My colleague Jen Letherer and I left southern Michigan Thursday evening with 20 students on the heels of a snow storm and stepped off the plane in Mumbai about 20 hours later. We had changed planes in Paris where we had a 3-hour layover.
There was some confusion over a lost suitcase but customs and immigration were otherwise painless. A few students exchanged dollars into rupees and we walked out of the airport into a fenced plaza where the temperature was a humid 80 degrees. It was midnight and this is winter in Mumbai, which used to be called Bombay.
The thing you noticed beside the heat was the crush of people waiting for friends, relatives and associates. This explains the fence. It was hot and crowded and noisy. And this is India.
We stood just outside the plaza with our hosts, who had purchased tea for all of us—a hot, sweet, spicy tea with cream that appears ubiquitous. Several men insisted on carrying our luggage to the bus and then insisted we tip them. It was about 40 minutes to the YMCA hostel where we are staying for a week and by the time we got checked in it was almost four in the morning.
The accommodations are gracious and comfortable. My room is air-conditioned and I have a balcony. They serve complimentary tea in the morning to your room if you call the kitchen. I woke early to the sound of children playing in the street outside the hotel, as scooters and taxis roared by and horns blared. The whole day was a cacophony of noise. Did I mention the crush of people?
Crowded shops on and along the side walks lined our way as our bus blended into the throb of the city. The colors are rich and vibrant—the flowers and fruit and fabric join the assault on the senses. It makes you wish you had a better camera. Or at least a better memory.
We visited two colleges today, one a women’s only school run by nuns from the Society of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and another city college named after and founded 180 years ago by Scottish missionary John Wilson.
Although Wilson College has long since ceased to function as a Christian university, we met in the chapel with Christian students who sang loudly and passionately about their love for Jesus in a building built in 1935 for that purpose. Tonight, as I write this, I’m listening to an Imam in the neighborhood call faithful Muslims to prayer.
The majority of people here are Hindu, however, and the Hindi greeting you hear everywhere is namasthae– “I bow to the god in you.” I heard it echoed in the comments of the teacher who let us sit in on her class at the women’s college. Our guests are as gods to us, she said.
I was sorry to hear it.
This is serious and seductive, and accounts for the attraction of Eastern mysticism to many privileged Westerners. But there is no god in us, of course. God is over and above and outside of us.
I’m glad for that.