No matter where you live in Mumbai, I would bet there is a place of worship (most likely a Hindu temple) within a five minute walk from your home. There are plenty of very large and well known temples/churches/mosques in each neighborhood plus every society (AKA housing complex – and there are A LOT of these) has at least one temple on its grounds. In addition I’ve also seen many smaller temples set up essentially roadside but tucked behind street stalls or next to buildings. Some of these smaller temples are not enclosed, so passers-by are able to see people as they practice their faith, exposed to the streets. I witnessed a group of men performing aarti while I was strolling the street stalls in Bandra around 7pm on a weeknight. I initially felt a little disoriented – Can I just walk by this holy ceremony? Should I be shopping here? Can I turn my back to the idols? etc. – but I do think it is nice, especially for those who believe in idol-worship, to have a convenient place to practice your religion everywhere in this city. This is a photo of the Jain temple in Walkeshwar:
[Tangential thought: I have heard or seen enough commentary to make me very aware of the open intolerance of faiths that are different from one’s own. Most of this intolerance is rooted in tradition and comes out when discussing marriage and other such personal topics – this, while unfortunate, just doesn’t surprise me anymore. But some statements I’ve been completely caught off guard by – for example when a Muslim man is insulted that a Hindu singer/songwriter is performing a Sufi song, enough so that he makes a racial statement to express his ‘frustration.’ These are real sentiments expressed by educated, well read, globally minded people…
It goes without saying that there are also millions of people in this country who embrace our cultural and religious diversity. (Ah, Isha said to me the other day, in response to my indecisiveness about something, “Americans are so diplomatic.” I hadn’t noticed or thought of it before, but I clearly try to be.)]
So my friend Kishore was telling me about how he does yoga at 7am every morning by the Sea Link – basically where I live. “What kind of yoga?” I asked. His response: “I don’t know. It’s in a temple. Temple yoga.” The complete story is that a local yoga guru, who has started a trendy yoga studio out in Bandra, grew up in this run-down society in Worli. He gives back to his community by teaching hatha yoga every morning in the society’s temple’s kitchen-hall for a nominal fee – 500 rupees a month, 100% of which goes to the temple. You may be wondering, as I was, how one would find out about such hidden treasures. The answer is always ‘word of mouth.’
I get to work around 10:30am so 7am is early for me in Mumbai (I know I know. I can feel you all rolling your eyes.) but since I have been eager to try different classes while I’m here I decided this week to give it a shot. You may have read my “Finding Routine” post where I discuss Yogacara, this beautiful, tiny, clean yoga studio that I have been going to. “Temple yoga” couldn’t have been more opposite but was completely wonderful in its modesty. The kitchen space where class was held had the equivalent of three walls. The length of the room had half walls on either side. The no-wall-spaces opened to the temple. Large rugs were stacked in the corner of the room. As people walked into the space they worked together to cover the floor with these rugs and then lay their yoga mats, which mostly were large towels, on top of the rugs. Temple bells were going off occasionally in the background but no music. No fans. The instruction was really challenging. The students, maybe fifteen in the class, were mostly older men or younger woman. The older men had looser hips than me. The whole experience was quite humbling in the best of ways.
With that, I’d like to close the temple segment of this post.
Two quick highlights from yesterday:
1. Food trucks – Food trucks don’t exist in Mumbai. As far as I can tell it’d be hard to make them successful. There’s too much traffic, unbearable heat, zero parking, no open spaces for an Off The Grid style event, etc. (In truth, I doubt there’s a real market for food trucks – nothing beats India’s streets as far as delicious flavorful snacks are concerned.) What Mumbai does have, along the food truck line, is Sweetish House Mafia. A woman, who remains anonymous, has purchased a nano (covered in her branding) and hired a driver to go to a different Mumbai neighborhood every evening and sell her “cookie-of-the-day.” Yesterday we lucked out. The nano parked in front of our building! (We did get a good number of people to vote for Indiabulls Finance Center so maybe it wasn’t all luck.)
Yesterday’s cookie was an egg-less dark chocolate truffle. Four cookies for 100 rupees. The packaging could stand to be upgraded but the cookie was delicious.
2. Coke Studio: Part 2 – Coke Studio at Blue Frog is becoming our Thursday night tradition. Two of the bands yesterday were so so great: Rang and Highway 61 if you’re interested (FYI their live performances were better than these recorded tracks but give them a listen anyway. They’re still excellent).
We ended up kicking it at Blue Frog for a bit after the show. Some of the members of the aforementioned bands were also just hanging out as well. Katie and I went to chat with the lead singer of Highway 61 who clarified that the shows we are seeing at Blue Frog right now are actually auditions for the main MTV show. June 6th is when they announce finalists and then THOSE final performances will be aired (something like that). Then we chatted with one of the two main vocalists for Rang (this band was the ‘well-known popular band’ of the night and their song “Jaan” is basically an anthem for Mumbai). I mentioned to him that I loved their final song “Jaago.” Well guess who now is a proud owner of the track? He emailed it to me on the spot. I officially have friends in high places in Mumbai.
Five of the six bands that we have seen thus far have had a streak of activism + positive messaging in their music. The two bands yesterday for example: Highway 61 dedicates many of their songs to resolving conflict in Kashmir (their main song writer is Kashmiri and many of their songs are sung in Kashmiri as well. There are so many languages in this country – every band I’ve heard seems to be from different region and sing in a different language! As a friend said yesterday, “every ten kilometers there is a different dialect in India.” This, seriously, is only a slight exaggeration). Rang has started a movement called “Quit Running” – which is all about breaking away from the accepted career molds in India and following your dreams; a central topic in the movie 3 Idiots as well.
It’s all just very noble.