Thoughts on travel and otherness in Pali Hill
I sit at “Candie’s” – a sandwich and pastry cafe in the tory neighbourhood of Pali Hill. I’ve been walking and shopping this area for the past few days – and as each day passes (I’ve been in India for almost a week now) my exploratory circles widen. By Saturday, I hope to make it to Breach Candy and Byculla; Sunday, South Mumbai – downtown. Soon I’ll be ready to hire a taxi, board a train, maybe even ride a bus.
For now, I settle for a cafe in a quiet part of town. My chicken tikka sandwich is basically a hotdog bun with nuggets of seasoned chicken, but it’s the accompanying potato chips that get me: they’re light, crispy and warmed by the 30 degree celsius air. My “cold coffee” comes in a clear plastic cup lined with a swirl of chocolate and garnished with a bendy straw tied in a bow.
Surrounded by coconut trees, cobblestoned streets and palacial highrises, I marvel at the dusty prettiness of the place, and my place in it. I’ve been experiencing a feeling of familiar comfort for the past few days and it’s been a challenge putting my finger on what exactly is going on.
Wandering the handpainted script of the wooden crosses in Bandra West’s St. Andrew’s church cemetary earlier in the day, I read names that reverberated – like a tolling bell – with names from my own family history – D’Souza, D’Cruz, Pinto, Rodrigues.
It’s surreal, really. For ten years, I’ve flown to, visited and soaked in the hot, exotic culture of other peoples’ family legacy. As a tourist, I’ve entered their cemetaries and museums and wandered their streets.
Now, here in Mumbai’s historic Bandra West neighbourhood, I continuously meet my own ancestors’ spirits. The streets I walk, the churches I enter, the names I see are not “other” – they’re partly mine, and I’m partly theirs. I have their name, and they have mine.
With my dark hair tied back and a knee-length skirt, I fit in, like family. No one stops to stare at the sunglassed tourist, and vendors in the Varoda Cross market quote me local prices. When I ask for directions, women point the way and ask who I’m visiting.
“Family,” I say motioning to Deepika and Emil’s place, “Cousins and an uncle.”
“Where are you from?” they ask, noticing my Canadian accent.
“Vancouver,” I say, “and here… I guess.”
They’ll nod, as if to say, yes – we’ve been expecting you, what took you so long to come home to India? My throat contracts a little, and the sadness and longing of my grandmother’s letters to her eldest son, my father, come to mind. She wished him all success in his new homeland, but she missed him with all her heart.
Am I being melodramatic (as my mother might suggest), or am I experiencing something core? The heart doesn’t lie, a voice says inside me. And something here – no matter how small or unfamiliar – belongs to me. And I to it.