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A Culture of Contrasts

I usually find irony in my daily routine by retreating in my three bedroom apartment after visiting slums all day; however no day has seen the extreme contrasts as yesterday. We took a tour of Dharavi, one of Asia’s largest and most famous slums. We toured around for hours looking at the way people live amid waste and sewage and work in the most unbearable conditions without any precautions.

After we were thoroughly covered in dust, sweat and pity, we hopped in a taxi and went straight to one of Mumbai’s most posh hotels, to the 33rd storey rooftop patio bar to watch the sunset with a 20$ martini in hand (Kiel, we are definitely going back during happy hour). While relaxing in this super swanky outdoor lounge with a million dollar, 360 degree view, we couldn’t help but bask in the irony of the contrasting conditions we had just stepped out of. The shanty towns were now only specks below that faded from our minds as the sun did into the Arabian Sea beyond.

Seeing the rich and poor interwoven from the rooftop above, reminded us of all the contrasts we see every day in Indian culture and this crazy city. The main one that we are still trying to figure out is how the Kama Sutra could have originated in a country that never lets you be naked, even at home. Especially in a country that is so hot, people are dressed more conservatively than Canadians are in winter. Everything is shiny and sparkly here and incorporating it into clothing seems to be how they compensate for the lack of visible skin.
Another mind-boggling occurrence is not that there is so much noise on the street, but that the smaller the vehicle the louder the horn seems to be.  The horns of trucks and buses are pathetic in comparison to the little scooters or rickshaws that populate the street among all the other sounds in the background. This also means that ambulances and fire trucks have nearly silent sirens; the most important vehicles that need to be heard are lost in the crowd.

Here are a few more:

  • How vibrantly coloured the street is against the dreary concrete buildings and dusty roads. Saris, scarves and spices fill the washed out public spaces with life.
  • Hands, the left is so different from the right, used for entirely opposite activities it gets decorated and fingernails painted, whereas the right is used for eating so unadorned and nails cut short
  • People don’t really have music playing in the cars or restaurants or homes that we pass (the doors are usually kept open) But when there is a festival on the music doesn’t stop. The speakers are turned to the max and people stand directly in front of them, I can hear them loud and clear from my bedroom (as I try to sleep) three blocks away!
  • The food is either spicy or very sweet, no neutral. They always warn us before ordering a sweet meal, not the other way around.
  • The content of Hindi movies compared to real life – insane and outrageous!

I know there are many more contrasts that I can’t think of at the moment so I’ll add them here as they come to me!

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