Take one broken and battered bus, add a driver and his sidekick, fill the bus with women, a few kids and three men, drive really fast through lazy Sunday Mumbai traffic, add some very loud Hindi pop music, and suddenly the women are dancing in the aisles.
On Sunday morning, we invited the women who work in the “Girls Can Be room” to join us on a picnic to celebrate their hard work over the last three months. With some of their kids tagging along, we geared up for what would be a long, lazy day of sightseeing in south Mumbai (a place these women have never been), where they would get to be tourists for a day. Just after boarding the bus the women were served chocolate covered strawberries made by Todd. With sticky fingers licked clean of chocolate, the women started moving around the bus, chatting, laughing and dancing to the loud music played by the driver on the long drive thorugh this sprawling city.
The first stop on our ‘tour of Mumbai’ was the office of Janvi Charitable Trust, where we were greeted by Andrew (a Janvi trustee) and the lovely Asha (Janvi Charitable Trust Chairperson) who had been very busy all morning preparing a vegetarian feast in the tiny kitchen at the office. Served on banana leaves were lashings of three different kinds of spicy vegetarian curry with piles of puris and papads to sop up the tasty gravies, followed by rice with lots of veg. Some of us still had room to taste the suji halva for dessert. The meal was as beautiful to look at as it was flavourful and nutritious. Feeling both full and special to be served this kind of food in abundance, the women were grateful to Asha for all her hard work.
Once the meal was devoured, the first competition for prizes began. Kane hung a magnetic dart board on his chest, armed each woman with magnetic darts and they competed for wrapped mystery prizes. Sisters, Seema and Shashi, cleaned up, winning the coveted prizes. (A bag of deluxe basmati rice and a china chai tea set).
Full of food, giddy with prize winnings and the excitement of seeing the sights, we waved good bye to Asha and Andrew and boarded the bus again to take us to the Gateway of India, Marine Drive and Chowpatty Beach.
At the tourist epicentre of Mumbai, near the Gateway of India, Ashley and Kane arranged rides for the women in the glitzy, garish, silver and flower bedecked horse-drawn carriages. The carriages toured the women in a 10 minute loop around the neighbourhood of the Taj Hotel; just enough time to feel a little like royalty and practice their waving.
Leaving the carriages to the line-ups of eager tourists, and trying to keep everyone in sight as we wound our way through the hordes of domestic and foreign tourists, we arrived at our bus parked along Marine Drive, Mumbai’s ‘pearl necklace’. The bus chugged along the few kilometres to Chowpatty Beach where we disembarked and raced, walked, and toddled to the water’s edge. With not much regard for the toxic water that laps the sand, the women charged into the grey sea, excited for the opportunity to get their feet wet and feel the sand between their toes. The kids, Suman, Prem and Sumet, were treated to a ‘car ride’ by a young vendor who pushes a child-size plastic car through the crowds on the beach, much to the delight of his pint-sized passengers.
Weary, but happy, we climbed aboard the bus for our long ride back to Saki Naka. The windows were wide open and the Hindi songs were turned to full volume, more prizes were won in quick games of number guessing, and two bottles of the finest bubbly juice were uncorked, quenching our thirst. The seats on the bus were barely used as the women spent most of their ride back to Saki Naka, dancing in the aisles, hanging out windows, and trying to hear each other over the music, the noise of the city and the chugging of the bus. It was a grand day.
Today we brought the laptop to the “Girls Can Be” Room” to show the women the video and photos we took of the trip, allowing us all to relive the ‘best picnic ever’.
This amazing day was supported by Jolie Wist and her colleagues at the UVIC HR department. (Victoria, B.C. Canada)
- Bus for the day – 3500 INR – $72.91 CDN
- Two police fines for parking (bribes) 300 – $6.25 CDN
- Bus parking – $150 INR – $3.12 CDN
- Prizes – 1750 INR – $36.45 CDN
- Beach games for the kids – 100 INR – $2.08 CDN
- Chocolate covered strawberries & fake champagne – 500 INR – $10.35 CDN
- Horse Carriage Ride (3 carriages)- 1500 INR – $31.25 CDN
- Dancing in the aisles – priceless…