Wednesday, August 18, 2010

When I first moved into the condo on the 32nd floor overlooking Andheri West in Mumbai back in April, I noticed, when scanning the horizon on my first night, a golden temple glowing brightly in the distance.
Lit up like a beacon, it drew my eye every night as I sat on my window seat or out on the balcony. I wondered where it was exactly and which god was worshipped there? It stood on the northern most horizon, on a hill far above Andheri West and on the other side of the marshlands. During the day it was still pretty impressive, albeit hard to see due to the smog. At night, when it was lit up, it looked a bit like the golden Wat Phra Kheo in Bangkok.
Weeks went by and I could not figure out what it was. I searched “golden temple” in Northern Mumbai and found nothing. I looked at google maps but any indication of a temple in the area I thought it was located was clearly not big enough — if I could see it from who knows how many miles away it had to be huge.
Then, on one of my last nights in town, I finally remembered to ask my roommate if she knew what it was. I had asked her weeks previously during a social gathering we had had on the balcony with a bunch of girlfriends and a bunch of bottles of wine and thought I had remembered she made a vague comment that it was some sort of water temple. I remember thinking that was interesting because the way it was lit up at night, it looked like it was on fire. I decided to ask again because I was thinking about making a trek out there but since I cannot tell if it’s exceptionally huge and far away or if it is closer than it looks, I don’t want to just blindly get into a rickshaw. Again, we were sitting out on the balcony with Pinky, Harvashi and Joey, drinking wine, and Sonia replies, “Oh.. it’s a water park.”
“It’s a water PARK?” I splutter.
“Yeah. You know, we should all go out there this weekend. It’s been so hot.” The other girls and Joey agree and start to formulate plans but I’m still stuck…
“It’s a WATER PARK?”
“Like an amusement park… but with water?” NO. It can’t be.
Sonia looks confused over my tone, “Yes.”
I was crushed. I must have gazed out over Mumbai towards this glorious golden monument every night for 2 months, wondering what must go on there — did worshippers walk there overnight, in barefeet, as they do to the Siddhivinayak Temple in Bandra? Do they leave offerings, ring bells? Or perhaps it’s a Buddhist temple? And, most importantly, are there temple monkeys? I had really wanted to go out there but couldn’t figure out where it was on the ridiculous hundred page book of maps of Mumbai that I had been given. So I didn’t go and it sat there calling to me every night… and it turned out to be a freakin’ water park???

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Home Office - Andheri West, Mumbai, India

Monday, May 31, 2010

My Sunday.

It's Memorial Day weekend and while I have no BBQs or binge-drinking to take part in, it's still been an interesting weekend, particularly yesterday. I had the second day on a shoot I was observing, being shot by Ravi Chandran's former assistant Bose, who recently shot "Kites."

First off, I couldn't find a rickshaw driver who knew where Film City was (despite having no problem the first three times I went out there). Finally found one who nodded and I got in but about 5 minutes later, he veered off in the wrong direction. "Bas! Bas!" (enough! stop! or something to that effect) I yell. He gets out of the rickshaw and comes back with another man who asks me where I want to go. "Film City, " I say. The man turns to the driver and says, "Film City" in English. "Ah!" says the driver, head-bobbling furiously. "Enjoy your time in Film City!" the man says to me as we do a wicked u-turn and head off in the correct direction. Of course.

At just about every light, the driver turns to me to carry on a conversation entirely in Hindi even though I plainly don't speak it. I think at one point he was telling me I needed water. I think he thought I was going hiking, due to my camera backpack and the fact that Film City is based inside a state park (I saw monkeys there 2 days ago! I filmed them! Unfortunately, I also managed to accidentally film some blase monkey sex before I realized what was going on). At the third light, a little street girl pops up next to me. She's maybe 7 years old, in dire need of clean clothes and a bath. She asks me for money. You're not supposed to give money to children (or able-bodied adults) but guidebooks do say it's okay to give to the elderly and disabled because there's no real welfare system taking care of them here.* So I shake my head and turn away and as I do so, she reaches into the rickshaw.... and honks my boob. Sorry, but that's the only way I can put what she did. "HEY!" I yelled and tried to swat her but she was already gone.

Off we go and as we get closer to Film City, my driver starts prattling on about the star trailer that's rumbling along in front of us. "Anil Kapoor! Anil Kapoor!" he says. Another rickshaw driver pulls along side of us, and they have, what I'm assuming is, an animated conversation about who might be in the star trailer. Right then, a motocyclist attempts to pass in front of the star trailer and across the other side of traffic and is creamed by an oncoming rickshaw. The motorcyclist is fine and stands up immediately. The rickshaw driver is also fine and faces the guy he just hit. They're clearly about to start screaming at each other, a spectacle for which all of traffic has stopped in eager anticipation. For the record, drama / rubbernecking is encouraged here. Traffic accidents are rarely calm events where you exchange numbers and get on with your life. No, first there's a lot of screaming and arm-waving and blame. Doesn't matter is one person was clearly in the wrong, they'll still get in on the screaming/ gesturing. A friend of mine told me about how his car was parked (and he wasn't inside) when he watched a young woman back right into it. He walks over to his car to inspect the damage while she gets out and proceeds to yell at him about how could he park there (it was his apartment parking space), how stupid etc etc. Anyway, the rickshaw driver and motorcyclist have squared off, tension is zinging between them, and every car/rickshaw driver, pedestrian and random bystander is waiting for the show to begin, when you can pretty much see the sudden realization cross the driver's face -- and he takes off in a sprint after his rickshaw WHICH IS STILL TRAVELING DOWN THE ROAD. Unfortunately, he doesn't get to it before it crashes into another rickshaw, but I don't think it was going particularly fast and no one was hurt. Everyone watched the scene for about a moment.... and then traffic just started moving again.

Got to the shoot at last. Not particularly thrilling and it was a short day. Afterward, I grabbed another rickshaw driver who couldn't stop talking about America -- but in particular Angelina Jolie. "Hot and sexy," he breathes. He's very young, cute and a little chubby with a mustache I'm sure he's quite proud of. He asks me if I like Angelina or Brad Pitt or Tom Cruise or Madonna. I tell him sure but I like Hrithik Roshan best. Oh, he LOOOOVES Hrithik apparently. Then he's asking me if I have a boyfriend (yes, I always have a boyfriend). We get back to my apartment building and as I'm digging in my purse for some money, he sees the People Magazine I've just bought with Hrithik on the cover. As I pull out the money (plus a small tip), he casually slides out the magazine from my lap to look at it, and casually places his hand on my knee underneath and squeezes. Cheeky little.... I swat his hand, hand him his money, and scold him, "Be good!" He smiles this little boy smile... and then asks me for 20 more rupees! Which is like fifty cents but since my 30 minute drive was a total of 2 bucks, that's a bit much.. and I tipped him already. Just then Sonia, my roommate rolled up in another rickshaw and walked over. "How's your day," she asked. "Fine, until this kid tried to rip me off," I said gesturing at my driver. Sonia asks him if he's trying to get more money out of me to which he just grins cheekily and denies it in a so-what-if-i-was? manner.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Commuter Trains

And you thought your commute was bad.

This is a pretty accurate look at Mumbai commuter trains… and a great commercial that’s currently running. I’d like to take a local train but I’ve been warned off because of the pushing, the squishing and the fact that they really do hang out the doors and windows because they’re too crowded.

It’s the end of the commercial that’s so good — because despite all of the above, there really is this positivity and “we’re all in this together” feeling. I have seen little to no road-rage, pedestrian rage or any type of entitled “rage” that Westerners (or Americans at least) get from someone invading their space or holding them up in any way.

Here's an amateur video:

I gotta tell you though, Indians could use a lesson in “letting people off before boarding the train” — holy moly. It’s a battle — particularly trying to get off. People start shoving as soon as the train slows in the station - and people on the platform run along side the train to get on before it has stopped. You just have to push and shove and try not to take it personally… although I did witness a fight when exiting my train from Goa when a young man tried to shove past an old woman to get on and was neatly collared by a man who then proceeded to slap and shove him down the platform. The young man didn’t defend himself, merely looked like a bad dog, cowering as the slaps rained down.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Questions from your Mommy

I haven't been writing much here because I feel like what I've been up to isn't very exciting. So perhaps I need to go through my emails between my mother and me and just post them. Here is today's:

Hi Mom,
Okay, here are the answers to the questions you asked in the last email:

You never said: did you have that gig for taking pictures? I am worried that you might need more money.
I don't know what is going on with the gig. The actor was all gung ho -- and then faded away. Last I heard, when I asked him what his schedule was for last week -- he wrote back, "Shooting" (meaning his soap opera). I wrote to his friend who'd set up the gig -- and he too hasn't written back. Everything is very hazy here and lackadaisical so it's hard to read people's intentions.

Money is okay at the moment though I may be cutting it close... I guess I won't be buying a lot of presents this round.

I am not planning on staying in India [ed: Mom is worried], but I do want to come back. As soon as possible. just need to have a more solid reason and plan this time. This trip was to meet people and make connections and find out if this was something I want to pursue. Three more weeks to see what happens...

how is the rash?
Clearing up. Still have red blotches on thighs, butt and tummy but not so itchy and not so angry looking. Sort of a vague sienna hue now. But still in the shapes of unknown countries and archipelagos.

Tell me about your day...what time you get up,

I usually get up around 8:30 or 9 depending on when I went to bed so around 11:00-midnight your time. I tend to go to bed late -- as you know I am a night owl anyway and night is much more bearable heat-wise. Plus my friends are online by then and we can chat.

what you do, where you go.
On Mondays I check in with my contacts who line up extra work during the week -- so far I've only heard from them when I was in Goa for my birthday... of course. I may or may not check in with Ravi (the cinematographer) and/or whomever he has put me in touch with. Usually someone has sent me someone's name to call. Sometimes I get on a random public bus and take it somewhere in the city so I can take pictures. Unfortunately Mumbai is so hectic and eerything kind of starts to look the same after a while. There's only so many pictures of decaying temples, dilapidated apartment buildings, men squatting in front of their various food/pan stands and stray dogs one can take. I generally confuse the bus conductor when he asks where I am going and I just point at the sign that says the last stop. It's usually about 25 cents a ride so it's a cheap way to see the city. I am stared at a lot. I go to Bandra where the rich people live to sit in the air-conditioned "Bagel Shop" and work on photos. Their bagels are very strange. I wander around. I mope that I've made a mistake with this trip but then I don't know many people who get the chance to run off to Bollywood, whether or not it works out. I work on a stupid screenplay. I sweat. I worry that I disappoint everyone in my life, including myself. I meet up with friends. I write in my notebook and wish I could actually "write" because then I'd try to write the anti-Eat Pray Love because God, that woman... I mean ugh. I worry that i have nothing really exciting to write about on my blog because who cares about any of the above.

Where do you buy groceries, and can you get Amurken food??
There are two grocery stores within walking distance. They have some Amurken food. Or as they would probably call it here: Am-rick-an food. I'm from Amrickah, you know. Sometimes I have to put on a fake Indian accent to get where I need to go. For instance, if I want to go to Carter Road, a typical rickshaw driver will have no idea what I am talking about. However, if speak with the back of my tongue and say khurdurh rrruhd, they can get me there. Yesterday I went to see the shooting of a camel seal. I was very excited when I talked to Gopal, the cinematographer my new friend Aaron put me in touch with, over the phone about the camel seal he was shooting... had no idea what a camel seal was but was pretty sure it was not a hybrid of a dromedary and furry marine animal. Apparently it is a "commercial."

do you get your water regularly now?
No problems with water in a couple of weeks now. It's not stopping during the day. Although just now I was trying to take a shower and apparently, "Showering!" in response to the maid wiggling the doorknob means "wiggle doorknob more vigorously and attempt to break in please thank you!"

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Hrithik Hrithik everywhere....

The publicity posters for "Kites" have gone up, as well as all the different billboards for various brands that are using Hrithik Roshan their poster boy. Mmmm-mmmm. So looking forward to the film...

And considering the two main stars don't speak each other's languages, here's hoping most of it is in English! (Please?)

Friday, May 14, 2010

I wonder how many young men are injured in India each year because they insist on holding hands when crossing the street. This works when you are 4 years old, boys, and crossing at a crosswalk with Mom....not when you're 17 and trying to dodge oncoming rickshaws, red bull buses and Tata trucks because there's no stoplight. One guy will make a break for it while the other will hold back and both will nearly get squashed. I see this every day.