other side of the coin

july 13, 2006

still mumbai

hola, compadres,

it seems i'm a very popular guy in mumbai. i just did an interview with the AP (associated press). they grabbed me, literally stepping off a boat at the "gate of india" (bombay's british sort of l'arc de triomphe landmark from the days of the raj), having just visited the hindu caves at elephanta island, full of wild macaque monkeys and gigantic cave carvings of shiva & his infinite avatars. still wondering what i'm doing in india. so that's what they asked, "what are you doing in mumbai? how do you feel about the bombings?"

well, there's 2 sides of the coin, right? cut and run. panic. like i said, my 1st response. but then, wise malaysian-indian friend, mano, writes: "my man, face it, u wanted adventure, drama, mindfuck, raw nature, and raw everything as near non-LA paradigm. someone heard, someone granted your wish. and there is no turning back, cos that will be not YOU. The same spirit who hoisted you there will foist you there."

so yeah, i've been considering my options. while the suburban, conventional part of me is screaming, “bombay is not cool, dude. just pack up and flee the hell hole of india”, the other, more seasoned part of myself tells me to get my moxie and mojo going, to let go, and see what's here for me. i'm balancing, on 1 side, my fear, the filthy steam heat of mumbai, the overwhelming impact of its poor, starving, crippled, begging, and living-on-the-street millions, the perfect timing & political fallout of the train bombings - against whatever it is that india has that keeps bringing the greatest travelers to her.

i mean what do i have to do with any of this? muslim terrorism? the kashmiri conflict? al qaeda's crusade against the west? am i one of george bush's ugly americans who many in the world think is more responsible for the war on terrorism (and its consequent spreading and expansion worldwide) than any one other force on the planet? i mean what do i have to do with american imperialism, global exploitation, third world poverty and hunger, the spread of HIV, the decrepit beggars on the streets of india? what does any one of us matter?

i mean, what was i doing when the bombs went off? i was visiting the gandhi house, where the great and inspired man lived when in bombay and from where he staged his non violent civil disobedience and fasts. look at what one man can do. at what one man did. well, do you strive for peace, justice, freedom, courage and fairness in the world? or do you cover your ass? look out for number one? acquire more and more things? fear what's different? chose to make enemies out of other human beings just because of their otherness, their nationality, their religion, their poverty, their beliefs, their stubbornness, the color of their skin? i mean, if you're not a politician, an economist, a religious leader, a world player, what's your responsibility? do you just hide your head in the sand? say you're powerless? it's not your problem? or do you stand up and make your contribution? teach your classes? defend and help your clients? whatever you do, do it with purpose, honesty, commitment, integrity? is love all there really is?

merde! what a soap box. you want pictures from the front. food for the blogosphere. but i just can't. i'm not a political reporter. i'm just here at this eventful time. i think all i can do is carry on. see india. not cut and run. that's what tragedy does. creates survivors. right here in mumbai. lots of survivors. in new york, london, madrid... survivors. tonight, my mumbai "servas" host, a comfortable, smiling & content indian diamond merchant, ravi, tells me he'd never move to NYC for the diamond business because he couldn't survive there. he couldn't cook for himself (his hindu wife does that for him); he couldn't live surrounded by so much greed and so many things; he couldn't live like a westerner. then, sitting around the dinner coffee table, ravi tells me that 60! of his diamond merchant colleagues died tuesday on the trains. they were riding 1st class, the only cars attacked. and what? what can he do? life goes on. for him & his family. for the 16 million in mumbai who are already back on the trains. for the rest of the world. for you. for me.

indian fatalism. western reality.

so i'm looking for this internet shop tonight, and i get lost in the steamy swarm of humanity. i ask for directions. and one, then two, grown indian men, both strangers to each other, walk 2 blocks out of their way to show me this 2nd floor, thank god for the ceiling fan, hole in the wall shop. and one says, "we have to show you the way. it's our responsibility. we're so glad you came to india." and i thank him. but i'm cranky. i think they're taking me to a more out of the way shop than i was told about. but in fact, after we exchange some "good proper, mother's tongue english", we arrive at the exact shop i was told about, just 2 extra friendly blocks out of the way. and i kick my own curmudgeonly, set-in-my-ways, tight ass, and smile. and they want to make sure i can find my way back home. and i assure them i can. and the two new friends walk off into the steamy swarm, and i climb the dark steps a little higher into the third world...

and i get on a train tomorrow and head south for the indian beaches of goa. a different world. a different experience. a step forward on this journey. a letting go further into the om void. "go into yourself, my friend, go to places least traveled, repeal the layers of yourself that the years have plastered on you. lock away mexico, peru and southeast asia - they are different and chapters passed. here and now is a wholly new book begging to be written. you who has the eyes, the heart, the words and, by sheer timing, the presence, really have no choice but to let india take you."

it's malaysian mano again. i think he's the one with the wisdom here.

i'm just getting on the train....................

love anyway,

boom boom