Mumbai: In the Height of Culture Shock

Originally published on May 20th, 2014 on

I can’t believe that today is the third day that I’ve woken up in Mumbai. It’s been difficult. It’s very hot and the heat makes me very tired, and grumpy. Jet lag has yet to wear off, which means that I keep waking up at 4 o’clock in the morning, unable to go back to sleep. Otherwise, things have been great!

I’ve been Incredibly surprised by the seamless living areas. In all of the cities and countries that I’ve visited, people from different socioeconomic backgrounds have lived in distinctly different areas, i.e. Upper West Side of NYC = rich people, Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn = poor people. However, in Mumbai people live in the streets or in shacks, very close to homes where people who are much more wealthy live.

I’ve constantly been thinking about one of the causes that I am very passionate about— girls’ education. A lot of the students that I’ve seen since I’ve been here have been male, which is in opposition of American school systems which are dominated by girls or have a balance in student gender. Back to the issue of girls’ education— in a documentary that I watched, Girl Rising, one of the most heartbreaking stories was about a girl named Ruksana who goes lives on the streets of Kolkata, India. Also, the non-profit that I volunteer with, She’s the First, sponsors young girls to go to school in India. Needless to say, during my short time here, this has been at the forefront of my mind, and I hope that the NGO that I get to work with aligns with my interest in girls’ education.

Anyhow, slowly, but surely, I am adjusting and, am excited to meet the person that I will become after our three weeks here.

DAY 1: Welcome to Mumbai!

On Sunday, we visited Whistling Woods International, our host school for these next three weeks. We were lucky enough to arrive in the midst of Celebrating Cinema, a two-day event that Whistling Woods was hosting on campus, featuring multiple workshops and film screenings. It was a nice mini immersion into Bollywood/Indian cinema.

We participated in three of the events: the Song picturization workshop, the screening of Disney/YouTV’s documentary 100 Years of Indian Cinema and a Bollywood dance workshop. The 100 Years of Indian Cinema documentary, though it wasn’t the greatest information-wise, stuck out to me. I learned a lot from the reels of Bollywood movies about how Indian cinema is structured: very similar story lines in many of the movies and a prevalence of song and dance. The prevalence of song and dance in Indian movies, and how Bollywood songs are the music industry in India, reminded me of Caribbean music— specifically Barbados’ music industry. Soca and calypso, two of the main Caribbean genres of music, are developed surrounding carnival, paralleling the development of music in India being rooted in Indian films.

DAY 2: Shopping!

It was great to be able to get out of the hotel and do some shopping in Lokhawndwala Markey. This was our first day IN Mumbai. We were able to leave the hotel and explore beyond the immediate areas that we will mostly be in (Whistling Woods in Film City and near our hotel, Sai Palace Hotel) for the next three weeks.

On our mini-field trip, I learned 1 VERY important lesson: stay hydrated! I’d only brought one bottle of water for the day, which was a major mistake because I began to feel like I was becoming dehydrated.

We completed my favorite task that I like to complete when traveling— looking at the McDonald’s menu! I really believe that the food options on McDonald’s menus from country to country reflect the respective country’s food culture and traditions. I really think that contrasting and comparing food items from one country to another gives one a perspective that can’t be incorporated into either a lecture or a text-book.

We also met, Hindi film director Anurag Kashyap and line-producer Harish Amin. We briefly met with Anurag but Harish gave us a short, but very inspiration speech about going out into the world and pursuing our dreams in filmmaking. After briefly meeting these individuals, we visited a small souvenir shop called Tribal Route. I didn’t buy anything because I didn’t feel like anything screamed “India!” to me, and that it surely wouldn’t scream “India!” to my friends and family. This really opened my eyes to my personal, westernized perception of India and the East. All of the things that were in that shop were very “India!”, but I couldn’t bring myself to accept that.

DAY 3: First Day of Class!

My favorite part about studying abroad is that you are constantly and consciously learning, inside and outside of class. Before we even made it to class, we were given a short lesson in Hindi, tried and learned about new foods and memorized the route from our hotel to school (in prep for my first ride in a rickshaw— one that I am very nervous about).

Once we arrived at Whistling Woods, the day started with a beautiful yoga class. It made me feel refreshed and on top of the world. I am definitely looking forward to doing yoga every for the rest of the time that I am here.

For the rest of the day, we had three lectures from Somnath Sen (director/professor), Anjun Rajabali (screenwriter/instructor) and Salim Arif (production designer), all industry professionals in Bollywood. The three lectures covered song and dance in Bollywood movies, Indian narratology, Indian history, the theories and work of Aristotle, Freud, Plato, screenwriting and storytelling. A lot of the stuff that we learned about, I’d already been introduced to. However, it’s always great to expand and expound upon knowledge that one already has.

These past three days have been exciting, and quite frankly the time is going by way too quickly!