Morning of Cyclone Nisarga

Mumbai, India – June 3rd 2020 – 12:33PM

I’ve had a Word Doc with this story open on my laptop in hopes I would put it to use somewhere in my writing. I was three months into lockdown when I wrote this during what everyone thought was an early monsoon but really it was just a cyclone. It was a great exercise in describing the senses the way I experience them. Maybe its today’s persistent rain but somehow it felt like a blog post would make a better home for this material.

Sitting at my desktop by my balcony window, the church bells rang. They ring everyday at 12:30PM. I can hear the bells from St. Theresa’s Church just behind my building. Even in the midst of a cyclone, the church bells will ring. One day I need to remember to ask someone if there is an actual physical person that rings the bells (because in India there is a person for every job) or if it’s put on a timer.

I took me a few tries before I got the name right. Naisagara? Nagarasa? I just came to know its Nisarga. I never would have come up with that combination of letters, ever. It’s another thing that separates Indians and me. They probably got it right on the first try.

Dark clouds steamroll through the sky and there is a soft crackle of thunder.

I can hear the squeaky creaky windows and the gusts of wind as they swoosh across town.  I can hear the caws of crows in search of a dry home. I can hear the billowing up of a tarp from a rooftop nearby. I guess it wasn’t pinned down properly. Of even if it were, some breeze would sneak in and fill its lungs with air. I can hear the soft rustle of trees as their branches and leave shake, heavy with rain.

I can hear the honking of cars and the screech of a rickshaw’s tire on the wet ground.

I can still hear the pressure cooker from a nearby kitchen. It could be from any of the surrounding buildings, not just mine. You’d be surprised how far the sound of a pressure cooker can follow.

I can almost hear the sound of waves from the ocean, the thunderous clap of the high tide against the water.  A definite roar as it crashes on land and over smooth black rocks.

The wind flaps outside my balcony window. I’m drawn in by its smell; it’s fresh, clean, natural smell. Last night when the rain started falling, Martha and I stepped outside. I could smell dirt with a hint of freshness. Maybe that’s my American sense kicking in, thinking of the Mom’s backyard when we’d stand outside on her patio just before a storm, to take in the breeze and breath in the strong smell of fresh grass, wet grass. Grass. We don’t have much grass in Mumbai so perhaps it’s the waft of a wet tree nearby.

I can hear a faraway horn. Is it a conch call? I can’t tell. I have heard pujas and prayers from up here. I don’t know how far or close they were happening but I have heard a lot of religious sounds from way up here, sounds from funerals and weddings.

Solemn straight lines of men dressed in white suits with white beards. A casket follows. Men and women together in kurtas and pants walk slowly and calmly in the street, following a car that inched towards its final destination.

But then, bangles and drums and whistles and singing, the groom is on his way to the bride! A street full of color and movement, and yet, the wedding moved just as slowly as the hearse.

Martha walks in to begin her cleaning for the day. She starts with the balcony. I remind her to bring the fan in today so it doesn’t get spoiled in the rain. Small droplets have probably already fallen on it but it wasn’t plugged in. It seems she’s taken up a new mission today, cleaning the wire mesh that wraps around the front of my balcony, keeping out the pigeons but ruining my photo opps. The wiring has been dirty for a while. I noticed it more when we did a major cleaning during the lockdown (still currently on) and I told her to clean it. I never followed up with her about it. I want to cheer her on, support her, and show that I appreciate her efforts. That she remembered and did it without me having to tell her. Did the dirty wire mesh bother me? Yes. But did I care enough to tell her to clean it again? Not at all. Up close it was a mess but you couldn’t see it from far away, not even from this desktop.

I don’t hear people, I barely hear people. These days, the people are all inside. Because of a pandemic, corona virus, and now because of the cyclone. Because they are scared to go outside, because they need to be logged onto the computer working from home, because the schools are shut and the kids are home and there is too much household work to be done. Cooking, cleaning, sorting, organizing, praying, exercising, playing and typing and talking and laughing that needs to be attended to.

There is so much to do at home and yet with so little space. Even if you live in a big bungalow or five BHK, your space can feel so small.  I have been trying to use and occupy my space better, peer out of every corner and look at every angle. I want to see buildings I never saw before and experience new views. I want to absorb my surroundings and hug every inch of my city. My city of Mumbai, my home, my new home. I want to know every sound and watch every person that comes into my view. Observe their behavior, their body and movements. I can’t see most of their faces at this distance so the larger movements are all I can go by. Except for the rooftop of the building next door that faces my balcony. I’m a little higher up from them but they are the closest people I can see. I can see some of their faces and have a good idea what they look like from a distance. Closer up may be another thing. I wonder if I would notice them on the street? If we were to pass each other downstairs or ran into one another at Liberty Chemist around the corner, a corner we share, would I recognize them?

One woman that stands out reminds me of my yoga teacher. She looks taller than Karishma, my yoga teacher, but she’s got a slim build, walks very upright and has the same hair color as Karishma. A mixture of yellows and golds and browns. She always in fitted athletic wear and ties her hair in a ponytail. She moves like Karishma too. Because of this, I call her Karishma or yoga lady. Then there is a pudgy boy with the glasses and his little sister and I’m not sure who those other people are but there is a lady and another teenage looking kid with them. Then there’s spectacles, he comes everyday to go for a walk. A man, probably in his late forties or fifties, in his joggers with his phone and headphones. He walks everyday. He’s looked up a bunch of times at me and we catch each other’s gaze from a distance but it’s more my who the fuck are you type of gaze. Not a warm gaze. I stare hard at him almost like back off I wanna wear shorts and a dress and be myself without having your eyes on me, you creepy Indian uncle.  

Beeping of cars and children in the distance. I can hear the beating down of rain now against the ground.

I hear a train in the distance. Martha stops wiping the floors to look up at me and say, is that a train? We both wonder. We wonder where it’s going, why it’s making that noise. Martha says local trains are running again with limited service. But where is that train sound coming from? she asks herself. SV Road? They haven’t finished building that train track, can’t be that. Bandra Station? It’s so far off, how could the sound travel all the way here? Martha says there aren’t any other sounds outside so the stillness of the city would let a trains whistle travel longer than it otherwise might.

I smiled. If only she listened, she’d hear the sounds.

I’m human, not cargo: Navigating the daily challenge of stairs, steps and bad ramps

It was my first night out in my new home city of Mumbai. My mother was staying with me for three months before heading back to our hometown in New Jersey and shrilled with excitement upon discovering my evening plans at Mehboob Studios. ‘Did you know the shooting for Mother India happened there? Of course, that was “my time.”’ I ignored the studio’s fame entirely; my sole focus on the anticipation of witnessing a concert in Mumbai. Clearly, Bollywood appealed to my mother as much as the allure of this new city did to me. I arrived early, as I usually do when checking out a new place, only to discover an already packed parking lot.

I wove through the throng of concertgoers, making sure to place my cane down steadily as a signal to others — I wasn’t someone to be pushed. A security guard emerged from a backdoor. I asked him about the performance. He drew a long finger pointed towards a steep set of steps. ‘Upar hai.’ (It’s upstairs.)

‘Well, shit.’ I stood around for a minute or two with my pre-paid ticket in hand. My friend’s invitation to the show didn’t come with accessibility details, and my eagerness to attend made it slip my mind to ask.

Four years into discovering I had limb-girdle muscular dystrophy, my condition had progressed to the point where stair-climbing was out. Maybe a part of me didn’t care whether or not there were stairs — I was determined to have the experience. There was no service elevator, no secret entrance that allowed me to effortlessly glide into the upstairs studio. My excitement quickly waned. I looked up once more at the long, narrow staircase and promptly dialled Balu, who has worked for my family as a driver for many years.

The guard began to understand the situation and insisted I could be carried up in a plastic patio chair. He’d walk up the stairs backwards, directing Balu and two other men he recruited to carry me up. I hesitated at this large feat: was this too much effort for a concert? Did I want to put myself through this? I turned to Balu, ‘Are you sure about this? Is it safe? There are a lot of stairs, you know.’ I asked myself, is this worth it? At the time, it was. And so up I went, gripping hard at the chair’s sharp edges, trusting nothing would go wrong.

‘Side per reh, side, side, side (Stay on the side),’ the guard shouted on our shaky journey up. The following thoughts ran through my mind: ‘Why am I doing this? Do I weigh too much for these guys? What if they pull a muscle doing this? Can I trust these Good Samaritans? I definitely weigh too much for them. Great, now everyone is staring at me. I hate this so much. Okay we’re almost there. This will all be over soon.’

The men gently placed me down near the studio’s entrance. I thanked them, genuinely grateful for their help. As I sat in the chair for a few minutes more, I hoped the neon lights emanating from the inside stage would soothe any residual anxiety I felt over our ascent.

This wasn’t the first (or last) time I was lifted. The first time was in New York City when I desperately needed to use a restroom. A friend’s brother swept me up and carried me down the basement stairs to the restaurant’s bathroom.

In Istanbul, a dashing dancer carried me up two steep flights of stairs so my mother and I could watch the dervishes whirl.

In Mexico, I was lifted over steep sand dunes to relish the ocean breeze with friends.

At my part-time job in Mumbai, office employees carry me up six steps just to access the building’s lift.

I spend most of the year in Mumbai, a city filled with steps and stairs of all heights: from ridiculously chunky steps to mere two-inch boosts. It’s the city I’m lifted up in most often. When I first moved here, I asked friends why, aside from space constraints, accessible entrances are so rare. Their answers ranged from rising flood levels and architectural aesthetics to complete negligence on the government’s part to either implement or ensure compliance with accessibility laws.

When faced with stairs, I’m forced to make precarious decisions about my body. There’s a level of vulnerability I experience when I walk around with my cane — I’m met with confused stares, looks of concern or pity. I’ve even come to appreciate and enjoy some of it. Hell, the world is my runway. But how much more vulnerable must I be in a public setting, especially when it’s not entirely on my terms?

Was I glad to see the show at Mehboob? Yes. Was I grateful for the support of those who carried me? Of course I was. Except the decisions leading up to that left me with mixed emotions. I had a choice to say no and turn away from the situation. But my desire to enjoy a night out was like anyone else’s — why should I be denied that? I could do without the emotional torment, anxiety and unwanted attention that ensues as I’m carried up. Eyes lingering longer than feels appropriate, on-lookers’ heads moving along my trajectory as they try to dissect what’s ‘wrong’ with me.

There’s a scene from Margarita With A Straw that comes to mind. Staff members carry the protagonist Laila up the stairs when the lift in her college is inoperable. The look in Laila’s eyes is a familiar one — frustration mixed with mild fear and a deep desire for the entire ordeal to be over in a flash. Mostly, Laila seems preoccupied with getting upstairs ASAP to see her boy crush. Still, it’s very easy to feel like cargo in the process.

In Mumbai, for example, most of the accessible infrastructure in place is intended for just that. Five-star hotels have short, steep ramps meant for transporting cargo, not humans. I’ve mastered the art of slowly making my way up these obtuse structures because the alternatives aren’t much fun: getting lifted up, pushing myself to climb stairs with assistance, or turning away from it all.

The fact is that I don’t enjoy the act of being carried upstairs. I understand its purpose and accept it as a means to an end (given, of course, that I have the support of individuals to help me up). I’ve declined/refused the offer to get lifted out of concern for the men carrying me or because I felt unsafe. In these moments, an internal dialogue plays: ‘Is it worth it?’ I ask myself. I don’t always know or choose the right answer. Because other people are involved and a plan is required, my decision is usually time-sensitive. My choice has the potential to invite a host of ordeals: unwanted attention, anxiety, strategic planning, becoming dependent upon the mercy of strangers and being touched by random men who may have ill intentions or are seeking an opportunity to cop a feel.

Having said that, every experience of getting lifted hasn’t been shameful or scarring. It can be a straightforward process that leaves my emotional well-being intact. Sometimes it can even be empowering. I’m not succumbing to inaccessible entrances or washrooms; rather, I am literally rising above them. In those moments, I’m actively choosing to continue living my life on my terms, deciding what’s right for my body and mind, finding a way to ‘make it work’ or saying no.

Upon hearing or seeing the obstacle course I navigate in order to get where I’m going, friends and family members offer their praises, ‘It takes courage to do what you do, you’re a strong girl. Always remember that,’ or ‘If I was in your position, I don’t know what I’d do. I’d never leave the house.’ They tell me they admire my spirit and share how my ‘unbridled fearlessness’ inspires them to push through obstacles in their own lives, no matter what.

I can’t say I’ve made the right choice every time when getting lifted or that I always feel courageous. But it helps when you have wonderfully supportive people in your life. Those people that lift you up — not just physically, but spiritually — and remind you not to feel ashamed but rather empowered, knowing you are living your truth.

Accessibility issues need to be addressed in the city of Mumbai (and all over India, for that matter) but in the meantime, it won’t stop me from living the life I want for myself.

On a recent night out, a friend insisted I join our group at a popular underground club’s basement event space. I heard about the interesting events hosted by the venue and had wanted to explore it for some time. Except it takes navigating stairs, countless stairs to descend into the urban underground scene. My friends assured me that if I wished to go, they’d arrange for me to get in and out safely.

There was no pressure, since I’m past the point of feeling peer pressure in situations like these, only a desire to continue a fun night out with friends. The decision was mine alone. I’d take a look at the surroundings first. When we arrived at the venue, I examined nearby walls, pushing at levers or handrails to test the strength of their support. There was ample space to be carried. I looked over at my supportive friends, standing ready with a chair and smiled, ‘Okay. Are you ready?’

Featured image credit: Alia Sinha

Originally published at on May 2, 2017.

Neither here nor there

I remember when M visited India and stayed with me in my apartment for the first time, her reaction to doing housework was one of absolute horror.

“I’m in India! I can’t wash dishes and I will not cook’

I found this amusing mostly because she does everything by herself at home and hardly complains about it. Housework in India was apparently a completely different chore. Because of the availability of help/ labor in India, it’s relatively inexpensive and common to have household help–a maid/cook/driver/whatever else you don’t want to do yourself. Coming India meant sitting back and relaxing while someone else did the heavy lifting. I think of M’s reaction when I’m rinsing out my morning cup of tea or dare to experiment with cooking in my lovely large and well-stocked kitchen….

The last month has been one of flirting with recipes-Indian and non-Indian. Jaya (my maid/cook/Jane of a million trades) has recently caught the ‘recipe’ bug. When she’s finished with her work, she sits downs in front of the television and watches Sanjeev Kapoor famously work his magic in a kadai( an indian wok), conjuring up delicious subzis and Indian meals. I watch with her—there’s a heavy punjab sikh man with a chinstrap beard who seems to specialize in cooking fried foods and readily gobbling up his creations; another channel shows an Indian woman who seems, well, bored. Its clear a show on the cooking channel is certainly a job more than a passion. I can tell Jaya genuienly enjoys what she does, one of the many qualities I admire about her. She’s always sports a smile and knowing that she’s interesting in upping-the-ante when it comes to her skills makes me think she’s a smart, smart women. She’s investing time in jazzing up her talents. I silently acknowledged her business acumen, excited for new yummy dishes.

On Holi (spring festival or festival of colors) I did not celebrate color at all. I stayed indoors and cooked and cooked and cooked. I cooked the most I’m sure I’ve ever cooked in my life, for myself. It was more out of curiosity rather than hunger– I wanted to see  whether or not I could actually last that long in the kitchen, a great, productive and creative way to test my stamina. I want to take as much advantage as I can of having fresh market greens and produce available so very easily. Going to Pali Market to pick up groceries is way better than standing in line at Shoprite, that’s for sure. Also, it’s been a pain in the ass trying to find good salad dressing around here (I asked a friend from NY back in Dec to bring a bottle or two with her when she was visiting that month, but the ‘great moving crisis of Jan’ prevented us from refrigerating certain items and so the dressing had to go. I grew tired of my standard olive oil and balsamic mix. It was time for some experimentation in the the kitchen.

The menu of Holi included:

-mini minced chicken burgers with chopped vegetables

-fresh broccoli and cheese soup


-arugula salad with walnuts

-veg sandwich with pesto sauce

-pesto pasta with sundried tomatoes and broccoli

and last but certainly not least,

-roasted red pepper dressing

Okay so, clearly this was also done in an effort to get rid of some of the crap that’s accumulated in my fridge. Roasting the red pepper was especially hard work, not to mention extremely extremely satisfying. It took 2 hours to properly roast the peppers on the stove grill before I could peel back the tinfoil and begin stripping the skins from the peppers. It was intense. It reminded me of Michael Pollen’s book “Cooked’ which I started last summer and only halfway got through. In it was a chapter on the chemistry of cooking–what happens when something is caramelized or roasted, barbecued or fried. The chemistry and makeup of the pepper completely changed in the time I roasted on the fire, double and triple wrapped in tinfoil. What was once a sharp, crisp and juicy red bell pepper turned slimey, smooth and sweet. It was amazing. The heat changed everything. I left the pepper in the foil for about 15 mins after I roasted them because the steam was supposed to set in and lock in some of those juices, at least thats what the recipe said. INCREDIBLE. Yes, I realize the drama here but c’mon, I just did some scientist type shit in the kitchen! Of course I’ve had red bell peppers before and OF COURSE I’ve had roasted red peppers, but I’ve never actually MADE RRPS! I’ve only ever bought them bottled at the store, the way I’m sure most of us have.


Needless to say this ain’t no Julie and Julia but it’s still been fun, this whole cooking thing. It’s a nice pastime and a healthy habit. Jaya watches cooking shows at home and recently made a new type of muttar-paneer, (i think she added clove?) but it was simply delicious. This week we are experimenting with channa (chole, or chickpea dishes) and veg pizzas.

Bon appétit!

A few fun pictures below and above.

Whilst steaming en foil:











You say Tomato…

Here’s a (running) list of Indian euphemisms/my translation of words I didn’t understand upon first arrival. I add to this list every so often, as I come across things I find amusing. Some are silly, some make no sense and others make more sense than the intended word:

Choco-block = a hectic day; back-to-back plans

Very okay

Only = for example, ‘I was in Bandra, only.’

Man Friday = someone’s bitch; person that does everything for you; man of many hats

Chums = menstrual period

The use of babe in late 20-somethings vernacular (it’s seriously abused)

Intentional grammar errors = ie: u cud cum ovr tday, pls ty.

Chuck it versus fuck it

When someone pissed you off they ‘irritated’ you

Bang opposite = directly opposite

Faffy = an ass

Off = dead

Revert to as such (people love to use this in professional emails, idk why)

Most welcome = you’re very welcome

The abbreviated use of D to replace THE, re: Whatsapp

Me is busy = I am busy

Half Half in drinking means if you’re not on their level you need to chug half of your glass

Aggro = aggressive

Graffiti Lanes

Graffiti Lanes

Since I came to Bombay 8 months ago, I always got an excited rush when I saw graffiti around town. I stumbled upon the coolest lane I’ve seen so far, Nagrana Lane, in Bandra West and followed the winding lane down till there was no more. I took a ton of photos of the graffiti displayed down the lane, here’s one which I thought was trippy.

Let’s make Paan

Let's make Paan

Commonly eaten after meals, paan is a preparation of betel leaf and areca nut with cured tobacco. Pictured here is a paan-wallah (one who makes paan) readying the leaf for ingestion. One chews on the leaf for some time, taking whatever juices they can from it and eventually spitting out the rest. Although it’s part of Indian culture and generally used to freshen breath, spitting paan has caused the spread of oral cancer, disease and filth across the country. It also stains teeth and is now seen as more of a dirty habit.

New Year, New City


Consider this my “I’m back bitches’ post. After a summer/fall/winter-ish….oh hell let’s face it nearly a year gap, I’m resolving to revive my blog writing ways! My update comes in different forms—I’ve moved to Mumbai so expect pictures, lots of them. And this time since I’m not living in the Boondocks of Bombay aka Chembur, life will be a bit more happening what with the mix of religions in Bandra not to mention the expatty vibe.

To backtrack, I came to Bombay in August of last year. After a series of personal blows I questioned whether I made the right decision by moving to Bollywood. 6 months in and I am happy I pulled through. I had a millions reasons why moving my Jersey-bred butt back to the Garden State made sense. But I stayed here. I knew India had me, at least for now.

Being home for the summer was wonderful. Pools, sunshine, friendship, nothing makes me happier. I was struggling though—physical therapy wasn’t happening despite my best efforts. M’s been with me here for 2.5 months and slowly but surely losing her marbles. She finds ways to keep busy but when its time to go, it’s time to go. And sure enough that time is right around the corner. We had a great end to the year, with two last minute vacations to Turkey in September and Dubai this past week.  I’ve always heard about how man-made Dubai was but I was shocked by the true artificial (oxymoron much?) nature of the city! More on this in another post…Turkey was next level gorgeous, especially so Pamukkale the town where my oldest childhood friend was getting married. My sister joined for the Turkey trip so it was especially special.

Travels, tumults, and triumphs are a good way to sum up these last couple of months. Oh and therapy, lots of physical therapy. Enough alliterations for tonight.

I’ve been working on a new blog that’s not up and running just yet, so stay tuned. Till then TheGait marches forward.

Happy 2014!


Noise pollution and a challenge.

AND I’M BACK. After nearly a year long hiatus, I’ve re-entered the blogging world!

I’m back in Bombay; same treatment, different year. This time M and I are staying in a 2 bedroom apartment nearby the hospital so thankfully we’ve unpacked our suitcases and settled in. I’ve been going to the same clinic, despite the crowd and other concerns. I went there this morning at 9, per usual. TM and VM left for the airport around that time. It was nice to have visitors in Bombay; I do miss the company of my friends and young folk, but I can’t complain too much because the old-people-posse I hang with is pretty hilarious.

I’ve decided I will spend as little time as possible at the clinic. I only have 2.5 weeks left in Bombay and I hate it there. In a sense I force myself to go there out of inspiration-motivation for my writing (strange, huh) and because it is where I got all my treatment done so far, but it doesn’t make the experience any better. It’s still crowded and unhygienic. The equipment is still poor and the environment depressing. M made a good point by saying, ‘The staff doesn’t force to come there. You are not tied down.’ This is so true and the reason why I decided to make my PT appointments for next week at Nanavati. I spoke with Jolly-ji’s PT lady tonight and will likely check out one more rehab center before I leave.

Outside down below on Sion-Trombay road, I hear a wedding. At least I think it’s wedding. Nowadays I assume anything loud with a dhol beat to back it up is a sign of wedding. The assumed *wedding* noise started at 4PM. It’s currently 11:02PM and only now have I experienced silence. M and I thought we’d ‘time-pass’ by watching the always enjoyable SRK in Main Hoon Na for a good 3 hours, hoping the obnoxious clamor would stop. No. Wrong. Absolutely not the case. No matter where I went this racket followed. It seemed to pour into every inch of our apartment– I went to the bathroom in hopes a few minutes of a quiet nothingness to no avail. It was even louder! Gangam Style was on repeat for the last hour until this noise-fest decided to call it quits.

I cannot express how wonderful it is to actually be able to hear the sounds of traffic that I so regularly hate! Its amazing what you can hear from 12 floors up; there is an obvious pothole somewhere outside on the road and when a truck plows over this at 2AM…let’s just say it makes for a very shaken and PO’d Sonali.

It’s been nearly 2 months ( I arrived on Dec 19th), and I’m ready to go home. As of late it’s mainly the pollution and standard Indian bathroom situation that is bringing me down. Bombay has a way of making you fall in love with it; the colors,  peoples’ warmth, the buzz of the city, the helping hands of a million strangers, and many other things. Overtime the charm fades and you’re left feeling what I am feeling now; annoyed and anger. I know this isn’t at all an accurate assessment of India and I know I love this city so much more than how I am expressing right now.
Somehow, I keep finding my way back to this mad place called India.

I RELISHED having a car for the past week while TM and VM visited–this way I don’t have to take my morning rikshaw to the clinic. It’s too dirty. Not to mention every time I enter an autorickshaw I usually face one near death experience. Today a big red bus came out of nowhere and grazed the side of  my leg.

‘Okay, THIS IS IT. This is how I’m going to die. I should just accept it. No struggles with the ‘Main Man Above’. I will leave behind all my personal possessions to older sister D…she always loved that purple dress of mine…’

So I didn’t die but I was surprised I survived. Again, love(d) those rikshaws but I’m starting to lose it. The dirt is everywhere and you can’t escape it…even if you try hiding in the bathroom…

CHALLENGE TO MYSELF: I will post everyday for the next 2.5 weeks until I leave Bombay. If achieved, (insert grand reward here)—I’m open to possible reward suggestions!

I leave you with the only reason I enjoy the occasional rikshaw ride.

WARNING: extreme cuteness below.

adorable school-kid rikshaw neighbors.