Mumbai in Fast Forward
My visit to Mumbai is a bit of a blur. I don’t know if it’s because India is already the 37th country I’m visiting this year or because of the dizzying speed at which I’m hopping from city to city—or the sensory overload that India tends to trigger with its infinite crowds and its hectic and loud traffic, especially now, in the Indian holiday season.
I arrived in Mumbai at midnight on the main day of Diwali, the festival of lights and most important holiday in India. It’s a special time, as the entire country is off work for a few days and Indians definitely appreciate a good occasion to celebrate. I could see fireworks over the city while landing in India’s biggest city.
Metrohm India’s Chief Marketing Officer Joy Dasan met me at the airport. I’ve met Joy at our Herisau headquarters several times since I started at Metrohm. Joy has worked for Metrohm for more than 25 years—first at Metrohm’s exclusive distributor in India and, since its founding, at Metrohm India. Together with Joy and his family, I experienced Diwali in Mumbai before spending the final days of the holiday in Goa, which is the number one holiday destination for Mumbaikars.
Joy, his wife Rita, and their two children live in Thane. Thane is part of the Mumbai Metropolitan Region and where the Metrohm office is located. Rita was very excited to see me in a saree—just minutes into my visit, she dragged me into the bedroom to wrap me in seven meters of fabric. I was a quite impressed what the saree did: I looked like a proper Indian and could hardly recognize myself.
Celebrating Diwali with Lights, Sounds, and Snacks
Diwali is traditionally celebrated with a lot of noise. Even though there are some restrictions nowadays on firecrackers and other pyrotechnics, they are an important part of the Diwali celebration for many. In spite of firecrackers being banned past 10 PM, you can hear the noise of fireworks going off throughout the night. Almost all houses are decorated with string lights and lanterns for the festival of lights and families prepare special food and snacks and spend time together.
Rita, Joy, and I visited the home of Sandesh Takle, office administrator at Metrohm’s Mumbai office, for a real, home-cooked Diwali meal. Like Joy, Sandesh has been working for Metrohm for the last 25 years. The families of Sandesh and his wife are originally from the state of Maharashtra, of which Mumbai is the capital. So they celebrate Diwali in a typical, local way and introduced us to the sweet and salty snacks that are essential at any local Diwali celebration.
A Society of Contrasts
This isn’t my first visit to India. Almost six years ago, after finishing university, I spent three months volunteering in the southern state of Tamil Nadu and another two months traveling. India is so big and its culture so complex that even in five months I could do barely more than scratch the surface. Back then, I lived in a small village where education was hard to get by for many locals. Tradition and social conventions played a very important role in shaping people’s lives. I talked to some young women who felt trapped in a life in which they barely had any say. And I talked to others who were so devoted to their traditions, they couldn’t muster even a spark of understanding for anyone wishing for something else. I moved in circles where choices as small as wearing the wrong clothes presented a transgression.
It’s a very different India that my Metrohm colleagues are showing me. Mumbai is a modern city where many young people adhere to no dress code, and that’s not frowned upon. In the families I’ve met in the past days, boys and girls can be friends past puberty and education has priority over marriage—not only for young men but also for young women. All of this would have been unthinkable in the India I saw last time. It’s difficult to understand how contrasts so stark can coexist right next to one another.