As I write this post, I am on a train steaming ahead through the rolling Italian countryside toward Rome—my final destination in Europe. There, I will board an airplane that will take me the farthest I have probably ever been from familiar territory: India. Mumbai.
I feel I must confess how thoroughly daunted I am by my upcoming move to Mumbai. The thing about writing about any given city is that a certain base level of knowledge and common understanding is necessary to do it with any credibility. The writer requires a certain basic grasp of the rudimentary social and cultural norms, values, and beliefs—let alone the political and economic structures within which the city functions. That basic understanding helps you focus your lens and understand that city from the appropriate perspective.
This challenge was relatively minimal for me in New York and Berlin, the Lab’s previous locales. While I may not have lived in either city before arriving, both operate within Western systems relatively familiar to me. My accumulated knowledge, both in terms of my understanding of cities/urban systems, language, and even just as a member of society, was quite transferable.
But I cannot necessarily say the same for the East, developing countries, and especially not the vast complexities of Indian culture, or a city as enormous, diverse, and complex as Mumbai. The more I read about Mumbai, the less I feel I know. Never have I approached a city feeling so blind, with so many questions swarming my brain, and with so much to learn. It is, in many ways, an intense education process I am about to begin. More than ever before, I feel that my job here is as much, if not more, about learning as it is about knowing.
It is for exactly that reason that I am arriving in India several months before the Lab even opens, to give myself time to begin pawing away at the surface of the city in an effort to scratch it before I try to break in head first.
I will be sharing my slide along this learning curve with you here on the blog. I hope you will join me, and encounter with me all the people I meet, places I discover, situations I embarrass myself in, and moments I experience in the process. Come along as I move on to Mumbai; on to Bombay; on to the mega-city, the City of Gold, the Maximum City. On to the city of many names and faces. Onward, ho!
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Photo: Maria Nicanor