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Vaisyas, Weddings, and Ganja in Mumbai

Wasn’t particularly impressed with ganja in Mumbai, but I love Mumbai though. I’ll just start there. 

Ganja in Mumbai

I’m halfway through over five weeks in India. I visited all the major cities, like a maniac. I don’t like things other people like. No one would advise visiting all the major cities in India in a row, not tourists, travelers, locals, or even city lovers. I’m not sure I would advise it, now that I’ve done it. It did give me a slice.

I would have to spend a lot more time in India to learn anything, if I could even learn anything. One thing I did learn is that there is a vast variety in Indian culture, food, practices and men.

My USAmerican programming has India as this one thing. A monolith depiction. Like, “Indian food”. As though it’s all dal and samosas. As though food from Mumbai has much in common with food from Kolkata. (Bengali food ftw, though). There is so much variety in Indian food, but what the US gets as regional varieties is at best reduced to North and South.  

Indian people in the West have a universal representation, like Apu from The Simpsons. So little nuance is given that most South Asians just get lumped in with Indians into one giant stereotype spanning over a billion people.

Ganja in Mumbai

Visiting India is a smack in the face with this programming. I expected culture shock in that everything would be crowded and difficult, but it was no more so than other places I have been in Asia, Africa, and the Americas.

The shock came in the sheer number of people in India, and how that impacts every aspect of the culture.

And also a fair amount of surprise found in the stunning array of diversity in ethnicity and language. It’s truly shocking to realize that one has collapsed entire regions of the world into a fake prejudice.

In the “West” we pat ourselves on the back and use the word polyglot to refer to each other if we manage more than one European language that has been forced down enough throats to permanently live on the tongue of people all around the world. In India it’s just normal for people to speak five or more linguistically separate languages that only, you know, a billion Indians have heard of (and maybe Pakistanis and Bangladeshis too…), but I sure haven’t heard of more than three of them. 

Ganja in Mumbai

The one exception to this view of India as “one thing” is the caste system, which a few Westerners have heard of and are obsessed with. How can we not be? It’s its own, unique thing. That’s the most sophisticated lens we’ve been given with which to look at India, and even then I challenge most USAmericans who know that the system exists (or existed) to name the actual castes or what that means for the people born into them.

Mumbai Laundry

I asked plenty of Indians about caste.

It exists, and it doesn’t always work how I think that it does. It’s being phased out, but it’s been around for three millenia so it’ll take millenia. I hear about affirmative action for the lower castes pushing the upper castes out of India for education and employment. This explains why almost every Indian I’ve met outside of India has been a Brahmin.

Anyway, I know nothing of India but that there is so much to know, basically. This information is loose background to the story at hand: Ganja in Mumbai.

I loved Mumbai. It is the home of Bollywood. Also the home of a friend of a friend of mine that I had met up with before in New York and Bangkok. Homie is a stoner buddy. We keep trying to do other things together and failing. But he did host me in Mumbai. And he did take me to his cousin’s wedding.

And, thankfully, he got me high as shit the entire time on ganja in Mumbai. Not only from smoking joints laced with hash – but from sucking down extract a teaspoon full at a time.

So, not the best weed in the world. Sticks and stones. Like everything else I smoked in India, when I ask about it’s origin I just get “grown outdoors in UP (Uttar Pradesh)”. When one State is growing the weed for almost all of the country, outdoors, without caring about designer strains – all that matters is how fresh it is and how it was cured.

In this case, not so fresh, not so expertly cured. The hash is decent, but my friend is stingy with it as it’s not so easy for him to procure. He’s a perpetual baby stoner. He’s very good at what he does for work, and kind of incompetent at many other things.

Yes, he is of the skilled merchant caste. He is indeed Vaisyas. He’s wealthy and successful in banking and finance and his family also does well. Everyone is happy. They employ Sudras, the next caste down, to cook and clean and drive for them. Most of these live in the slums.

My friend lives in a modest two bedroom apartment at the top of a building. When we want to smoke ganja in Mumbai we have to go downstairs and either find a quiet spot on site in the parking lot or out behind the building, or, more usually, take a drive with his private driver who drives us around Mumbai in my friend’s black SUV while we sit in the back seat blazing joints laden with hash.

Maybe this is why I love Mumbai. It certainly helps.

Additionally, we both of course were too lazy to do this just to get high, and so frequently just went the much shorter distance to the kitchen, didn’t involve the help, and ate teaspoon after teaspoon of the extract. 

I then went off to do all the tourist things and see all the neighborhoods, while my buddy went to work merging and selling banks and whatnot. 

Kali Mumbai

This means that most of my impressions of Mumbai are tinged with ganja in Mumbai, just as most of my impressions of Delhi are rooted in the bhang I consumed while I was there

Mumbai reminds me of Los Angeles. It’s not as spread out, but the traffic is terrible because it all happens around a single highway leading in and out of the city. It has very, very rich neighborhoods. It has slums, including Dharavi, where some scenes from the movie Slumdog Millionaire were shot. It’s potentially the largest slum in Asia. I visit.

Dharavi is mind-boggling. It makes a couple billion USD in revenue per year for Mumbai. Though it handles mostly industries that other people don’t want to handle, and that benefit from being unregulated (recycling), it also has a bit of everything, it’s a city unto itself. There’s a fancy, designer leather brand that comes out of Dharavi. 

Dharavi leather

Basic services run through the slum now because without it, Mumbai would screech to a halt. So, those that refuse to pay for permits or water or electricity were finally just given them for being so useful and willing to inhale melting plastic on behalf of greater Mumbai.

Greater Mumbai itself has just about everything. It has a financial district, markets, and a downtown. Religion… and moviemaking. Bollywood is the dominant industry, and that’s what gives Mumbai and Los Angeles a similar feel.

A certain shallow sheen shellacked over a painful gulf between rich and poor.

Bollywood

Though not rich by Bollywood standards, I am rich enough by Mumbai standards. I sure do love the food that film production culture produces. After weeks eating heavily cooked food it’s a relief to be able to kick back and have some hipster California salads and bowls.

And, the unique shape of Mumbai, i.e. how it is surrounded by water, means that it has a very large port.

Mumbai boats

I love port cities. They are better at tolerance and have more influences from multiple cultures. People have refined their hustle. Generations of intermingling have softened the judgments. They’re where I feel most comfortable in the world.

Mumbai

Just walking around the different neighborhoods of Mumbai is a joy. Unlike Los Angeles it is not spread out over an impossibly large distance. There are little pockets of micro-scenes going on day and night. It gets very diverse, especially in Colaba and the further out you get to the tip and the monstrosity of the colonial Gate of India. I dig it, I dig the sunglasses, the laid back attitude, the moviemakers’ dream light.

Mumbai Street

And then… the wedding

I have heard of Indian weddings, and indeed, this one is no different from the reports I’ve been given. The portion I am invited to is three days long. We do two of those days. That ends up being a point of contention with my host’s wife as my stoner host uses me as an excuse to get out of day two. And after she loaned me her pretty sari too. Ah well.

Mumbai Wedding

The wedding experience, as with any experience of “going out” in Mumbai, is trademarked by long periods of being stuck in traffic. Unfortunately we are accompanied by my host’s wife in the same vehicle so there is no ganja in Mumbai to be smoked on this ride.

Mumbai Wedding

The first night is party night and I find myself on the dancefloor surrounded by half a dozen pushy Indian men. It tickles the inappropriate fantasies I have had the entire time I am in India.

In India, men’s eyes are on me constantly. They stare at me in groups. I’m not sure whether it’s lust or violence in their gaze, most of the time. Feels like a mixture of both. India is the most sexist country I have ever been to, but that doesn’t really impact me because I’m a white tourist. As a white woman, I’m in a different category and outright assault is rare. I’ve heard horror stories from every Indian woman I know. After all, India is the land of acid attacks. Yet still it took me the hot and icy gaze of dozens of men on the streets of six Indian cities to really feel it.

Mumbai Men

Anyway, we’re going with “not these men” for the wedding attendees, and the group of them, sweaty, coiffed, moving in ways that white men do not – hot af. I immediately ditch my stoner buddy and join the guys on the dance floor with the giant jugs of punch with tubes with valves on them that we can all drink from at once.

After all, punch was created in India. But I digress.

After this fun I expect the actual wedding to be great, but it is in fact horribly boring. That first night was about dancing and debauchery and alcohol. The actual wedding day is about the food. There is no alcohol served at all. 

I mean, I’m down with an entirely vegetarian buffet, but it wasn’t excellent and it was so carby that it bloated me out in my borrowed sari, which already restricted my movement enough to be annoying. And additionally emphasized parts of my body that I don’t find attractive, but I’ve been told by multiple Indian men since that that is not at all how they see it.

Doesn’t matter. I spent much of the wedding sitting around wishing I was high on ganja in Mumbai in shorts and a t-shirt, and not watching a zillion blessings placed one at a time upon the heads of a newly married couple I never actually met.

Indian Wedding Mumbai

I expected something more traditional and less traditional at the same time. The level of commercialization of an Indian wedding matches that for the US, and it’s interesting to see a mostly different tradition forced through the filter of consumerism, and what comes out the other side: a packaged experience.

My host tells me that Indian weddings are mostly about the father of the bride showing off their current status. He spends the night introducing me to people and then whispering their titles to me behind their backs. Lots of bank owners and politicians. Seems to me cousin is doing well.

Indian Wedding Car

One of the last days I get out to the beach and sit listening to the bustle of the city and the crash of the waves. The beach culture is of course the best pairing with ganja in Mumbai. 

Mumbai Beach

Then my host’s wife leaves town for the last couple nights and me and my buddy get super high one night. There’s a knock on the door that startles us both.

“Oh, that’ll be the egg guy.” my friend says, in his lilting Hindi accent made less Indian by a decade in the US.

“Egg guy?” I ask, watching my friend buy five eggs from the man at the door.

“One rupee a piece. He serves this building and I think a few others in the area.”

My eyes widen. One rupee is like a tenth of a cent at this time. 

“One rupee per egg? Are you kidding me? Why doesn’t he charge two?” I ask, calculating the cost of the free breakfasts I’ve been eating cooked by the amazing cook who I now realize might make less than a dollar a day.

“It’s not about the price, it’s about the territory. If he charged two there’d be someone behind him pushing him out of business by charging one.”

That, to me, is the only “one thing” there is about India. It’s so populated that the competition breeds systems of convenience USAmericans can only dream of, even though USAmerican culture is based on that very convenience. Yes, you’ll spend three hours in traffic to go anywhere, but why go anywhere when there’s someone delivering eggs to your door for less than you could ever possibly buy them for anywhere else? 

This competition bleeds into the cutting edge. So many traditions and ways of life that look ancient have now been modernized because there’s extra manpower around to do so. For instance, almost everything in India is app enabled. You can order or organize anything via your smartphone. I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s an app for the egg guy.

Mumbai

My friend is a perpetual baby stoner. One of the ways he and I bonded was that he needed joints rolled for him when I saw him in Bangkok and I took pity on him and rolled him a week’s worth. So, bless him for getting me high and putting me up and teaching me something about India, but I’m pretty sure he didn’t get the best ganja in Mumbai. I’m sure that with Bollywood Mumbai likely has the best (and possibly only) indoor grows in all of India. 

Mumbai candy store

Unfortunately, I didn’t see them. Guess I’ll have to go back…


Other posts about India:

Bhang:

Sonagachi:

Indian Lovers:

In Muscat:

In London:


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