Sunday, November 18, 2012

Bright Lights, Big City, Crazy Politics

When I landed in Mumbai several days ago, I saw…
1. Other foreigners
2. Street lights
3. Large tour buses
4. Women showing knees and shoulders.
5. Men wearing ties

Basically the point is, Mumbai is so different from Guwahati. A city of 21 million people, it is by far the most “westernized” city in India. At the same time, Mumbai has every part of India in it.

For those of you who remember, I have come to Mumbai for an Operation Smile "ULead" student conference. ULead student conferences take place in countries where student programs are beginning to develop. (To read about this conference, please visit The blog provides an hour to hour overview of what the conference was all about and has LOTS of photos--I wrote this blog as well). I had so much fun at the conference introducing Operation Smile to Indian students and seeing their passion for making a difference develop. I spoke to the group about my experience with Operation Smile and how I ended up moving to Guwahati. I hope the conference inspires these students to start Operation Smile clubs and be more involved in their communities.

The conference was held at a school called Reaching Beyond Knowledge International Academy (otherwise known as RBKIA). RBKIA is a very nicely designed pre-K to twelfth grade school. Because Mumbai is so big, all the buildings go up and not out. So, RBKIA is seven stories tall and barely has any play space. Students who attended the conference mostly attended other nice schools that offered an International Baccalaureate (IB) program. They all hope to go to a university in Europe, U.S., or a good college in India. It is really fun to see their energy and determination behind the things that they do.

The modern building next to RBKIA
The houses outside of RBKIA
This is seen everywhere in Mumbai next to really nice schools, country clubs etc.
I am staying at the Bombay Presidency Golf Club. It is a nice hotel with a swimming pool, several restaurants, a fitness center and a golf course to which members belong. Golf has been a huge part of my life and I haven’t seen a golf course or a golf club since I left Nashville two and a half months ago. So staying here has been quite weird. There is a putting green, a driving range, junior clinics in the afternoon, a 19th hole restaurant, and all of the other things you'd expect at a full-blown course. It kind of feels like home. However, there is one thing that is very different than home. There is a slum right outside of the entrance to the golf club, which is just so typically Indian and what makes India so crazy.

Tim Clark's signature
The Ladies news bulletin board (lots of ladies playing... my favorite)! 

Driving range

Club house

Nobody uses the golf carts-- all golfers walk

The pro shop
Dinner room
Party room

Unfortunately, while we have been in Mumbai, Bal Thackeray died. Bal Thackeray is a very famous and powerful politician from Mumbai. As one girl at the conference here told me, “Some people think he is God. People love him more than you can imagine.” Bal Thackeray died of old age (he was 86), and within hours after his death, all of Mumbai just completely shut down. No shops were open, no one was on the road--the whole entire town just shut down. The restaurant in our hotel is just slammed because it is one of the few restaurants open anywhere. Another girl that I saw at dinner tonight said, “My parents have lived here their whole lives and have never ever seen Mumbai like this. Mumbai has never been like this and might never be like this again.”

Thackeray's funeral was today, Sunday November 18, and tens of thousands of people showed up to watch him be cremated. As a result of his death, we have not been able to leave the hotel or really do anything much at all on this last day of the conference. Some people anticipated violence breaking out after his death, but that has not happened. There is a good story in the New York Times describing his politics, which a lot of people did not like (you can read it here).

Since all tv channels were shut off except local news, we decided to watch the funeral with the rest of Mumbai. 

The cremation.  

Hopefully tomorrow we will be able to get out and see Mumbai! Keep your fingers crossed please. On Tuesday I am off to Bhubenswar for an Op Smile medical mission. 

Sending smiles from India,

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