Category Archives: buildings

Good-bye Mumbai!

I’m getting ready to leave Mumbai – I might even be at the airport or on the plane home before I manage to publish this post. It seemed right that I make my last Indian post about this city which has been the source and location of nearly all of my experience of India.

Seven weeks is way too short a time to get to know any place beyond the level of slight acquaintance, but Mumbai must be one of the most challenging in this regard. If she were a human, I’d have to say that I caught a glimpse of her brilliant form once for about five seconds, during which moment I heard her singing a few words I couldn’t understand.

In physical size alone, Mumbai takes up most of Salsette Island, and you would have to drive in three hours of crazy traffic to get from the north end to the south. There is a whole national park within its boundaries. I spent 90% of my time in one neighborhood, in a city of 22 million people, twice the population of Belgium.

Mumbai is the financial and fashion capital of India, and the city where 7-10 people die every day in train related accidents. The most expensive house in the world is in Mumbai, and the most educated slum. A million people live in this slum, Dharavi, which dates from the 1840’s, and 80% of them are employed. They live in 84 settlements taking up less than a square mile, which makes the population density of Dharavi 20 times that of Mumbai as a whole. (Nearly half the population of the Mumbai lives in slums, if you count Dharavi as a slum, which according to some definitions it isn’t any longer.)

Dharavi recycles 80% of the plastic trash of Mumbai, and produces 3.5 tonnes (Tonnes are bigger than tons) of food every day. One of its many other businesses and “hutment industries” is the large pottery business at Kumbharwada:

I took a tour of Dharavi this week but didn’t take pictures, so that one above I found online. Our group walked around through the industrial and residential areas for two hours, which gave me exposure to thousands of visual images and other sensations to process, accompanied by the excellent narrative by our guide who was from the slum. I took notes on both; but I am a really slow writer, which is why here at the end of my India stay, when I’m counting down the hours, I don’t have time to convey my direct experience.

The subject and reality of Dharavi is huge and complex, and you can read much about it elsewhere if you are interested, and watch YouTube tours. It’s another one of the many Things Mumbai that I will leave here knowing just superficially, but it was a wonderful tour and did expand my understanding quite a bit.

Tiffin wallahs

The lunchbox delivery service by tiffin wallahs or dabbawalas originated in Mumbai. Maybe some of my readers have seen the movie “The Lunchbox” that tells a story centered around this local phenomenon. I saw this charming movie years ago but didn’t pay attention to its setting in Mumbai.

Tiffin wallahs have been providing their services in Bombay since 1890, and are known for their high degree of accuracy in delivering lunches from home or restaurant, and the boxes back to the source the same day. This blog does a good job of describing how it works and why it is such a regular part of so many Mumbaikars’ lives: Dabba Dabba Do! And from another article:

“Some 5,000 men dole out over 200,000 meals a day, picking up the tiffins in the morning from women, typically, who have packed steaming, spicy dishes into each compartment: a curry, vegetables, dal (lentils), and flatbread (with some variations).

“For many Mumbai residents, this is the only way to lunch — on a feast, made with the love of a mother or wife.

“‘It’s expensive to eat outside every day, besides it’s not healthy,’ said 36-year-old Naina Bhonsle in Mumbai’s Versova neighborhood. ‘I know what my husband likes eating, and so I prefer to send him a tiffin every day.’”

The boxes are transported and distributed by train and on bicycles; on my first day here Tom pointed out this bicycle belonging to a tiffin wallah and since then I’ve seen many of the wallahs, the typically semi-literate men who do the carrying, as they pedal around. It’s another case like Dhobi Ghat of a very organized low-tech, high efficiency system serving basic human needs, and that sort of thing makes me admire all the parties who keep the thing running.

“The Lunchbox” is not a film made according to the Bollywood formula in the style of “Lagaan,” which I mentioned before. But Bollywood style movies are worth mentioning here as a phenomenon because Mumbai is the center of Bollywood. In Reimagining India, Jerry Pinto wrote: “Bollywood is not just a film industry. It is all-pervasive: a home-grown, film-a-day dream machine that maintains a pleasant stranglehold on our imaginations. It determines — or at least shapes — how we see ourselves, how we think, how we talk, dream, speak, love, fight.”

In the same article he describes the Bollywood formula as requiring: “…a fight for the young men, a romantic story for the women, a devotional song for the elderly. Films made for the entire Hindi-speaking market would have to be patriarchal, right wing, jingoistic, and patronizing in their attitudes to anything non-Indian and nonmajoritarian.”

I didn’t know much about Bollywood until the last year or two. I saw a laughably sentimental Bollywood movie first, and then last month, “Lagaan,” a much more enjoyable example. The music of Bollywood films is often the kind that is happy and makes you want to dance, even if — or especially if? — it is separated from the dance routines of the movie. I am not much of a movie watcher in the first place, so I won’t be exploring the genre more, but as a cultural phenomenon, I wouldn’t want to miss it completely. And I have added Bollywood music to my iTunes playlist to listen to on road trips.

Art Deco City

I heard that Mumbai is “the most Art Deco city in the world after Miami,” and though I hadn’t given the style or history of Art Deco one concentrated thought ever before in my life, having Tom on my first day show me some design features in their neighborhood made me focus my eyes in a new way.

From what I have read, it seems that Art Deco and India were made for each other. The Indian Institute of Architects was founded in 1929, the middle class was growing in the 30’s, and many of the buildings in the city from this period featured Art Deco elements in their design. I’ve seen structures from this century include some retro aspects from the style that Mumbai now feels is part of its tradition and heritage.

There is a whole Wikipedia article on Art Deco in Mumbai, which helped me to grasp enough of the concepts to be able to occasionally recognize the Art Deco influence on our outings. If I were going to be here longer, I’d like to go on a tour given by this organization: Art Deco Mumbai . I’ve already seen quite a few examples that would be on the tour, mostly driving past too fast to get a good picture — and some in our neighborhood.

I always love to take pictures of buildings that catch my attention for some reason. Mumbai has been fun that way, because there is such a range of ages and styles — and colors. Sometimes it is just the names of apartment buildings that strike the American ear as funny. I didn’t take a picture of Flushel Apartments, but Tom joked about what was behind that name… Were they advertising that all the toilets worked, or that the walls were straight and plumb? Haha. It was right down the street from the Executive Enclave.

Mostly for my own convenience I am posting below some images of this city that I want to have in this handy Glad collection. Maybe you will like some of them, too!

During my last days here, the air cleared a lot, and I was quite pleased to see that one of my photos revealed blue skies with cottony white clouds!

Every walk through the neighborhood, I’m realizing, might be my last down this street or that…

And when I ate one of Nancy’s chapatis fresh from the griddle, it was the most special ever because it was likely the last one that fresh.

I could never take enough pictures of women in colorful clothes to satisfy me, or enough videos of Kareena cooking. I can’t buy all of the lovely dresses in the shops, or learn the names of every surprising Indian dessert. My time of glorious Too-Muchness has come to an end, and I’m going home to Great Lent, which is the perfect way to transition from the superabundance of everything here to… what?

Lent is a journey to Pascha. It’s not the kind of journey where you are bombarded from outside by exciting and even dangerous forces and sensations ranging from air travel to chapatis and people on the street, but a quiet path on which all the struggles come from trying to tune one’s own heart. Considering my starting point, it will surely take all of my effort to accomplish anything in only 40 days.

The hardest part of leaving is, of course, that Raj and his parents are staying here! It has been the sweetest day-after-day to live in the same house as Kate and Tom and their new baby, and to love and be loved in person on a daily basis. The comforting thing is, that except for not being in the same house, we will go on loving and being loved, and be together at the throne of God, as long as He gives us grace. I’m not saying any kind of final good-bye to them.

But I do have to say, “Good-bye, Mumbai!”

a few churches

The Apostle Thomas first brought the Gospel of Christ to India, so the history of the faith here dates from way back. But in this area around Mumbai it’s the Portuguese influence that began in the 16th century that has resulted in many Catholic churches, schools, and convents. The history of Christianity in India is too vast a subject for me to delve into, much less write about, but I don’t want to leave Mumbai without mentioning a few churches I saw and my quite personal and random impressions.

I didn’t visit any of the churches in the uninterrupted line of the Apostle Thomas, because they are not as convenient to get to, and my contact with Catholic churches was also minimal. Tom and I did see the Afghan Church briefly. Many times the old church buildings themselves are a blessing to me, when I consider all the generations of worshipers who have sung and prayed there.

On my first morning, when Tom took me on that two-hour walking tour, we visited St. Andrew’s Church, which was locked. The caretaker was glad to let us in, and we found that we were not the only visitors. A woman was sitting in a pew facing the altar. We sat in silence for a few minutes also, and then went out to see the graveyard.

The most architecturally impressive church I’ve seen was The Basilica of our Lady of the Mount at Land’s End in Bandra, Mumbai. The current church was built in the 18th century, though a chapel in this spot had been built by the Portuguese in the 1500’s.

We made the trip in one of those black-and-yellow rickshaws such as you can see in front in this picture, and we came expecting that we might have to stand outside, because services are known to be crowded. But we were able to sit in the nave on bench pews, and when we came in there was singing already filling the church, very melodic and light.

People were indeed standing outside around the tall side doors that were open wide, and maybe that’s how birds would fly in and out. For a while only rock doves swooped silently across the altar and back, but soon they were joined by a very noisy crow who made it hard to hear the scripture readings. One dove changed course and flew up and down the length of the nave many times, and the crow eventually either flew out or merely fell silent just before the homily, which was a relief.

I enjoyed the outdoorsy feeling, though, and appreciated the simple and uncushioned, beautiful wooden pews. Just outside afterward we met an acquaintance whose photo with his cute niece I’ve been waiting weeks for a chance to post.

One church we attended in the neighborhood was new to Tom and Kate, as was the Basilica. We walked about ten minutes to get to St. Anne’s, including a walk down a very long driveway to accommodate the cars that weren’t planned for. Tom liked that the church was so old that it had been built before streets were needed, and later on they were not laid out so that they passed very near.

I liked the way the windows were open to the evening (We were at 6 o’clock mass.) and to the courtyard. After the service people hung around in the balmy air (winter is still warm!) to chat.

The atmosphere and the open windows reminded me of church summer camp, especially singing the sort of choruses that hearken back to an earlier period of Christian music in the U.S. at least, such as the ones I’ve copied here, sung out of a book or projected on a screen overhead.

Kate and Tom’s usual parish down the street is newer, and even more accommodating to the weather, the extremes of which I know nothing about. The sides of the nave to a height of eight feet or so consist of louvered, unscreened windows. The louvers were completely open, and large oscillating fans set close blew the pleasantest breeze through the pews. Baby Raj was in the sling and seemed completely asleep through the whole service, but it could be he was listening with his spirit. He was blessed also by the hand of the priest.

I’ve been missing my Orthodox parish, no doubt about it. But it has been a joy to see the lasting effect of faithful witnesses down through the ages in this one community, and to receive through them gifts of grace such as I knew when I saw the sign on St. Peter’s Church here, shortly after Christmas:

JESUS THE FACE OF THE MERCIFUL GOD

Brick and stone and blue skies.

The second half of my week in Wisconsin the weather was blue skies and perfect Autumn. Pearl took me to downtown Milwaukee for a brief tour of a few places. We saw the new skyscrapers and the tall old buildings, which seem to blend well stylistically with each other. They made me want to take a virtual tour of the architecture of Milwaukee, or even better, to come back another day for an on-the-ground tour.

We walked along the Milwaukee River a bit, and bought cheese and sausages.

And saw these sidewalk tiles evoking Paddle-to-the-Sea, perhaps?

Pearl’s husband Nate works at Marquette University now. We walked on campus…

…and headed for the little chapel that Nate had told me about many months ago when he first encountered it; he knew I would want to visit it, too.

It’s the St. Joan of Arc Chapel, dating from 15th century France, which has twice been taken apart stone by stone and reassembled. In the 20th century it was given to the University where it has been a house of worship on the Marquette campus since 1966.

Many years ago I read Mark Twain’s Joan of Arc, which he considered to be his best book. It is completely serious, and fascinating. Joan’s story is so compelling and strange — I would love to read that book again. Just being in this chapel, decorated with some artifacts that are older than the building itself, and are there for the touching, made me feel that I must surely have at least a few drops of French blood in my veins!

My dear daughter and I wrapped up my stay with a hike in the woods. After the rains, the leaves had taken on more color, and many were drifting down through the forest, which would have been deeply quiet had we not been crunching along and chatting. During my stay the weather had been ten degrees warmer than average for this time of year. All in all, it was a happy introduction to Pearl’s new home. The next day I would fly away and be gone.

My $1 Summer Vacation

Of Cape Cod and summering there, one man generations ago said, “It is the dullest, flattest, stupidest, pleasantest, most restful place on the whole coast. Nothing to do and we do it all the time.”

Sometime back I succumbed to a book on a topic pretty far removed from my usual interests or experience: the life and history of a summer house on Cape Cod in Massachusetts. This book sat on the shelf for five years or so until for some reason I took it down and put it in my suitcase to read on a trip. How and why I ever came into possession of it, I couldn’t remember. Then inside the back cover I discovered a remainder sticker I had removed and put there, which showed that I had found it in the $1 bin at a local bookstore.the big house image

The author is George Howe Colt, who as I figured out after some chapters is married to Anne Fadiman, writer of essays I first read in her delightful book Ex Libris. As his story opens, he and Anne and their two children are opening up the eponymous Big House for the season, in what might be their last summer as its owners.

Colt writes richly about the history of Cape Cod and summer homes generally, and about his particular family’s particular house on the Cape. It hasn’t been that long, really, that people have lived this Cape-Cod-summer lifestyle that was already near to extinction when the author told his tale more than ten years ago. In the early 19th century Bostonians started building summer homes there where previously it was thought most unsuitable, as Thoreau wrote: “It is a wild, rank place, and there is no flattery in it.” In previous eras homes were built in more sheltered locations inland from the sea.

I learned that many of our forbears used to think of the ocean unkindly, as a symbol of spiritual barrenness, and not want to go into or live near it — and then over the course of a century they had changed, to the point where they thought that living close to the sea, swimming in it, and even drinking buckets of sea water the most healthful things they could do.

capecod
Aerial view of Cape Cod (from the www.)

I was interested in the architecture and construction of the Big House, so much larger than many summer houses that no way could it be called a cottage. Size is the only luxurious thing about it, though. Residents and guests must wash dishes by hand in a kitchen where crickets abound, sleep between old mismatched sheets, and prop open many of the sixty-seven windows with a wooden coat hanger or a copy of Greyfriars Bobby.

The whole phenomenon of Old Money and what Colt calls the Boston Brahmin is explained: “If one had old money, it followed that one had old things: the wealthier the Bostonian, it has been said, the more dents in his car and the more holes in his clothes.” I know this is common knowledge to many people but the concrete example of Cape Cod lifestyle brought it all home to me.

Of course, summer somehow relates to everyone’s childhood, too, and that keeps the traditions going: “We would never tolerate the Big House’s inconveniences in our winter homes, but this is different: we change in the winter, but during the summer — a season in which we regress to an innocent, Edenic state by replicating the experiences we had as children — change is heresy.”

For the author, the place was such a keystone of his youth that it seems reasonable to him to include in the book many stories and details about the family members who spent their summers there, information that seemed to me often inappropriate, and detracted from the book as a whole. When I read the subtitle, A Century in the Life of an American Summer Home, I did not anticipate hearing details about adolescent sexuality, Colt’s grandmother’s Alzheimer’s, and his uncle’s bunions. A little more focus would have been appreciated.

ColtGeorgeH_1l
the author

He obviously cares very much for his whole family and wants to remember every detail for posterity — or is it for the sake of his own sentimentality that he cannot edit out anything? Seemingly no indescretion committed or indignity suffered by any relative can be omitted, and I was very uncomfortable reading much of this material. This kind of authorial behavior kept inserting Colt and his personality front-and-center for me, and I mused that he was really writing not merely The Big House but George’s Big Loss.

I admit that if Colt had strained out more stories not directly related to the house, I would have missed hearing the wonderful tale of how his father during the war was hidden from the Germans by a French family, whose daughters later made their wedding dresses out of his white silk parachute. That was one little part I really loved and had to mention!

And I kept reading because Colt is a very good writer and I was imagining myself there in those halcyon summer days the family spent recreating, whether they were washing dishes or playing outdoors. Fishing, sailing, and tennis each have a chapter dedicated to them. And in a chapter titled “Rain” we get a tour of many of the books that were available and savored, and not only on rainy days. After a mention of board games, Colt writes,

“Best of all, there were books. Although it didn’t take rain to get us reading in the Big House (in fact, reading inside on a sunny day gave us a deliciously guilty feeling), on an overcast afternoon people would be curled up with a book in almost every bedroom, with three or four of us draped over the sofas in the living room, physically proximate yet in separate worlds.”

It’s been almost two years since I finished reading The Big House, but as I worked on wrapping up this review that I began back then I am tempted to start reading it through from the beginning again — well, maybe I could skim over those indecorous parts. Because it is just that kind of book, to be read in summertime as a delicious seaside vacation.