The first time I visited India I was, in a word, shocked. It wasn't my finest hour as a world traveler... I would shrink away from the roving street kids as they tugged on the hem of my shirt, avoid eye contact with the taxi driver asking me prying personal questions -- was he hitting on me the moment my husband jumped out of the cab to use an ATM or just curious about his exotic fare?
This time, I'm ready for it and rather excited. It's incomparable to any American or European city. People liken Mumbai to NYC but, in fact, there's not a place in Manhattan where you'll turn a corner and run head-long into a cow or a man pulling a cart down a dirt road.
India can cause snap judgments in and knee-jerk reactions from visitors for sure, but for others it slowly reveals itself. It took two long-ish trips for me to decide that I really enjoyed India and how different yet similar things could be. I could shop at globally recognized brand boutiques in the most luxurious air-conditioned malls and be drinking chai for pennies from a dented pot balanced on a burner in the street minutes later, tended to by a rail-thin chai walla. I'm stared at incessantly but in a way that's less leering and rapacious, as you get with men in the US, and more innocuous curiosity. I look as exotic to folks there as they do to me. I can't just pick up bits of the language but it's a welcome challenge to try. Yes means everything in India, most often no. And there is nothing on this planet as refreshing as sipping a salty lime soda on the shaded veranda of the Mumbai Cricket Club on a hot summer afternoon.
It's messy and full of life, everywhere, around every corner at all hours of the day and night. In a phrase, it's beautifully chaotic. An entrepreneurial vitality is informed by history and fueled by rapid change everywhere, slicing through social strata or any sense of time, which, as it turns out is its own thing in India anyway.
That's all to say I'm looking forward to it, even if I do have to wear a lime green sari that clashes horribly with my pale skin, making me look like I'm about to be sick everywhere, and not a hair dresser in town will be able to do anything useful with my fine, thin northern European hair in the humid Bombay air. I'll be attending my first Parsee wedding, will get to wander the halls of the Royal Bombay Yacht Club, sip cocktails at Tote on Turf and generally do things that feel far fancier than I can handle back in my real life.