South Tour: Mumbai & Nagpur – It’s not “Goodbye,” it’s “See you again”

13 Dec – 14 Dec

NAGPUR: I’m trying to remember when I first fell in love with the city of Mumbai.

Was it when I walked through the train station to see the facade up front, after passing through a lobby that was the most crowded, bustling room I’d ever been in?

Was it when the skyline of the city’s downtown suddenly appeared on our bus ride in, a maze of skyscrapers sandwiched by pale blue sky and pale blue sea?

Was it when our bus pulled up between the Gateway to India and the Taj Hotel, as if one historic monument wasn’t enough for the moment?

Whatever it was, it was enough for me to seriously consider buying an I (heart) Mumbai t-shirt, although I ultimately decided to pass.

I think the consensus we reached is that Mumbai is like New York, Chicago, Miami and Toronto – like New York as a country’s metropolitan hub, like Chicago with its iconic skyline, like Miami in the glimmering marriage of city and sea, and like Toronto because…Toronto is also a big city that people know. Whatever city Mumbai most resembles, we spent our time enjoying the world’s largest city, not dreading our departure at the end of the day.

And that’s the way it should be.

Although our breakfast at the train station was probably the worst of the tour, that hardly mattered, given what we were to see that day. Our decision to skip the Elephanta Caves was a good one, as it gave us a full day to enjoy the city. Our morning was filled with great opportunities for photo ops. Both the road coming in and a park overlooking the sea provided outstanding views of Mumbai’s skyline. The Gateway of India, of course, looked great no matter where the picture was taken from.

While staring at the Taj Hotel, I was overwhelmed by poignancy as I realized what I was staring at. Saddened as I was by my memories of 26/11 and my recollection of the events from those days, I was equally inspired by the scene Wednesday – of people milling about as normal, Indians and foreigners alike. All the while the Taj Hotel stood monumental as ever, unscarred, as if nothing had ever happened 25 months before.

The rest of our afternoon was mostly spent shopping. Some of us got early starts on Secret Santa shopping, while others picked out souvenirs for themselves. We also visited a mosque at the end of a 500-meter long pier before splitting up and spending our afternoon in three separate groups. Our final four hours together were relaxing and free of obligation in one of the busiest cities in the world.

And just like that, the tour was over. One last walk back to the bus. One last group photograph. One last ride to the train station. Outside the terminal where the Indore kids were dropped, everyone from one district had a goodbye hug for their friends in the other. Some eyes were glossier than others, but I think we all agreed our goodbyes were too abrupt, and a narrow street next to heaps of trash was not the ideal setting in which to bid each other adieu.

Except it’s never “goodbye” with Rotary, they say. It’s “see you again”. When will “again” be? That’s the question.

But I know that day will come – for everyone on this tour.

Until next time, whenever that is, I have the memories inscribed in this journal to fall back on.

For me, “that day” has already come for fourteen in our tour group. For the nine others from District 3030, it came soon hereafter, as everyday practices began the next Monday for our Christmas Day presentation. For Sabrina, who left the tour early to attend a wedding in Mumbai, it came the day after the tour ended, in Nagpur. For Jordan, Amanda and Kelsey [Vermont, USA], it came about two weeks later, as they also came to Nagpur to prepare for the presentation. For RK, it was Christmas Day. For Nikolas and Hannah [Germany], it will probably come when we embark on the North Tour in February. That only leaves Sebastian and Aafreen [India], who I’ll be sure to meet on some future date.

You know home won’t be the same when you spend a month away from it.

Even though the home I came back to is my second home, halfway around the world from my first, a lot changed in the 25 days I was gone. Saket-dada, my host brother, is now staying in his hometown of Pune as he enjoys his school holidays. A new ping-pong table sits next to Jojo and Diana outside. A new rug lies upstairs, a MacBook Pro is my host dad’s new laptop, and the TV that used to sit idle in my bedroom is now featured by the dining room table.

It’s also a lot colder here, to the point that I actually wore my jacket – for five minutes. The 60-degree (F) nights will have everyone back home jealous, but here such weather is cause for two sweaters, a woolen hat, and a scarf.

Several nights, the temperature has dropped into the 40s, cause for me to wear my jacket to bed on more than one occasion. My tolerance for cold, while still higher than that of anyone I know here, is lower than it was in the US. It has dropped below freezing in parts of India, and there is snow in Kashmir.

This past week has been my vacation, not the 25 days before coming back. Because at the end of a vacation, aren’t you supposed to feel relaxed? Aren’t you supposed to be rejuvenated? Aren’t the monkeys supposed to have climbed off your back, leaving you ready to once-again face the world?

It’s because of my last week in Nagpur that I’d argue this tour was not a vacation. A departure from normal? Yes. But not a break. The only fatigue I’ve felt comparable to this is that of the first days of school breaks each year, following months of uninterrupted study. And this tour was just 25 days.

These were my thoughts as I lay in bed exhausted my first day back, my body still swaying to and fro as it had on the train, happy to finally be lying on a stable, familiar bed. You can’t make these kinds of memories in the places we did and call our tour a vacation.

That’s the best argument my mind can make right now, anyway.

As for my body, it’s too tired to argue. I’m bas.*

🙂

* – Bas is Hindi for “enough”. Although not proper Hinglish, we often used the phrase on the tour to say “I’ve had enough”.

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