Queer Lives: Narrations of Research Abroad (May 20)

A daily blog of my research abroad in India and Japan during the summer of 2024: I am conducting interviews with members and allies of the LGBTQ+ community in South and East Asia. May 20th, 2024.
Queer Lives: Narrations of Research Abroad (May 20)
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My last day in Mumbai begins bright and early – and quickly devolves into a level of chaos that makes me laugh for days afterwards. 

Everything has been planned carefully. My amma has a college friend that lives in the northern part of Mumbai, and she’s invited me to come see them before I leave. Revathi Auntie has booked me a car to take me there and bring me back; it’s a long journey, but it should be straightforward. I bring a book and a smoothie, ready to settle in for an hour and relax – or, so I think. 

In hindsight, I should have anticipated something going wrong. I don’t speak Hindi or Marathi, and while I can understand Tamil, I don’t really speak it either. The gentleman who’s driving the car only speaks Hindi, and he doesn’t understand English – which introduces a rather unfortunate language barrier. I notice this as soon as I get in the car, but I figure it’ll be alright – he has a navigation app pulled up, and it’s quite a straightforward route. After thirty minutes, though, I notice the same buildings circling by – and by the time I spot the same street for the fifth time, I realise we’re going in circles. 

What to do!? My phone doesn’t get enough service to use Google Translate, and I can’t tell whether the driver can tell we’re not on the correct route. After a few minutes of flailing, I manage to point out to him that we’ve been circling the same neighbourhoods – and we manage to make it through the rest of the drive with me pointing at the turns. Hand gestures, thankfully, come to the rescue. 

Stay tuned, dear reader, for this is not the end of Aki’s adventures trying to make it from point A to point B on their last day in Mumbai. (If I ever write an autobiography, that’ll be its name.)  

The landscape has changed drastically from Bandra; rather than the leafy, narrow streets I’ve grown used to, Garegoan is dusty and wide. My amma’s friend lives in a high-rise, and when I get to her apartment, I spend a fair few minutes staring out the window, taking in the expanse of the city beneath. It amazes me how many different sceneries can exist within one city: Colaba, Bandra, Matunga, and now Goregaon – each different, with their own character and appearance. 

I don’t stay for long; I’ve promised Revathi Auntie I’ll come back for lunch, and I still need to get ready for my flight out in the evening, so after a good conversation and meal, I set out to find the driver who brought me here, hoping that the drive back will be somewhat smoother than the drive here. But, of course, it would not be interesting if it wasn’t confusing – and when we set out, we spend twenty minutes driving in exactly the wrong direction before I manage to tell him we need to turn around! 

Eventually, we make it back, and although I want to be frustrated, it’s more amusing than anything. I do sleep for an hour after lunch, though, and when I wake up I feel altogether more put-together and prepared for the rest of the day – sleep really does fix anything, I think. 

I still have a few hours before I need to go to the airport, so I head back into Bandra with Revathi Auntie. I said in my last entry that Mumbai is a city worthy of song and lyric and poetry, and while I’m certainly an amateur writer, allow me to try my hand at it. 

Imagine the colours. The deepest greens and the beautiful, earthy reds; it captures you, wraps you in its hues. If I close my eyes, I can see the exact shade of the autos, that banana yellow so starkly contrast against the blacks and greys of the road. The rich brown of chai – and then the scents, the spices and the soil after the rain, drying in the heat. You can experience the city almost fully without sight, it truly is an all-surrounding experience. In my time here, I’ve felt a genuine connection to my heritage and my family, and I’ve gotten to know a city which is alive and brilliant and always changing, always moving.  

Mumbai, the city of dreams; Mumbai, the city of life. The side roads through Bandra, the corner shops, the chaat and neer dosa and chai. The expanses of Colaba, the voices carrying through the air, the early May showers. The familiarity of Matunga – a language I know, food I have grown up with, a distinct sense of coming home. 

I cannot describe it in one sentence, or even ten, but I hope you can visualise at least a part of it. 

For now, Mumbai, thank you for everything. I’ll be back soon. 

 

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