I get asked a lot how I'm managing in the city. My answer always includes photography.
I ultimately want to write a piece called "Mumbai Is The Best City In The World For Street Photography" but I'll save that ambitious project for another day.
It should come as no surprise then what I think of the city of Mumbai. I'm asked about how I manage here quite a bit by curious locals. I'm quite sure they receive a response they weren't expecting because it has little to do with my life as a person struggling to get by and has everything to do with the photographic opportunities.
There are a few important factors, all having to do with photography, which compel me to love this city. I rediscovered photography in Mumbai. I learned the craft of photography in Mumbai. I became a professional photographer in Mumbai.
That's the short version of my personal story. And it has very little to do about how I personally get along in Mumbai in my daily life, all the pros and cons. Without this one caveat - photography - my answer would be fundamentally different and perhaps a little predictable.
For one, I don't speak any of the languages here. This is a huge problem at times. But out on the streets when I'm shooting, it's rarely an issue. It sounds impossible, but it should make sense to any photographer who has experience travelling and photographing in places where he doesn't speak the language. It's incredibly simple: photographers take pictures. People who see people with cameras know they want to take pictures, sometimes their own. Therefore, a simply gesture to the camera, casual eye contact or a smile, will suffice to communicate all there is to communicate: may I take your picture?
Sometimes this question is more complicated. Maybe someone doesn't want theirs taken and but others do. Things like this are usually made clear by gesturing made by my subjects. Most details are communicated with one thing in mind: language is a barrier, my point will have to be made in a way other than language. This occurs more readily and easily than what some of you may think. I'm sure it has something to do with human evolution, back when neighboring tribes would encounter one another with no common language between them. Hand gestures, drawing, and yes, even speech of some kind - along with the communication toolkit which are the eyes, go a long way in establishing a base understanding of the current subject at hand.
What I'm getting at is language should not be a barrier for any traveller or travelling photographer. Yes, there are times when knowing key words and phrases are helpful. There's no debating this. But a photographer should be able to get by photographing what he needs to photograph when out on solo excursions. I've seen a couple of my workshop clients, all non-Hindi/Marathi speakers, get by beautifully without knowing many words.
I'll tell you a story from the flip side of the same coin. I've had a few clients who've spoken Hindi but who've lived out of India a good part of their lives. One of these clients was trying to get an answer to a question in Hindi and was frustrated by the process. He wasn't able to clearly get his point across while he had witnessed me communicating (however crudely) and getting the responses I needed. The phenomenon has a name when it's directly related to a physical condition: anomic aphasia. But what my client was experiencing wasn't due to some damage to a certain part of the brain; it occurred because he had simply been away from his language group for so long that even he was a foreigner in some regards. I'm sure there's an anthropological term for this, but having seen it happen I must conclude that cultural forms of anomic aphasia exist for varying reasons, when one knows the grammar but loses the ability to effectively communicate via a shared language.
Barriers aside, which don't include food or the overwhelmingly open and friendly people, I "get by" in Mumbai with what disabilities and privileges I have as a foreigner navigating the cultures and languages of India.
If you ask me what I miss most about home, I'm always going to answer "the air."
If you ask me if I miss my family and friends back home, I'm always going to answer "yes."
If you ask me whether or not I miss the food "back home", I can now truthfully answer "definitely not."
And if you ask me whether or not I'll be living in Mumbai or India for the long term, the answer would be "no."
My answers are deserving of their own blog posts because I could talk at length about the whys in each. Maybe I need to blog about non-photography subjects as well in the coming new year? For now, it's enough for me to let my lenses do the talking.