A Day in Bombay

9:30AM– Wake up and make breakfast, a routine I’ve found comfort in over the past 2 years. I make the same breakfast in Cincinnati, Ann Arbor, London, and now Mumbai, and I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of it. It’s nutrient dense and cheap: peanut butter toast, a banana, and a cup of cold instant coffee and soy milk.

10:30AM– Call an Uber before I’ve even brushed my teeth in order to instill a sense of urgency in my routine.

11:15AM– Get to office! Continue digesting research and numbers in an attempt to turn them into a publishable research paper. When I first designed my project, I thought I would be writing my own surveys and conducting interviews independently, and after 5 weeks in Bombay, I laugh at how quaintly ambitious I was. I didn’t have a clue how to make any of these interviews to happen logistically, and I also thought that the questions I was going to be asking were going to be the first of their kind. I was under the impression that this kind of research had never been done in this community before.

To my surprise, my coworker Rosanna told me on my first day that Khula Aasman had conducted over 100 interviews in November with the kids and their families that we work with in Lallubhai Compound. The files from these interviews, which went way more in depth than any interview I was planning, had been sitting in a storage cabinet since November, and only about half of the data had been entered digitally. The interviews were conducted in English, Hindi, and Marathi, so in order to even input the data, I had to solicit the help of my amazing coworkers who spoke Hindi and Marathi. At this point, we’ve entered almost all of the data into Google Sheets, and I’ve started crunching numbers to try to interpret the data. Now, this is coming from someone who hasn’t taken a math class since high school, someone who has never even touched a probability and statistics textbook. Our goal for this paper is to detail the educational lives of the children we work with and what impact our workshops have.

View From the Khula Aasman Office

View From the Khula Aasman Office

1:00PM– Eat lunch. Everyone in the office brings in something to share, and as I’ve yet to master anything but pasta, I usually contribute dosas bought from the canteen down street. Now, anyone who’s seen me eat over the past couple of years knows that I’ve developed a sort of habit where I had to wash my hands before I touched food, and I never liked to eat anything without a fork or spoon. I wouldn’t let people touch my food with their hands- I always had to give it to them. 5 weeks into my time in India and I’m eating rice and roti with my own hands and eating pieces of birthday cake out of someone else’s hands. But I eat without regard for the germs here. Today, I bought a bagel, my first since I’ve been here, and I dropped it on the ground. I picked it up, cut off the part that had touched the ground, and continued eating.


2:00PM– Facilitate workshops. On Mondays and Wednesdays, I help my colleague Meredith facilitate a drama workshop in Lallubhai Compound. The kids are working towards a fully realized performances of scenes they created about problems they see in their community and possible ways to fix them. They’ve devised scenes on Education, Religion/Caste, Gender, and Water, and now we’re putting together a performance for the Lallubhai community and, hopefully, the larger Mumbai community at large.

On Thursdays, I facilitate a music- based community building workshops for seniors at Elder Enrichment Centers in the area. I’ll usually start with a body and voice warmup (thank you semester at LAMDA) and then we’ll move on to either singing or drumming. If we’re singing, I’ll lead some vocal exercises, and then we’ll work on singing a song together as a choir, usually “Hum Honge Kamyab.” It’s a Hindi translation of “We Shall Overcome,” and it’s amassed a huge popularity in India. If we’re drumming, I’ll pass out drums, and we’ll start a drum circle built on simple rhythms. For both of these exercises, we’re not looking to form a perfect choir or rhythm section. Singing and drumming together brings people together.


A ferris wheel from a recent carnival in Lallubhai

A ferris wheel from a recent carnival in Lallubhai

5:00PM– Take the bus home. I try to balance Ubering every morning with taking the bus every afternoon. I firmly believe that you’re not part of a city’s landscape until you’ve figured out the city’s bus system, and luckily I had Meredith to show me how. A ticket is 22 Rs, or about 33¢, and the commute time is about the same as an Uber.

The market on my street

The market on my street

7:00 Eat a snack and go for a RUN! If you had told me a couple of months ago that the highlight of my day would be going for a sunset run on the shores of the Arabian Sea, I would have laughed in your face. I hate running. But something about the sunset, the sea, the quiet atmosphere of Jogger’s Park, and the Dear Evan Hansen Cast Recording on repeat have made me love running. It’s a part of my day that’s decidedly mine, a routine that I have total control over.

How could you NOT like running with this view?

How could you NOT like running with this view?

8:00PM Dinner. I’ll usually order takeout, and I try to keep it under 200 Rs if I can. To put this in perspective, that’s fresh roti and biryani (enough for 2 meals) delivered to my door for about $3. The carbs. THE CARBS!
9:00PM FRIENDS! What has surprised me the most lately is that I have no interest in watching Netflix at night. At home in Ann Arbor or even last semester in London, I would end practically every night with watching something on Netflix. But there is always something more interesting to do here- I’ll go out for late night ice cream with friends, or just have long talks in the living room. If I’m feeling particularly introspective, I’ll read a play. I’ve gotten really into journaling lately, mostly because I just like to look at my handwriting- don’t expect anything profound. More often than not, I’ll fall into an Instagram wormhole, though I’m desperately trying to break this habit. But holing myself up in my room and watching hours of TV just doesn’t appeal to me anymore.
12:30PM Sleep. Repeat.

My time in Bombay so far has taught me to appreciate the value of a schedule, of routines, of doing something when you say you’ll do it. It’s easy to feel helpless in a city this big, this powerful. But I’m not helpless at all- I have full control over what I do with every minute of my day, and I’m going to make those minutes count.

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About Jo Ellen Pellman

Jo Ellen is a junior from Cincinnati, Ohio majoring in Musical Theatre and minoring in Creative Writing. Jo Ellen will be spending two months in Mumbai volunteering for Khula Aasman, a non-profit organization dedicated to blending expressive arts therapies with social change. With the Khula Aasman team, she will be facilitating creative theatre workshops with various communities across Mumbai, including women in incarceration and women in trafficking. Art is a great healer- it offers the opportunity to transcend the boundaries of class, religion, caste and gender. Jo Ellen’s final project will focus on the immediate emotional effects of the workshops on the participants and what forms of art therapy resonated with them the most. Her research will provide Khula Aasman with a correlation between the most effective arts therapy methods for the demographics that they serve in order to tailor workshops to best meet the needs of the Mumbai community.

One thought on “A Day in Bombay

  1. Jo Ellen, it sounds like you’re having a beautiful time! I’m so excited to hear that your research is going well and that you have met so many wonderful people. I would also love to see a video of the seniors singing “Hum Honge Kamyab”! It sounds really lovely. Your running view also looks stellar! I’m living vicariously through you! Can’t wait to hear more 🙂

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