We arrived in Mumbai on September 21st and the trip from Delhi to here was just as hectic as life here as been so far. I didn’t know what to expect from Mumbai, but while going to my guest house from the airport, the rain steadily falling, it invoked some strong emotions. It was sensory overload. The traffic, the people, the smells, the crowded streets were too much to handle at the onset. But as the days go by, and the sun shines, the city looks and feels completely different. I am more comfortable with getting around, my primary accomplishment being mastering the local Mumbai trains, feeling a sense of familiarity in the sights and sounds and general awareness of where I am and what I’m doing. I don’t yet completely feel like I’m a part of the community, but finding, and moving into, our apartment was a huge step in that direction. Now I hope to set down some roots and begin exploring my neighborhood, meet some locals and bargain like I’ve lived here my whole life!
Apart from settling down in the city, I’ve also started working for the Government of India’s Office of the Advisor to the Prime Minister (a mouthful, I know!). I’ll be working on India’s National Skills Development Initiative, a daunting task to say the least. The goal is to “skill” roughly 500 million people by 2022 so that India can become more globally competitive and provide formal employment for the majority of its population. This initiative is a public-private partnership, so there are leaders from industry, academia, civil society, as well as the government, involved in seeing this task to completion. My exact contribution to this mammoth undertaking has yet to be determined, but I have been enjoying my time reading up on what is being done so far. I’ve participated in meeting with the ITI task force, for the lack of a better term, which aims to provide all ITIs with a Standard Operating Procedure handbook, so that all ITIs will become more successful in skilling more people to keep up with domestic and global demands. I’m looking forward to attending many more such meetings and developing my own project.
So, while I’ve only been in Mumbai for a short amount of time, I wanted to share some observations/comments (apologies if they are redundant):
- Brutal honesty- I’m used to political correctness, so much so that I sometimes brutal honesty is hard to swallow. For example, when I gave my landlady my picture for our lease, she said “oh dear, what happened to you?” meaning why did I look so crappy in the picture. But then she turned around and said I looked good in my “office” clothes, go figure!
- Lunch sharing culture- it seems as though everyone in all offices across India bring food from home and share it with the people in their office. This concept is so novel to me, I’m used to getting my food and eating at my desk while I work! It’s refreshing to take an hour for lunch sharing your thoughts over home-cooked food.
- Local Trains- the local trains in Mumbai aren’t as bad as most pictures would have you believe, as long as you don’t mind the occasional, or not so occasional, invasion of personal space. If you’re standing by the door be prepared to answer what stop you’re getting off at, and if it isn’t the next stop, then be prepared to be asked to move back.
- Taxi drivers- sometimes taxi drivers have more insight on how things run in India than you’d think. I was taking a taxi from Lower Parel to Bandra (about 45 minutes driving time) and the taxi driver was telling me why he thought corruption is worse in Mumbai now than it was in the 80s (with regard to the police, specifically). He said that in the 80s, the police force was recruited from all over India, or at least people from outside the locality worked in the station, but now the police are from the locality itself, so personal bonds are created which fosters corruption. I’m not sure if it’s true, but it’s definitely worth thinking about.
- Peons- people in the workplace are totally comfortable calling others “peons” as a designation. I am very uncomfortable when someone tells me to “get the peon to do that” because firstly, I’m not used to addressing anyone as a peon, and secondly, I’m used to doing some administrative work on my own (such as copying or faxing) and not delegating it to someone else.
- Huge newspaper readership- print newspapers are becoming semi-obsolete in the U.S. so it’s nice to see everyone, from the shop owner to the autowalla, gather at a tea stall to read the paper.
- Madam- I still can’t get used to someone calling me madam all the time, from the doorman to the security guards at work, they are all used to this archaic hierarchical system where everyone has to be addressed a certain way.
- Opinion of Obama- people are always asking me what I think of Obama and the economy in the U.S., I guess they want to know if he’s to blame for the current state of affairs in the U.S.
I’ll stop with these for now, but I’m sure I’ll collect more along the way.