My first stop in India was the city of contrasts that is Mumbai, and the day I arrived I knew that this country would give me an incredibly spiritually and emotionally filled experience. And I know that makes me sound like a white woman going on a yoga trip to try and find myself, but being in a wheelchair in this city in particular showed me different sides to humanity that I don’t feel I could get anywhere else.
On my first day, we went to Haji Ali dargah (shrine of Muslim saint Haji Ali). With the potholes and the people, it was hectic just getting in. At least five different people along the way approached and followed me, asking to push me into the building so they can get the blessings of helping someone using a wheelchair into what they believe is a sacred site. I decided not to go inside at the end of all of that as the journey to that point was exhausting enough. While I was sitting outside I was observing. It was my first day in India and the first thing I saw was hope and patience. People get out of bed everyday because they have hope and patience.
I was constantly reminded of this during the rest of my days in Mumbai. Even just driving around shows you how patient everyone is. The lines on the road are merely suggestions. While you weave your way through the rickshaws, animals and motorbikes, there is no such thing as road rage. As long as you get to where you need to be, no body can be bothered about whether you cut them off or not. In New Zealand one mistake gets you at least 5 death stares and 1 middle finger. Not in India. Live and let live.
Almost everywhere I went was inaccessible, even the newer and affluent areas of Bandra and Juhu. That is why, in a city of 18.4 million, I saw one wheelchair. But the people make it accessible. I went to India expecting everyone to be in my face as they were at Haji Ali. But I was shopping in Chor Bazaar (literally ‘thieves market’) and Crawford Market, and noticed that no one has the time or energy to worry about who can walk and who can’t. But at the same time, when I needed help, at least five people would appear out of nowhere, help you and then disappear into the chaos before you have time to say thank you.
South Mumbai has a five-storey Zara building. In front of it sits a line of people begging for one roti. No one here cares who has a disability and who doesn’t because everyone has their own shit to deal with – shit Kiwis haven’t even heard of – like finding food. The people knew I was foreign – they always do – but they help because they understand struggle and survival.