On Hold

The train station in Colaba, Mumba (downtown). I never tire of exploring these streets.

For one, exploring new cities is restlessly fun. I had the chance to solo-travel to Varanasi recently—the holiest city in India and one of the most ancient cities in the world. The owners of my hostel were around my age, and they genuinely wanted to show their guests around. It was easy to become instant friends with them, and that’s a trend I’ve found at all the hostels I’ve stayed at so far. Hostel owners often seem to be young, extremely hardworking entrepreneurs. Sidd (owner) shared “when you’re my age in India, you have two options: you go to college or you start a business.” While the options don’t necessarily end there, I found his comment interesting. Sidd owns several different hostels around India, invented an airplane sleep-pillow, and I think he runs a clothing shop. Pretty inspiring when I’m feeling weak about my few (7 hours) of sleep each night.

Varanasi, hostel roof-top!

The hostel itself used to be a temple, and it overlooks the Ganges River from   its rooftop hangout. Most of the main sites here are situated along the water, with several main “Ghats” or staircases descending straight down into the holy water. It’s believed that taking a dip in the Ganges will purify you of your sins. That’s why ceremonies take place here every day, with bodies being dipped before they are cremated on beds of logs next to the river. Death is more of a celebration here. I’ve realized I’ve never witnessed followers of a religion that ingrains so much of their beliefs and practices into everyday life. How much time is taken out of one’s day, not to continue with work, activities, and hobbies, but to recognize the very root of your existence on that day. For some, that may include being grateful for life before anything else. I saw this especially in a sunrise yoga practice on the Ghats. The community gathers every morning for this, and at one point everyone lifted their hands up to the sky in laughter. It was adorable and heart-warming. I couldn’t stop laughing myself, it was so contagious! A dog was roo-ing along with them.

Laughing with the crowd during morning yoga
Even the dogs are flexible!

A lot of my friends have warned me about traveling alone in India, but I couldn’t have been happier to go to Varanasi. Two years after my solo-trip through Vietnam, I was reminded that women absolutely have the power to travel independently, and for me, it comes down to how I carry myself. Change your posture, be direct and clear with your words, and be extra cautious of others’ intentions. Badda bing, you’re

free and good to go. However, in the past, I’ve been conflicted about solo traveling. I love the freedom, but when you move around every few days, you make a lot of new friends for very short periods of time. Many whom you might befriend on Facebook afterwards, but will never truly stay in touch with. I always thought this was kind of sad—to create all these memories abroad, but not truly get to know someone better in the process. But, that didn’t even cross my mind in Varanasi. Within minutes upon meeting somer other travelers, Keenan (Seattle) made me laugh like an old friend, as we retold our history of travel struggles. And, Enrique (Madrid) was just the sweetest! Super easy-going and selfless. I may have just hung out with these guys for 2 days, and I don’t know if I’ll ever see them again, but I never once wished I was spending my day with a friend who would “last”. I think that’s one of the best parts about solo-traveling. You see how lovely people can be without needing to know you. Together, the three of us got scammed by a driver and cornered in an alleyway by a rambunctious, knife-clad 5 year-old.  Alone, I was peed-on by a line of monkeys on a rooftop and crapped-on by a bird.  Sidd was right—I will never forget Varanasi.

Boat Ride on the Ganges to watch a fire ceremony dedicated to the elements of earth


The best company + BUDDHA!

Back to my original point—putting my hobbies and introversion on hold. The internship hours have been amped up lately because of the music video. It was shot last week, and we were on set for 17 hours the first day, and 20 hours the second day. Unfortunately, I did not quite get a hands-on experience, because we found out I needed a film-set permit to work on the actual set. So, I stayed in the dressing room, signing out props and posting social media teasers of the shoot. We even thought I would be able to be in the actual video for the “party scene” in which cast and crew literally got to dance and shoot-off confetti canons. Again, the plug was pulled on that one. But MAN, that would’ve made one heck of a souvenir. Still, I did get to hang out with some of the actors and other directors in the industry. Funny, remember that “80s Bollywood Dance Party” I mentioned in my second post? The actor who was explaining discrimination in the industry to me at the party was cast as one of the male partners in the music video! While these interactions were memorable, I learned I do not want to work in the film industry in this kind of style. The tediousness, high-stress environment, and wild amount of time that goes into making one film is unappealing to me. I was mostly just motivated by the message that this video aims to send to promote the idea that romance starts with consent.  I would give more details what the video is about… but it doesn’t release ‘til mid-August! I’ll post it in my last blog.

Only one piece of the beautiful, handmade sets!

Aside from travel, and work, there’s one other thing that’s been keeping me from my ol’ introverted self: socialization. The other night, Soonil (one of my roommates) and I hopped on his motorcycle for the classic MARINE DRIVE. This is a beach promenade that stretches along the heart of the city. He said we had to go late, and he was right—Mumbai after hours has its charm when you get to hog the roads. Overlooking Mumbai’s skyline, highlighted by the darkness of the Arabian Sea, we were a little wet from an overpass of rain. Soonil asked “So, what have you thought about your whole experience? Marine Drive is the place for big questions.” I brought up the work culture, and how the hours have been difficult for me to adjust to. How you are expected to work overtime often, on weekends, and more. After studying abroad in Australia (2 years ago), I changed my mindset and let myself balance work with personal life more fairly. I thought it was a simple life lesson to learn—don’t stress, have fun, and don’t take work too seriously. But, little did I realize that having time and hobbies is a privilege. Having time away from work is a privilege. Soonil started to then explain why Bollywood is so loved by himself and many—escapism. At the end of the long work day, you might not have the creative energy to do much else other than sink into someone else’s world for a few hours. “I don’t want to see anything in a movie that reminds me of the office”, he said.

Marine Drive is also referred to as “Queen’s Necklace”, because of the lights that curve up the coastline

After Marine Drive, I realized there’s a reason I’m not locking myself up in my room—I prefer the socialization to hobbies I can be doing at home in Arizona. When am I ever going to live in Bombay again? When I am ever going to have constant access to these conversations, never a bore? Now, I have a week left in Mumbai, followed by my 2 weeks of travel. The hobbies—the introversion—that can all wait. I think I’m finally starting to understand what everyone told me 2 months ago. The city that never sleeps—it keeps you alive and hustling.

Enjoying the last few weeks with the Agents of Ishq! Marlene is a Masters student from Florida and she recently joined the team. We’ve loved having her around!

Gretchen A

Hey! My name’s Gretchen, and I’m studying Screen Arts & Cultures and Psychology at UMich! Thanks to the LSA Internship committee, I’m able to intern for "Agents of Ishq" in Mumbai, India. Here, I have the opportunity to create multimedia (videos, podcasts, and article), surrounding topics like love, gender, relationships, and sexuality. The goal is to make these conversations less taboo, and more comfortable!

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