As I write this, I am traveling southwest across India, on a plane from Delhi back to Mumbai. My roommate had planned a week long trip to Delhi to visit some friends and escape the hustle and bustle of Mumbai for a few days. Though it meant missing classes, I decided to join her since I've been eager to venture out of Mumbai. I was hoping this would be a good opportunity to escape, gain some perspective, and reflect on my new life here in Mumbai. Although I had visited Delhi a few times before, I'd only rushed through the city, usually just passing through for a few days on my way en route to another destination. Since my past visits have been a bit of a blur, this trip was a really nice opportunity milk the city for all it has to offer. I must admit, I was also eager join my roommate because we were planning on staying in her boyfriend's family's house which meant we'd be able to indulge in some of the creature comforts we had been missing in Mumbai-- delicious home-cooked north Indian meals, a comfortable, big bed with a REAL mattress, riding around in an air-conditioned car as opposed to a rickety rickshaw...not to mention enjoying the company of the newest addition to their family, Ceasar, a 2-month old puppy ;) Though small, these elements of our Delhi trip made me feel as though I was in the lap of luxury. It's amazing to notice the simple comforts you grow to appreciate when you're away from them for some time.
During our time in Delhi, we were fortunate enough to witness two festivals- Rakhi and India's Independence Day. Rakhi is a traditional Hindu festival celebrating the relationship between brothers and sisters. On this day, sisters will bless their brothers by tying a string around their wrists and saying a "puja" or prayer for them. In return, brothers will bless their sisters by giving them presents or money. If a girl is married and living with her husband's family, she will often return to her parent's home to celebrate Rakhi with them as well. As is the case with most Indian functions, Rakhi is another opportunity for the whole extended family to gather together and enjoy each other's company. Although most of the sister's I spoke with felt they were getting the upper hand, excited to receive money or gifts from their brothers, from what I could observe as an outsider at this celebration, Rakhi seemed to be heavily influenced by Hindu patriarchal tradition. To me, most of the celebrations seemed to focus on honoring the brother through a series of pujas and prayers. Despite my expectations, these prayers were not reciprocated for the sister. After being blessed, the brothers simply handed over money or gifts to their sisters who walked away happily, but as far as I could tell, no prayers were said on their behalf. The gender dynamics were also interesting to observe. The men spent most of the day on the couch watching cricket together while the women prepared an elaborate lunch AND dinner for the family (ok, I guess to avoid appearing too critical, the same can sometimes be said about Thanksgiving celebrations in the US...depending on your family of course). After eating, our hosts shared photos of their recent trip to Europe with the guests. This reminded me a lot of how we spend our time at our family functions back home, often exchanging stories and photos from our latest travel adventures (However the difference was their audience didn't fall asleep *cough*cough* haha). I got a kick out of when one member of the family described the Arc de Triomphe in Paris as looking just like Delhi's India Gate (pictures coming soon) and a Viennese palace garden resembling the Taj Mahal's manicured lawns. There you go, Dad, it seems I'm not the only one guilty of traveling to the other side of the world and saying "This looks just like home..."
Aside from Rakhi, we also were able to celebrate India's Independence Day on August 15th. Unfortunately, national holidays in India have developed a negative reputation in recent years due to the current national security situation. Most Indians are on high alert on these days, choosing to spend the day indoors at home instead of out celebrating in public in order to avoid any trouble. (I remember the same was true for Holi, India's fabulous festival of color, celebrated every year in March to mark the end of the harvest season.) Traditionally, people fly kites from their rooftops to celebrate Independence Day. similar to the book "the Kite Runner," those flying kites compete with one another, attempting to cut each other's kite strings in order to be the last kite left flying. As I was watching the kites float across the sky from my window, I realized that I was here for last year's Independence Day celebrations as well. It is crazy to think that exactly a year has gone by since then... Last year at this exact time, I was celebrating India's independence with students at an all girls school in a rural village in southern India, thousands of miles from here.
Since I've been living in Mumbai, I've learned that a playful rivalry has emerged between Delhi-ites and Mumbai-akers. As these two cities presence on the global stage expands, the friendly competition between city dwellers seems to have grained prominence. Those loyal to Mumabi claim Delhi's streets have grown increasingly unsafe and economic stratification is on the rise as disposable incomes among the upper classes have increased. Mumbai-akers maintain that all Delhi-ites care about is status and brand-names. On the other hand, Delhi-ites retort by saying Mumbai lacks a feeling of strong historical and cultural tradition and has become overridden by people, traffic, pollution and poverty. While these are definitely generalizing statements, I was curious to revisit Delhi after having spent time in Mumbai to see to what extent (if any) these stereotypes were based on any realities.