Mumbai, a city of opportunities, excitement and relationships. From street vendors selling paan (betel leaf) and chatpata snacks, to fancy museums and temples exposing the strong history and mythology of the country, the city is constantly buzzing with people of differing tastes, religions and experiences. From the initial day, it was clear that, given a period of only one month, I must be able to work, socialise and explore the immensely rich culture of this city efficiently.
Touring various parts of the city within the first few days of arriving India – the Gateway of India, Dharavi, Chowpatty, Crawford Markets (to name just a few) – India has exposed its diversity.
On a more professional note however, Andrew and I have been placed at the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE), a financial and educational training institute that prides itself on its long-lasting history. Reflecting on the previous three weeks, my experience lies in stark contrast to my initial expectations. A surprisingly patriarchal society, it was interesting (and awkward!) to perceive the differences between the working cultures prevalent in India and Australia. For example, whilst wearing corporate attire is the norm in Australia, doing so on my first day at the BSE invited stares from several (partially shocked) workers who were obviously not accustomed to women wearing outfits other than ethnic kurtis and churidaars.
Further, noting the initial unpreparedness of the BSE in inducting their newest interns made me appreciate the efficiencies of the Australian corporate system as I was accustomed to working in. Nevertheless, it wasn’t long before they had outlined a detailed task for us that would test our abilities to deliver a report (and accompanying presentation) by the unchangeable deadline of three weeks. The clock was ticking!
Meanwhile, working here, one thing clearly strikes me: journeys are made with the people you engage with. Observing the office culture, I am impressed by the cafeteria system that creates a level of informality amongst employees of differing seniority, with all members of the BSE engaging in a cordial manner that only strengthens their friendships.
Along with this, as opposed to their initial hesitancy to interact, by virtue of familiarity, people have become gradually welcoming and this has definitely created a more enjoyable experience. People that easily come to mind include the security man who salutes Andrew every morning, Ramesh, the cleaner who loves Jackie Chan and tries to practice his English with us, and Ganesh, who makes wonderful adrak ki chai and tells us the lunch menu for the day. However, what remains deeply embedded in the Indian society is that of class – represented by the beige shirts worn by the cleaners, and the checked red-and-black shirts donned by the cafeteria men.
Similarly, office members are also not as reluctant to approach us and, as the first Australians to be accommodated by the BSE, lengthy discussions at work have blurred the lines between professional and personal relationships as each party attempts to learn more and more about the other’s culture and mentality. In light of this, I think Andrew and I make an interesting pair – as a Western male, many are curious to learn the multicultural nature of Australia. Contrastingly, although an Indian, as a female, the patriarchal system is a constant reminder of the fact that Mumbai, despite being one of the most modern cities of India, is still struggling to reinforce Western trends. Nevertheless, in the process of interacting with all these workers on a daily basis, the Indians have displayed their selfless, helpful and hospitable nature – be it accommodating for us through the tight security checks, or regularly checking upon our work as we sit in the cafeteria and try to motivate ourselves to focus on our report with its looming deadline.
It is true, Mumbai really is a city of extremes. Catching a taxi to work amongst the heavy traffic, or daring to lose myself in the busy streets around Churchgate, lie in juxtaposition with the serene walks along Marine Drive (although, all too often I have been drenched in the monsoon weather too!). Similarly, amongst the chaos of the city, I still feel like there is so much time available to the self – to sleep in in the mornings (due to our 11am starts), explore new streets (each with its own little surprise – the cinema culture, the beggars, the station crowd), and socialise in the evenings (when everyone has a spare moment to wind down and reflect on their time in Mumbai).
Overall, the opportunity to work in India has been an amazing experience, satisfying on both a personal and professional level. In aiming to improve the relations between the Australian and Indian governments, I think this program has definitely been helpful in dissolving barriers to the extent of enabling easier communication.
Jaya, Marketing Bollywood 2013, India