Salsa, sushi and beer in Mumbai

Trip Start Sep 08, 2007
Trip End Dec 30, 2008

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Flag of India  ,
Saturday, December 1, 2007

Name: Anushka Nunes
Age: 24
Family status: Single
Job: Media Professional
Religion: Roman Catholic

Curry, tea, yoga, Hindu, saris, Bollywood- you guessed it - I'm talking about India. How about if I told you - salsa, chopsticks, Heineken, jeans, yuppies, cosmopolitan - what would you think then?  Well, that would be Mumbai.
I am having a drink with Arun, a friend of a friend and a London-born and raised Indian on a 2-year assignment with Lehman Brothers in Mumbai. The venue is a swanky cocktail lounge in the up and coming Bantra district in the north part of town, which a lot of young Indian professionals and expats call their home. It took me more than an hour in a rickety black and yellow taxi, trademark of Mumbai, to get here through the frantic traffic all the way from downtown.  I am based in Colaba which is on the south part of the island of Mumbai, and a major cultural and tourist hub.  Mumbai is built on seven separate islands that were connected with a land reclaimed from the ocean many, many years ago.
Anushka, a friend of Arun, joins us an hour later when her salsa class in the bar next door is over.  She is wearing a short skirt and a V-neck flowery top. Her long hair falls loosely in charming waves. She is changing her heeled salsa shoes into flats. Wait, I say excited, Indians dance salsa?!!  Of course, she answers, salsa is becoming very popular in Indian cities. [An article I read in The Hindu couple of weeks later elaborated that "many observers attribute this growing India interest in salsa to the liberalization of social morals"]. Not completely aware about the social morals, little do I know about the ongoing change in Indian society. That would change over the next moth and a half, while I slowly make my way through India. Talking to Anushka is the first inside look I take into the amazingly diverse society of this country.
Anushka's English is impeccable and her accent is very slight, so just to make sure I ask if she was born and raised in India.  She confirms.  She is from Goa, a small but prominent state in the south west. So Hindi is your first language, I ask?  I speak Hindi she answers, my state language is Konkani but we speak English at home. I'm still confused about the number of languages spoken in India and how people communicate with each other. Hindi is the official language, but many states have separate languages and people would speak one, two or more languages, usually commensurate to their education.
As the night goes on, our conversation evolves around New Years plans, the Indians fascination with salsa and dating in Mumbai.  Anushka summarizes half-way humorous, half-way aggravated - Indian guys steer away from high powered, financially independent women and prefer to marry teachers.  Sorry to disappoint you darling, I laugh, but don't expect to find different outside of India.  Arun is left to his beer (and happy with it) while Anushka and I enjoy comparing notes on our lives of professional women.  She is working in media, a job that is interesting and demanding but some times requires long hours in the office. Therefore, media is not considered a good career choice for women, because of the predominantly male environment and generally more relaxed moral stands.  Anushka is enjoying her work, but being a smart girl, she is also working on a degree in Psycho-therapy, which will give her a more flexible work schedule when she starts a family.  She calls it her plan B.
Personally, I don't think at only 24 years of age, Anushka should be in any rush to marry, but she says that the pressure from her family is mounting.  In India, it is considered good to marry your daughter at the age of 24-25.  Some girls do marry later at 26-27, or even at 30, but their parents are not happy at all.  Well, I say, half-jokingly, at least you don't need to worry about finding a husband.  Your parents will arrange one for you.  She laughs back - their arrangements are never good enough.  In general, the whole arranged marriage institution has evolved into a sort of a dating service provided by the parents.  You no longer have to marry the first guy you are introduced to, mainly because they can't make you.  Financial independence brings personal independence.  Don' t take me wrong - Anushka says - I am only child and my parent have been putting a lot of pressure on me.  However, when a rational conversation fails to persuade I resort to my financial independence to draw the boundaries.  Mumbai is really not a tough city to live in. If you have an education and a decent job, you can move out of your parent's home and make a living on your own, so it is hard for them to press their demands. That goes for the city of course. Rural India is a whole different story.  Girls over there don't have any choice (read - financial independence), so arranged marriages are still the way things go.  [For once in my life I feel grateful to be born and raised in a country from the communist block, where the state endorsed aspiration for woman was Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman astronaut]. 
I ask Anushka if it's okay to write a story on her and she agrees.  I head to her office the following day to take a picture of her.  I look around the fairly packed women's compartment of the train - most women are wearing saris or shalwar camiz (another traditional Indian outfit consisting of loose pants and a long tunic decorated with scarf). It strikes me that even Mumbai is still way more traditional that my experience the evening before and Anushka is not your typical Indian gall. Yet, she is Indian from India, and she is representing that small part of it that we don't know very much about. 
Give a girl the life long gift of education! Support my appeal 100 GIRLS BACK TO SCHOOL! Donate at:
Hugs & Kisses, Vik 
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