakfast. Idli (which I’d never heard of before), sambhar, and two curries – one with okra and one with other mixed veggies. Everything in this meal was vegan by default and so delicious – Amu, Alace’s mom is a wonderful cook! 

I have consumed so much contentment here. Amu and Linita clearly cook with love. It’s evident in the taste and it’s evident in how I feel when I’ve finished my plate. 

Homemade pani puri
Traditional Tamil Nadu breakfast

When we finished our food and then our milky, spiced chai tea, Amu showed me her wet grinder. To make idli you soak uncooked rice and split black lentils and then grind them in said wet grinder. You then take this mixture and form the pillows of idli. 

I’ve learned some key points about eating with my hands since arriving. You eat with one hand only so that the other stays clean and you can do things with it, like serve yourself more sambhar or take a sip from your glass of fresh buttermilk. You hold down your roti or idli with your index finger and use all the other four to tear away the piece you want. I realized when I first tried this that I was only using my thumb and middle finger to pull and that wasn’t enough. 

I’ve said before and I will always repeat this (wisdom loves to be repeated), when we travel, the most basic life tasks become new again. Actions that we do on autopilot require brain power again. We’re back in beginner’s mind and toddler mode. How do I get this food from the plate to my mouth? 

It took observing Darshan tear his roti, asking him to show me slowly, and watching my hand do this slowly to realize I had forgotten my last two fingers work. You know how to be fancy and pretend to be a British aristocrat you lift your pinky from a cup? When I lift a water bottle I use only my thumb, index finger, and a light touch from the middle finger to balance. My last two fingers are rarely used. How much more power would my hand have if I used all 5 fingers!? It’s like only using part of your brain matter. So much easier to grip and tear and gather food into my edible vehicle with all my fingers participating. 

Eating with your hand, you feel the food’s texture in a new way. The warmth or coolness. The viscosities as you slide chutney and cucumber salad and spiced okra into your roti before scooping it up to your mouth. And then appreciate simultaneously the mix of flavors and the singular flavors of the ingredients separately. I have eaten so well here. I couldn’t have imagined how nourished I would be here. 

Back to Thursday! After we finished eating we continued our relaxed conversation as if this isn’t the second time we’ve ever sat down in person. Since we’re all writers, the obstacles of comparison and perfectionism came up. I asked if they’d ever watched Brene Brown’s classic TED Talk on vulnerability and shame. When the answer was no, we pulled it up on the laptop and watched 20 minutes of insight dotted with lighthearted self-deprecating jokes.

When it finished, this quote from The Alchemist came to mind, “And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” It doesn’t say, the world conspires to DoorDash your dreams to you. You do the work, and then the universe helps shepherd it to you . Watching this TED Talk was a timely reminder to not hide my work in the dark, digital depths of Google Drive, but rather land in inboxes to see the light of day from the screens of my readers. 

Alace, Amu, and Julie
Brene Brown afternoon

So with that creative nourishment in our veins, we left the house, a la calle!, and went out for an adventure. We took the standard local train from Bhandup West all the way to the far side of Sanjay Ghandi National Park. We took the ladies’ car and one of the benefits was being able to enjoy Mumbai street fashion. 

So many women were wearing graphic hair clips like I do. Plastic and colorful. The large butterfly hairclips look fairylike in their thick, shiny hair perched above the sea of colorful saris and kurtis. Their ears, forearms, and ankles are layered in gold (colored?)  jewelry. The saturated jewel tones and thickly layered patterns keep the eye constantly delighted. For example, a woman holding a toddler wearing a rich midnight blue skirt with a pattern embroidered on in the same color to provide texture and then shiny gold bursts patterned all along it. This, paired with a Barbie pink kurti. 

Nobody wears sunglasses. 

We arrived 1.5 hours later and wandered through the park. Here are some photos to give you a taste. 

Snack lady at the national park
Monkeys traversing the fence

7 thoughts on “Mumbai: The staycation I didn’t know I needed”

  1. It was a pleasure to have you here, Julie! We miss you already. Hope we would meet again soon.
    Would love to explore more of Mumbai with you.
    Love the way you have captured your time here in this cozy blog.
    You have inspired me to travel more, to meditate more and to be a tourist in my own city. Eternally grateful to you.
    Waiting to read more and more of your blogs.
    Have a fabulous stay in Nepal!
    Much Love,
    Amu

  2. Your writing skills are superb. You always bring us along for the ride. Can’t wait to see what you’ll share with us next. Love you.

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