Arriving in Mumbai
My raga singing teacher told me when he got off the plane for the first time in India, his initial reaction: “What is that smell?”
After 30 hours of travel, I arrive feeling refreshed and ready. I watched Gandhi on the airplane, thanks to the generosity of a student who loaned me a headset for the trip. We were served a delightful dinner of chicken and green beans in curry. And for breakfast I had two of the tiniest samosas I’ve ever seen (1⁄2” each) and a savory curried lentil and rice dish with yogurt. It was awesome!
I’m floating in a bubble of ease and relaxation as I follow the crowds to immigration and baggage claim. My bag is just about the last one off the plane. This gives me plenty of time to take in the open ceilings with hanging wires, the missing light bulbs, ancient conveyor belt for the suitcases, and the wide variety of suitcases coming off the belt. People around me start to express their anxiety to each other as their bags are not showing up. Though mine has yet to arrive, I’m magically at rest in a sea of contentment. If it doesn’t come, I’ll deal with that then.
Of course it does come. I then easily intuit where to go and what to do next. When I finally walk out of the airport looking for my driver I am reminded of my raga singing teacher. The only smell I can relate it to back home is when the cat peed on the blanket and I couldn’t wash it out. That’s my initial reaction. But it doesn’t overshadow the delight with which I take in the faces of the crowd while scanning for my driver. It’s almost midnight and seasonally balmy. There is no weather in the sky but the air seems misty.
I hook up with my driver and am immediately amused when we get in the car and he sits on the right side! This will be my first trip ever in a car where the driver is on the “wrong” side; and so is the traffic! Needless to say, there are no traffic rules. While it all vaguely reminds me of Mexico, there are specific ways in which it differs… The hussle is missing. People were not hussling me for taking their taxi. The drivers don’t seem to be rushing dangerously by each other trying to prove who can accelerate and brake the most often. And the care with which the airports in Mexico are landscaped is missing here.
The One in me is grateful for the years of yoga that have softened me to accepting things as they are! The streets are dirty, sidewalks unfinished, and rubble from cement, buildings or plants sits in random piles. There are lines on the road but more often than not we straddle them with all the other cars. The clapboard houses, which also remind me of Mexico, are innumerable. Some buildings look unfinished altogether. While I don’t register any aversion arising on my radar screen, the Four in me, who likes her personal space for reflecting and renewing, immediately recognizes and appreciates the luxury of having a two bedroom home with a dedicated yoga room, hot tub and garden!
We drive for 45 minutes through Mumbai to my hotel. It feels like 8 am in the morning to me, so I’m writing. I have a cute room with an even cuter bathroom! It’s strikingly clean and sweetly comfortable. Both my Four and my One are happy!
Waking Up in Mumbai
I wake up at 3:30 am and immediately decide more sleep would be in order. I use one of my favorite mantras, Just Rest, Just Love, and drift back to sleep until 5 am. Since this is my wake up and practice time at home, I’m ready to explore what 30 hours of travel feels like in my body on my yoga mat.
As horns honk relentlessly outside my window and the air conditioning unit wheezes over me, I step into downward facing dog pose. Oh, it’s good to be alive! My body remembers the grace of life in the first pose. Curiously, I don’t have as much muscle tension as expected, though admittedly my six-month-to-date hip surgery hip has been affected by the travel.
After sun salutations with improvisations woven in, I step into a handstand aware that mere inches to my right is the outdated mini-fridge and brand new HD TV; mere inches to my left the twin beds. Since my mat spans the width of the room, I have no space for a handstand mistake. Blessedly, handstand is a pose for which I have installed decades of body memory!
My savasana is a cool drifting in an out of those same horn toots, now reflecting the bird song I awoke to in Costa Rica years ago. Since the humidity hasn’t entered my room, I’m unaware of the smells of Mumbai and rest sweetly in a savasana where my senses are not disturbed. (One of my students noted humorously last week that India seems like the obvious place for the origin of the practice of pratyahara, which means to turn your sense inward!)
Presence and Keeping Pace
After my morning yoga, I decide to go for a walk. Aware that I could very easily get lost in this “unorganized” city, I decide to take only “linear” pathways. As soon as I am out the door of the hotel, I’m immersed in the smells, sounds, sites and paces of the city. It’s only 7 am but dozens upon dozens of people are walking briskly to unknown destinations.
Just outside of my hotel they’ve lined the sidewalk with potted plants, mostly tropicals. It’s quite lovely, especially in contrast to the garbage piles that lie just across the street!
I allow myself to be swept into the current of the pedestrian commuters, without losing track of where Residency Hotel is in my mind’s eye. The pace is faster than I’ve been used to in the last six months, while rehabilitating my hip. And though there are very wide sidewalks, we’re all walking in the street. I have to remind myself that the traffic is “backwards” here.
After about 15 minutes, I’m crossing the street like a local, drumming up some personal bravado for crossing between cars and double decker buses, all honking and swerving in their usual manner. I’m also very much aware that if I had to run to escape one of these vehicles, I couldn’t. My hip is definitely speaking post-surgery-30-hour-travel blues.
Being aware of the miracle of modern surgery for my hip puts what I encounter, by way of people, into stark contrast. There are pedestrians whose legs are literally positioned in their bodies in such a way that I can’t decipher in the few moments we pass each other how their leg bones fit together. What I can see is that they step one leg forward with a strange swinging action and have to place their foot so they can manage the next step. This is, of course, completely familiar to them by now. There are the elderly women who may have once been my height, 5’1”, but are 2’ 6“ when “walking,” crouched over and hunchbacked. There are a few men who walk by on their hands, swinging their bodies through like I had to do when I was on crutches. They’re also less than 3’ tall, though when lying down may be as much as 5‘10“.
Everywhere there are countless people sleeping on sidewalks with thin mats and thinner covers. In some cases these people are sleeping on the sidewalk where pedestrians have to cross the street. No one takes notice and I pretend not to as well, a desire for honoring their privacy suppressing my natural curiosity.
There is litter everywhere and the stink has gotten worse. I notice young boys peeing in the street, men bathing where there is a communal bucket of water, and dogs scratching themselves on their backs in the road. There is indescribable contrast everywhere. As much as it stinks, I sometimes walk by an area that smells like incense burning! Though the place is obviously filthy beyond belief, men and women wearing face masks are sweeping the sidewalks with ineffective brooms, a man is bathing one of the statues in the middle of a large intersection, having climbed a tall ladder to get up to the statue, and women just awakening from sleeping outside the train station are alternately sitting in quiet reflection or braiding their hair.
I keep walking. I let it all roll through me. And while I have entertaining thoughts like “Thank God my One is not so fastidious!” I am also aware that I’m really quite undisturbed by what I’m taking in. Since Fours in their less than balanced state tend to internalize and personalize everything, I’m joyfully aware of the ease with which I encounter this morning’s outing. I don’t press myself to remain curious or expansive. I haven’t put up any “energy shields.” I’m not tuning certain things out while scanning to let other things in. In fact, I’m aware that at present, I’m not employing any strategy to meet this experience. I’m simply present. Relaxed. Amidst the chaos, I’m at home in myself.
To Be a Four or Not to be a Four?
As I reflect on my interpretation of India as a possible Four on the Enneagram against the experience I have walking around the city, I have to make one very strong amendment. Sometimes Fours are described as people who need to feel special or unique. (This is where they can get lost in their unfortunate self-absorbed, taking-everything-personally downside. Keep in mind that some people would benefit from cultivating more self-absorption in the form of self-reflection and others would do well to take things more personally once in a while, as in the process of asking how one’s actions affect other people.)
Based on my experience of walking through Mumbai for an hour, I would suggest this: There are far too many people here in far too diverse configurations for individuals to feel they must claim their “specialness.” I don’t see that anywhere on this brief outing. But there also seems to be so much happening every moment, some of it devastating, that examining every nuance of one’s emotional response to it all would be debilitating and unhelpful. While India does have strong spiritual and emotional roots, perhaps the people I’ve seen in Mumbai, don’t have time or space for navel gazing or taking all of this personally. When the Four turns her longing for connection with God into an asset, she can overcome whatever demoralizing circumstance she encounters, whether hers or another’s.