Tales of Life in India…

I made a promise to myself that when I returned to Mumbai I would make time to be creative and I intend to keep that promise. I need that creative outlet. It is vital to my mental well being. I actually made myself several promises and they are all connected to me being more creative and less…busy with disruptive interruptions.

It is no secret that Mumbai and I are not a harmonious vibrational match, I have waxed poetic about this to the point that I am sick of hearing myself talk about it. In short I am an introvert trying to live in and an ‘extrovert on steroids and speed’ environment. I like alone time, something that is quite impossible to find here. I like quiet, and Mumbai is never quiet (my Bose noise cancelling headphones don’t even drown out the noise, they merely lessen it to a dull roar punctuated with soul piercing screeches). I live in a state of almost perpetual emotional detachment and the majority of the people here are extremely over emotional and love drama to the point that they will create it…over nothing. I digress…

I made a promise that I will no longer jump to answer the security phone, the doorbell (except at dog walk times of 7:30 a.m., 2:30 p.m., and 8:30p.m.) or if I am busy my mobile phone unless it is an emergency.

This is why…

-In the past 4 years of us living here, the security phone, my mobile or the doorbell is constantly ringing, which would be fine if it was important but it seldom is.

  • The security phone: Each flat in the building has one, it is for the security guards to use in the event of an emergency, to announce visitors, venders/wallas, meter readers, cable/phone installers or construction crews, food delivery, etc. Great in theory but not execution. Visitors seldom get the flat number right and in most cases the building. Security most of the time doesn’t even call to let you know guests are on their way up. So, I often answer the door to the surprise of the people on the other side because I am not the person they expected to answer the door. I am then treated to an inquisition style questioning about why I am in their dear friends flat. I have to point out that they need either the flat across the hall, on another floor or another building. I would also like to mention that we seldom receive visitors, and no this has nothing to do with me being anti-social. We have two medium sized dogs that seem scare most Mumbaikers out of their wits.
  • Security will however announce deliveries, workers, and venders/wallas even though you didn’t order, schedule or want whatever is about to come to your door, If you decline they send them anyway because you might change your mind, or so I have been told. So, from 10:00 a.m. until 11:00 p.m. the security phone and the doorbell are in full swing. I can and have turned the phone off but have learned that there is a fail safe with an intercom system which is activated if the security phone stops working. This intercom cannot be turned off…so phone is turned down low…I can barely hear it but the dogs can and they whine and howl every time it rings.
  • My mobile phone, is actually one of Susie’s spare work phones that is so obsolete it doesn’t ring half the time nor can you make calls with it anymore. In typical Indian fashion they are certain that they can get a few more years of use out of it but are perpetually confused at why she doesn’t get their messages or calls on that number. Conversations about validity of said phone as follows: “Please, discontinue this phone because it is obsolete.”
  •  “Madam, Phone is on, it works.”
  • “It doesn’t work. I receive missed call notifications days after someone has called me but phone never rang to announce incoming call.”
  • Madam, Phone is on, you get notifications, it works.”
  • “Here is the number, please call phone.”
  • calls phone, phone does not ring. “Madam, no problem. We fix it.”
  • “I don’t want it fixed, I want it replaced, every time you fix it, something else goes wrong with it.”
  • “No problem, Madam. I will fix phone. Phone work.”
  • days later phone is returned…still does not work. Samsung Support is called and says phone is obsolete and can no longer be updated to support current working system but you can not convince anyone of this….
  •  Sus broke down and bought a new phone and has directed everyone to call that number instead (but some still try to call the old number). It simply pings constantly with notifications for WhatsApp, text messages, for dental, medical, flats, food, festival sales, wedding packages and match-making services and whatnot that are available in the area. Occasionally, it will ring and I have learned not to answer because it is usually a wrong number (speaking a Marathi slang that even Sus can’t decipher) or a sales person trying to sell me a flat or insurance, which they call assurance here. As a non-Indian I can not buy a flat, land, or insurance but this does not keep them from trying to convince me that “all is ok and possible, Madam. No problem,” and they continue with their sales pitch.
  • Disconnecting call, shutting door or telling someone no does not prompt them to cease and desist, it means that your phone will ring again with same caller but possibly different number if sales related (I did a joyful dance when Sus’ phone stopped allowing calls to go through consistently). A doorbell will incessantly ring because they know you’re there…you answered the door earlier. You can not even threaten with calling the police, who won’t show up and if they do it will be hours later and will be bought off by the person who is annoying you. Security might show up but might not and can be bought too; this is a two way street that seems great but then becomes expected and the price goes up each time…so not only is it time wasted but you end up wasting a lot of money and you end up with extra visitors/venders because the guards will send them to you, so you in turn will call and pay them to get rid of the person they sent up. They may even split the money with the person. Maids have a similar system.

I can not turn the doorbell off or down and to muffle it I have wrapped it with a towel and duct tape. It is now muted but still just a decibel short of ear piercing and also makes the dogs whine and howl. Sheba will wear Sus’ noise cancelling headphones but Lily won’t. I usually put Lily in the room farthest from the doorbell, that has a television, she watches cartoons or action movies at a noise level that is able to lessen the peal of the doorbell but not cause her, or anyone else, to go deaf.

I have spent the past 4 years dealing with this daily and it is amazing how much time it wastes and I admit it annoys me, greatly, because its so unnecessary. I have tried to work around it (hired maids to clean and answer phone and doors…that created other issues), I’ve ignored it and I even let my bitch flag fly but I am determined to prevail. I am going to reclaim my time. My time is sacrosanct.

So, how does all this seemingly chaotic cacophony not bother the locals? Well, in short, they are used to it, born and raised in it and so it doesn’t register, put them in the quiet countryside and they go a little nuts because it is too quiet and nothing is happening, I have witnessed this first hand travelling with Sus’ Indian family members. Same conundrum but in reverse.

The family dynamics is also very different here. You have an extended family set up. Typically, you will find that a home consists of a parental unit, children, grandparents and if children are adults, their spouses and children and a possible in-law or two. You might find an aunt, uncle or cousin also thrown into the mix. There will be a cook, a maid (or three), a housekeeper (who oversees and trains the maids and runs the show), a nanny, and possibly a driver. This isn’t just for affluent households, this is a common set up and something most expats are not used to. We think wow, how great to not have to worry about cooking, cleaning, answering the phone or door, dealing with venders, deliveries, etc., and they think…What!?! You don’t have staff? How does anything get done? (I wish I got a rupee for each time I was asked this).

It gets done because we do it. It is also easier done because we are not supporting an overflowing population that has no concept of time, and in our neck of the woods we are raised that time is money and you don’t want to waste either. So, a vender, hawking his wares will not stand and ring your doorbell for an hour or two, he will ring twice and move on. Moving on for the Indian vender/walla isn’t always the smartest move because there are most likely 5-7 other wallas in the building selling similar if not identical wares. Him staying put increases his odds of making money. After all, someone on the other side of that door should eventually answer and possibly buy, if not out of need then to simply get rid of him. It is a fine art form, which is expedited by the typical family, other than work, school or wedding/festival/entertainment there is really no reason to even leave your flat, anything and everything can be delivered. Want groceries and the cook and maid can’t be spared, no problem, call the grocery store, place order, cash on delivery, Done! Coconuts, snacks, magazines, fruit/veg, eggs, selfie sticks, toys, clothes, shoes, kitchen gadgets, cleaning supplies, anything and everything can and will be at some time or another presented to you, for purchase, at your doorstep by your local wallas.

I also understand that as frustrating as I find this, they find my inability to adopt this system equally frustrating. I have tried. trust me, I have tried.

It started with having a maid. I didn’t want one but it soon became apparent that me not wanting one, wasn’t up to me. As soon as you move into a building…the building security sends cooks, maids, housekeepers, wallas, dhobiwallas (laundry), nannies, dog walkers, etc. to your door…and they keep coming until your household is set up. You can request they not until you are out of breathe but that parade will not stop until the staff slots by your flat number are filled in their registry book. I also wasn’t getting anything done, because of this constantly revolving door of prospects. A maid was sounding like a great idea…and so I started dreaming up all the things that I would do with my newly found free time since the maid was going to be doing the cleaning and dealing with answering the security phone and the door. I had visions of painting and knitting and possibly even reading, spending more fun time with the fur kids. I could take a class or even go with Sus on business trips. Life was looking good…and then reality set in….

To be continued…


Photo: Life’s More Fun With Monkeys (picture# 2/12)

taken with Nikon DSLR 5300; Shimla, India


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