I recently reached Mumbai after wrapping up my place-based work in Hyderabad. So many differences exist: all the roads (and SIDEWALKS!) I traverse here generally boast beautiful, smooth brick or concrete pavement when the uneven dirt roadsides of Hyderabad destroyed most of my close-toed shoes before they blackened my flip-flopped feet. I no longer get angry negotiating down exorbitant estimations of auto drivers, because the autos and taxis of Mumbai abide by strict meter enforcement(!). While foreigners in Hyderabad draw long stares and extra-special treatment from locals, Mumbai’s large expat community ensures less staring and a more offhand attitude between locals and outsiders.
With the intermittent discoveries of Mumbai’s existing conveniences that I no longer take for granted, I should be- and am- very happy with the comfort. The past nine months in Hyderabad have definitely not been easy. Low fellow stipends and undiscriminating power cuts ensured that my housemates and I dipped our feet into the experience of living in conditions that worked against us. I will never miss the eve-teasing, lack of agency, and heightened sense of fear that many females experience here (though this exists in Mumbai, too). I can’t wait to feel that my hair is not falling out and my body is losing years of its life from pollution and questionable water quality.
At the same time, my emotions overwhelm me in cycles as I come to terms with not seeing people or experiencing specific situations again. In the last few months here, I tried to identify and best appreciate the idiosyncrasies of my life in Hyderabad that will not happen for a long time (or perhaps ever again)- I will miss the freely given hellos and handshakes from neighbors and vendors on my street, unbidden and generous sharing of one’s personal meals and belongings, unsolicited help at every turn, comfortable and unconditional self-love, and the resulting unreserved curiosity and openness of heart that allow even complete strangers to bestow their most radiant smile and vigorous wave when they pass you on the street. In the open, cosmopolitan refinement of Mumbai, I find myself missing the rawness and honesty of my time working alongside people who rarely venture past the borders of their neighborhood.
It was in the dwellings of my students and teachers and the low-cost private schools of Hyderabad that I had to learn to venture boldly outside of the rigid structures of my compartmentalized life. Not only has daily life forced me to adapt quickly to unexpected occurrences to avoid the tire of undue stress, but have shown me the interconnectedness of their (and my) personal, spiritual, and professional lives. I will leave India the most patient version of myself. I will also probably leave India the most unprofessional version of myself. Perhaps that’s okay.
I guess all the rambling boils down to this: in Mumbai, I am experiencing India on my terms; in Hyderabad, I experienced India on India’s terms— thankfully, the people I came to know have made it one of the most enriching personal experiences of my existence so far. I left school with a Shirdi Sai Baba statue, a sari, and some bangles, but the best thing given to me by these wonderful individuals whom I will never forget is the magic of appreciating the simplest gifts of life.