I grew up in the city I call Bombay. Mumbai is what it has transformed into today. Bombay derived from the Portuguese word Bombaia or beautiful bay is a city that only exists in fleeting moments, in the small byways of the old Victorian buildings in the city’s Fort area, in an early morning walk by Marine Drive watching a sunrise begin yet another golden day.
Mostly however, I remember the sea.
The sea was the first thing I saw each morning and the last thing I saw at night. We (my brother and I) grew up in a small apartment, but it had a wide, sweeping outlook. We could see the entire South Bombay skyline, from Cuffe Parade, where we were perched; to the point of Malabar Hill, where the governor’s bungalow stood on a densely treed acreage, South Bombay’s ritziest area. From our home it felt as though we were on the edge of this bustling, busy metropolis and could turn our backs on it as we pleased, toward the all absorbing sea.
The sea was the Arabian Sea and I watched it for hours when I was a young girl. It reflected the light; calm and silvery in the early mornings to a white hot steel shimmer in the afternoon. There were fishing boats in the bay, from the nearby “fishing village” now a bonafide bricked in slum that blocks the sea view from the expensive high rise buildings across the road. The sea fed me with dreams of travel and exploring the world, like so many before me, beyond these shores.
Thinking back to those days, I realize how pivotal the sea was in our worldview and how cathartic. On Sunday afternoons we went swimming in the sea. It was at the southernmost tip of the city, at a private club, and my mother always reminded us never to drink the water, but I do remember swimming with abandon, splashing in the sea and never falling sick.
For even when Bombay was not as intense as it is today in its incarnation as a megapolis with more intensity than New York, more dust and dirt than a Brazilian favela, more people living in closer proximity than probably any other city besides Beijing or Shanghai and what I imagine, the closest line of existence between poverty and fabulous wealth, even twenty five years ago, the sea was my escape, from the crowds, from buildings with peeling paint, from children in the slums and from my growing awareness that life here was filled with a certain sort of tension that rolled up car windows could not keep at bay.
Biologist and ocean conservationist Wallace J. Nichols, has a term for the release the ocean or sea offers humankind. He calls it “Blue Mind.” We know that two thirds of our bodies comprises of what is essentially seawater, but Nichols believes that our minds also share a connection with the ocean. In fact, he says, “If the ocean has a direct, neurological impact on our brains, an awareness of this connection will change the way we treat it.”
I am sad, as I cannot imagine any children in Mumbai swimming in the sea today, and I wonder, how will they feel that connection to this big wildness of nature right at their doorstep? If it’s not trashed with remnants from last night’s puja, or filled with sewage from the various hutment colonies that crowd the city, it is probably still filled with unseen sludge. While teaching a workshop at a yoga studio during our last trip to Mumbai this past May, a woman who had moved to Mumbai from Ohio, told us that she is saddened everyday that she cannot immerse herself in the water that glistens so invitingly outside her apartment window.
And I thought I had it hard here in the northwestern pacific where I can’t jump into the water either (sans a wetsuit)!
This is not to say that there are not efforts by some amazing people in Mumbai to spread awareness about everything from overdevelopment, to the lack of public spaces such as parks and toward a revitalization of the seashore. The sea is Mumbai’s huge draw. It has always shaped the character of this city, the view is what people pay millions for; and it’s where the teeming city emerges at the end of each night, to walk on Marine Drive to watch the sunset and simply to take in a breath of unpolluted air brought by winds from the west.
Yet, how do you take steps to protect something you love, especially in the developing world where small steps can seem, well so small…
I believe you have to start somewhere, and sometimes that can mean changing your habits wherever you happen to be, even if it is halfway across the world. After all, just like the debris from Japan, that is supposed to start washing up on Tofino’s shores this summer, actions in one part of the world do impact another, especially when we’re talking about the fluid water-bodies that are the earth’s oceans.
This Friday June 8th also happens to be World Ocean’s Day. If you’re in the vicinity of Vancouver, begin your day with a special “Yoga with the Belugas” class with yogi and ocean worshipper Eoin Finn that is a collaboration between the Vancouver Aquarium, Sea Choice and the World Wildlife Fund. Stay for a delicious breakfast by local organic grocer Choices and listen to talks on ocean conservation. The rest of the day is filled with activities for children and families to honour and celebrate the ocean.
Says Finn, “We only protect what we revere. We have to cultivate a huge sense of awe and love for the ocean, before we can ensure its conservation.”
Meanwhile, we are trying to cultivate that big love of the ocean in our young son. So far, since “ish” for fish is one of his first words, we think we’re off to a good start.
Whether you live by the ocean or far away from it, here are a few small steps you can take to support conservation efforts.
- Ban plastics: You may think this is extreme but start somewhere. Without even getting into the chemical impact of plastics on our endocrine system, lets talk about it’s impact on the environment. Read about the trash vortex in the pacific ocean that is twice the size of Texas and is formed mostly of thumbnail sized pieces of plastic and you will not want to use any plastic anymore. I’m not suggesting throw everything plastic and rush out to purchase substitutes, but at least start by NEVER using a plastic bag and commit to picking up one piece of plastic trash a day.
- Support the David Suzuki Foundation’s Ocean efforts. The money goes to ocean conservation and is run by a dedicated, tireless team.
- Eat sustainable seafood. Learn more at SeaChoice. Do not eat endangered species of fish that are quickly becoming extinct. Lobby your favourite sushi restaurant to stop serving Bluefin tuna.
- Reduce, reuse and recycle. Live simply. Let your wallet be your conscience. You’ll be surprised at how your consumption habits impact a chain of events through the globe. Enough said.
- Breathe deeply, move and connect to your fluid self. Try the side-body stretches in the Blissology Project Wednesday DVD. I also love yogini extraordinaire Shiva Rea’s style of vinyasa yoga to feel free and fluid. We have evolved from ocean creatures and our side body is sometimes known as our fish body. Create space here and allow your lungs and breath to expand.
- If you’re a surfer or just love being around the surf and water, join the surf rider foundation and participate in one of their beach cleanups. Chapters exist all over the coasts and by the great lakes.
- Above all, feel awe and revere the oceans. The rest will flow.
Photos on this post are by the uber-talented Brant Slomovic