Rio de Janeiro
When I travel I seek to find the most immersive and exciting experiences. My crazy idea is to simply approach people doing interesting work and ask if I can pay to shadow, learn from, and help them for a few hours. The more interactive, the better!
Imagine the following examples (admittedly vague assumptions based on what I've already seen in the developing world):
Ideally I could go beyond the jobs to better understand the people doing them. How do they live, and who are their family and friends? (Maybe we could even go meet them?) What do they most enjoy, and what do they most fear? What are their proudest accomplishments?
I recognize this demonstrates my naïveté, and I could encounter cultural barriers and physical danger. Though, I've been living and running a travel business in Brazil's biggest favela for a year now, so I'm not too worried about these issues. Nonetheless, please warn me of problems I'm overlooking, without being overly alarmist.
My request for those knowledgeable about India is:
I appreciate your help on my odd question!
Hello! There are a lot of things you could do here. As you have chosen multiple cities, I will give you info about Mumbaiand Pune. If you are planning to coming down soon, Ganapati is one of the biggest festivals here. You could be a part of the procession either by playing the dhol-tasha (music instrument) or learn to make sweets which are prepared mainly during this season. You could also volunteer at temples.
Depends on how long you plan on spending here
Being a rickshaw driver could be an interesting way to meet a lot of different types of people, but obvious logistics challenges are - you don't know the streets, driving in India is a challenge, and the driver will want to stay in the rickshaw but there is only 1 driver's seat.
In Mumbai, ask a local where a nearby 'khau galli' is, and go apprentice at one of the street food vendors there. This could also work with the vendors on a beach.
Be an extra in a Bollywood film. They love to get foreign (white-skinned) tourists to dance in the background in their films, and on set you could get talking to a range of interesting people. Again, this would be in Mumbai, where you can go down to Film City or one of the studios and hang around till you catch their attention (or be a bit proactive of course).
There are hundreds of occupations you could try India. It depends more on where exactly you will be travelling, the states?
Interesting ones I recommend are:
1. Dabbawalla - delivering lunch door to door
2. Dhobi- (laundryman) pick dirty laundry, wash and return. There are communal places where you wash the dirty laundry.
3. Boot polisher - you will usually find these people at teh railway station in Bombay. All you have to do is polish the shoe and make it shine.
4. Rickshawalla - the rickshaw driver
In Mumbai if you want to get into small occupation you should try looking to stay in area around the film city. There are lots of artists who would need some help and are open to such people from other countries. You would need to start getting in touch with a few locals to know the right people.
Otherwise you could try the South Mumbai area which has a similar type of people where you could such small jobs and learn more about the culture.
The locals are generally very welcoming and you wont have much problem if you know the basic rules for staying in India. Most of them will show you around the places and different cultures as well. Be careful of not getting duped by these shopkeepers or private transport. Get in touch with a good local who can show you around places and you might help in a few things.
A train journey is highly recommendable if you want to really see the local culture and how it is. There are lots of group of international people who do that very often. You can get in touch with these people on different platforms (eg. couchsurf).
Overall I am sure you will have an amazing stay here.