Ever since I could remember, I’ve wanted to do something interesting and meaningful with my life. Money holds significance in my life, but money has mostly meant stability and freedom to lead my life on my own terms.
I studied Economics in college, though originally I wanted to study English. Being the oldest, my parents wanted me to study something that would allow me to have a more stable career, so I got a degree in Economics and worked in finance after college. Though my parents were well meaning, my heart has never been in working in offices. I quit my job in finance after only six months because I didn’t find any meaning and I didn’t have the courage to tell my parents I quit, so I just said I was let go. (Not a brave and smart decision, and I don’t recommend anyone to do this).
And Then I Landed a Position at Yahoo.
I became incredibly restless even here after a while, so one fine day, I started researching programs I could do abroad. I landed on a web page about a film and media program in Bombay aka Mumbai. In all my blog posts, I will refer to Mumbai as Bombay even though the official name is Mumbai because most of us still connect to the city through that name. (There is a whole story behind the name…that’s for another blog post)
My heart beat faster as I looked at the program schedule. It was so exciting! I would get to learn about film making and the workings of media and most of all, get to travel and stay in Bombay.
I thought the program would mostly consist of lectures and books and a professor teaching us about film making and then taking us to a random studio to watch a documentary.
I just didn’t think it was possible that I would get to experience everything I did. I thought it was too good to be true that I would actually visit legitimate film studios and witness the behind the scenes. The gold in this opportunity was to get away from my life here in an office and on this adventure by myself in a different country.
Show Up Fully and Own Your Desire
I try to meet everyone’s expectations, but when I REALLY, REALLY, REALLY want something, there is this fire in my chest. I have this single minded determination when I decide I want to do something.
And going on this film and media program was one of those desires. There was no way I was going to compromise. I knew my dear mother, hyper yet loving, was not going to be happy.
So I did all my research in advance and didn’t tell anyone that I even applied. I got my recommendations from a close college advisor and submitted my application. I was accepted and then I had to tell my mother about my decision. She immediately started listing out reasons why I shouldn’t go and how it’s not safe for a young girl to be in India. But I didn’t give in. There was silence at home for the next week.
My mother discussed it with my father and even my brother thought I was crazy. They had a valid reason. The 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks had occurred a month earlier in Bombay and that was another key reason my parents didn’t want me to go.
But I’m very persistent like a typical Taurean bull 😉 My father suggested receiving references for the program and I jumped at his suggestion. Long story short, my parents felt comfortable after speaking to the references and I packed my bag to travel to Bombay.
My Fears Started to Trigger Me…
When I was on the plane, it felt too surreal and dreamy. I don’t think the full entirety of it hit me until I landed in Bombay. Then, my heart sank. It was dusty and hot. I felt my skin becoming sticky and burning just stepping off the plane. I wondered what I had gotten myself into.
I also thought Bombay would be glamorous and amazing the moment I stepped off the plane. It was not. Taxis, cabs, crowds, shops everywhere. Did I mention there were lots of people everywhere? It was messy and chaotic. And I could feel the ruthless, fast paced pulse of the city breathing in the air.
A man from the India Study Abroad Center came with a sign with my name on it and helped me put my luggage in a taxi and take me to the guest house where I would be staying. It took some time to reach the guest house and the whole way I stared out the window. We didn’t say a word, he didn’t know much English and my Hindi wasn’t very fluent either. In reality, it felt awkward to be stuffed in a cab with a total stranger and my luggage beside him.
I finally reached the guest house and I started to feel better. There was to be two other girls from another country participating in this program along with me. I was going to have company.
I was helped again with my luggage since my room was on the second floor of the guest house. Bombay is like New York, space is at a premium, I thought I was going to be crunched up in a tiny space, so I heaved a sigh of relief that the guest house was simple and spacious.
I met the Co-Founder of the program, Mr. Hansal Mehta, Indian film director (Dil Pe Maat Le Yaar, Shahid, Citylights). His wife Safeena Husain and him started this program as a part of their organization that offers a variety of experiential programs. I sat with him as he walked me through the agenda for the four weeks I would spend in Bombay. At that time, I had no idea who he was. Until he told me he was a film director and I realized I had watched some of his films in my childhood.
As an exciting, interesting note, he was writing the script for Shahid (biographical film based on the life of lawyer and human rights activist Shahid Azmi) at that time which later received tremendous acclaim and success. Now that I look back, I realize how fascinating it is to see who he was as a person up close and personal at that time that he poured into this film. And now when I watch a film, I always wonder about the emotional internal struggles of an artist that are behind a creative work.
I didn’t spend too much time with him, but I remember he was deep in reflection most of the time. I could sense his mind was ticking and simmering as he went about his normal days. I believe his previous films were not as successful and he had steered away from what he truly wanted to make and wanted to get his creative juices flowing again so he could write a film closer to his heart. Having found my own creative spark and freedom, I can understand the internal struggle that plays out because my own novel Enchanted Silence reflects my emotions and deep inner world.
After he left, I resigned myself in my room and took a sweet nap. Once I woke up, I heard chatter and foot steps. The other two girls had arrived. I took a quick shower and dressed into fresh clothes.
I Was In For A Shock….
I went downstairs and introduced myself. They greeted me in accented English. The first thing I noticed about them was how breathtakingly beautiful they were. We made some friendly banter and I learned they were sisters and from Eastern Europe, in their late 20s to early 30s. I was feeling more upbeat and I felt it would be fun to share this experience with two other girls.
But a couple hours later, suddenly, the two sisters started to show me attitude and throw insults at me (some even racially motivated). At first, I thought maybe it was a communication gap and we were not understanding each other. But it came pretty evident that they didn’t like me and as I was immature at the time, I also indulged in a dramatic showdown session with them. But I was overpowered by two dominating girls who kept screaming at me. I was trembling in fear and disbelief.
After a point, I wasn’t aggressive enough to stand up to them, so I ran off to my room. I was so scared that I shifted all the heavy furniture against my door so no one would be able to enter my room without permission while I’m sleeping. Was I being way too paranoid and irrational? Perhaps, but when you travel alone and you’re already a shy, reserved young girl, your fears and the unknown get the best of you. You see a side of yourself that you didn’t even knew existed. A side that you don’t like.
The next day, they had a disagreement with the program founders as well and they cut short their trip. They flew to Agra to see the Taj Mahal and would head home to their home country. They were not going to keep me company on this 4-week adventure. I was relieved and sad all at the same time. I didn’t have to deal with them anymore, but I was going to live all alone in a spacious house in Bombay. I would have no one to share this adventure with.
I clammed up and my normal tendency would have been to run away to my safe comfort zone, but there was no way I could run home. I had to stay the entire four weeks. Plus being a Taurean, I couldn’t let my family be right that I wouldn’t be able to handle the trip.
Now that I look back. I realize they couldn’t handle the cultural differences, heat, and all the unpleasant stuff that shows up when you’re traveling. I faced it when I traveled to Mexico recently and other countries as well. Traveling especially to foreign places takes an emotional, physical, and mental toll on you. It shakes up your internal system. Instead of dealing with it the right way, they ended up directing all their discomfort at me.
After this experience, I realized I must practice acceptance and letting go even more actively when traveling and be sensitive when traveling in different countries. I always make sure to be sensitive and respectful to the practices and cultural differences in another country and not take things too personally.
Traveling is about letting go of your expectations and going with the flow. And boy was I going to receive many opportunities to learn this beautiful, yet messy lesson over the course of the next four weeks.
Have you felt the pangs of excitement and nervousness simultaneously when making a life-changing, bold decision? Did you feel your fears and beliefs being tested as you made this decision? I’d love to hear more! Please share with me in the comments.