How Do I Avoid “The Sting?”

After reading several American critiques on Hindi films, Beth Watkins argued in her blog, Beth Loves Bollywood, that Bollywood cinema is much more rich and meaningful than the foreign critics portrayed. In her blog post on June 4, Watkins wrote the following: “It can sting when other people, especially those with a big audience, see you for something that you’re not.”

As I prepare for my first trip to Mumbai, this comment, in particular, stuck with me.

Although I have tried to gain a greater understanding for the city and its environment through reading books, watching movies and talking with friends and family, I am certain that I will enter the city with plenty of my own misconceptions about the people and places I will be encountering. Thus, more than anything, I think Watkins’ comment made me a little bit more nervous.

Not only have I never traveled to India before, but I have never traveled to a country in the developing world. Though it may sound sheltered, I have never been into a slum in my own country either. But, just days after our plane lands in Mumbai, I will be entering a classroom in Dharavi with students who lack even the most basic commodities. I wonder how I should interact with my students when I am working in the school. Do I simply disregard their lack of resources? How do I talk about our differences without appearing condescending or patronizing? How do I teach them without exuding too much self-importance? These questions, among others, keep repeating in my head.

While my mom runs through my house worrying about what I pack, what makes me the most anxious about this trip is entering the Mumbai as an ignorant American. I don’t want to be the one that sees the students I work with or other citizens I meet as something they are not.

I wish I could end this post with a solution of how I should plan to enter this trip, what I should say and how I should act. I realize, though, that there is no way for me to know now, while I am sitting at my desk in Weston, MA, how I should respond to my surroundings in India.

But, then again, I think not knowing, may be the proper approach to this experience.

It is those who think that they know that “sting” and offend the citizens in Mumbai. Thus, I think I am entering this trip in the right state of mind: I know that I do not know. And I am ready to find out.