We have returned to Delhi and have officially completed the bulk of our program. The last day in Mumbai was a busy and interesting one. In the morning we learned about the world famous Dabbawalla program whose owner-employees deliver hot, home-cooked meals in tiffins to 200,000 businessmen and women across the 70 km stretch of the city. And, according to their numbers, their error rate is only one in sixteen million. Wow. They are always on time. They celebrate teamwork and responsibility. They help each other with health care and sick day coverage. They wear hats and ID cards to be easily recognized and they are always on time (yes, I repeated that on purpose). My favorite thing about this program was the people – the pride I saw on the coordinator’s face as the story of the 100+ year history of this work was being told. And they do it all without technology. There are no mobile phones being used to keep track of deliveries. There is no computer system to coordinate the routes or the pick up times. The tiffins are picked up, taken to the train, sorted while on route, and then delivered within a two-hour period of time. The lids of the travel-lunch-boxes are painted with numbers and letters to ensure they reach the correct office and get returned to the right house. You might be asking yourself, “Why don’t they just carry their own lunch?” which is a question my colleague asked during the meeting. It was explained that the trains in Mumbai are so overcrowded at the morning and evening rush hours that no one dares to bring a lunch box, or even an umbrella most days, because there is simply no room (we did often see PEOPLE hanging on the side of the train, so I think I believe this statement). We even got to visit a sorting station on the street near the biggest downtown train station and see one team of dabbawallas at work – their smiles, their comraddery, their attention to detail and punctuality was impressive. I am thinking something similar in New York would only work if it was part of our culture to always have someone at home to cook the fresh meal which had to be delivered, and it would put all the delis and restaurants that deliver food out of business. Just a different economy, I guess.
That afternoon we put on our tourist hats and visited a local market (yes, Deb, this is still my favorite thing to do), found a nice man selling “God Ceramics,” and visited a mosque on an island off the shore as well as the nearby Hindu temple. The rain dampened everything I wore, but not our spirits (yes, mom, we have finally found the monsoon wetness). It was nice to have the time to pursue our own interests and to see some of the critical sites of the enormous city. It is so large that I have only seen a sliver, a small piece. But that might be enough for me. It is by far NOT my favorite city we have seen.
Back in Delhi we have had some time to ourselves as well. I must confess that on Sunday night, when most things were closed, some friends and I went to the McDonald’s in the market near our hotel (yes, my dear CSI students, I knew you’d be proud of me). It was interesting to see a menu with no beef (think about the dominant religion here) – there are several different chicken burgers, a few veggie burgers, and then a Mexican chicken wrap, and some local flavor as well. The fries, as you can guess, are the same around the world. Yum.
The list of adventures continues to grow, though perhaps it is because we feel more brave now that we are on our second visit to this city (are we getting comfortable, or have we lost the energy and interest that we had when we first arrived over a month ago?). I have risked my life to cross streets busy with rickshaws, bicycles, autos, busses, and trucks (more times than I can count). I have winced in fear as I rode in vehicles that come far too close to other moving THINGS (cow, bike, person, car, you name it). I have walked through crowds of gawking Indians who wonder at our clothes, our cameras, our hair and our presence (even in the “touristy” areas we are stared at, it seems). I have had children, women, and men offer me goods for “bargain” prices (wooden Buddha? necklace? scarf? popcorn? chai? coffee?). I have been through a lot, and yes, it has changed me. I am not as surprised by things as I was at first. I understand a lot more of what is happening around me (the poor, the children, the schools, the economy, the religions, the culture). I am still very aware of new things, of differences, and the shock of some sites will never wear off (homeless families bathing on the sidewalk, people sleeping in the middle of the day on a crowded street, trash (and other types of waste) EVERYWHERE. I know a lot more than I did six weeks ago, but I still don’t quite “get it.” There is still more to think about, to learn, to see and to do. Off to the Taj Mahal.