Our third week in India was all about a taste of the everyday Mumbai life. My version of everyday life in India could not be complete without eating at the local streetfood vendor, which we’ve been visiting several days a week. I’ve also been going to the local market to get supplies almost everyday. One of my purchases was lightbulbs. Before we got here, our landlady warned us that because the apartment is in an old building (which it’s not), the wiring is bad and the lights go out frequently. When that happens you have to call a handyman. When we got here, about half the lights were not working. It didn’t take long to discover that the light bulbs just needed to be changed. The landlady later admitted to me that she calls the handyman just to switch the bulbs.
We’ve also had to deal with some of the annoyances of everyday life. Our internet connection went out. This is no fun anywhere. Back home this means having to wait for a 3-4 hour window and hoping the technician will actually come within that window. When I called for repair here, I was told that someone would come within 24 hours–24 working hours. A three day window. I called a couple times a day unsuccessfully trying to get a smaller window, and each time I gave my phone number and requested that the technician call before he comes. After several days of this, I was on my way out the door when the doorbell rang. It was the repairman. Not only did he not call, he came on a Sunday, which I was told over and over on the phone that he would not do because it is not a working day. Of course he was not able to fix the problem because he needed access to a part of the building that the requires a key and the building manager does not work on Sunday.
Around the same time, we ran out of cooking gas. I called our landlady and she said to call Reliance, which is the electric company. This sounded weird to me, but I did it anyway. Men from the electric company came and expectedly said it wasn’t their problem. One of the residents in our building overheard me talking to the Reliance people and offered to help. He invited me to his apartment, gave me the phone number I need to call, and showed me the little slip of paper that I need that has our landlady’s account number with the gas company. That slip of paper was nowhere to be found in our apartment. I called our landlady back up and she said she didn’t have her account number, but she told me (vaguely) where the gas company’s office is and then suggested that I call a contact of hers who will get me a tank of cooking gas on the black market for a third the price. I called her contact and after some back and forth, it turned out that he couldn’t get us gas, so I went to find the office. I walked up and down the street that the office is supposed to be on and, like so many other locations in this city, found it was not as clear cut as the directions say. The office was not actually on the street, but on the side of a building whose front faces the street. What’s more, in typical Indian fashion, I couldn’t order the gas directly from the office. I was given my landlady’s account number and told to call for a refill.
Apparently, all of this walking around and dealing with everyday life has led me to develop the look of a local–every day or two I get asked directions on the street, often in Hindi. I’m not the only one on the street when this happens (or ever). These people are choosing to ask me for directions instead of several others who are clearly Indian, local, and speak the language. Maybe it’s the beard….