January 2007. That was the year when we first stepped into Mumbai. Full of trepidation, cynicism, we had written off the city even before we arrived. At least I had. Having lived in the spic and span hills of Shillong a good part of my life, and then in the more-or-less clean and green Delhi/Gurgaon for 4 years, I was disgusted by the idea of shifting base to Mumbai. Pooh-poohed it’s most popular sobriquet, the ‘city of dreams’, or even the ‘maximum city’. The ground reality was (and still is) that there were slums everywhere, footpaths full of dirty, dingy hutments, people squatting just about everywhere, bathing, cooking, relieving themselves all in the same piece of land, absolutely no greenery, absolutely no aesthetics, roads dug up, dusty. Oh!! This was a city that made me cringe in repulsion.
The handful of friends we made in the initial days, told us all too knowingly that our frustration was a passing phase and that we would soon find our feet in this city. Most of all, each one of them had just one simple advice for us – Give this city some time, Mumbai grows on you.
No, I wasn’t willing to give Mumbai a chance. I wanted to pack up and go back. Such was my hatred that I didn’t unpack most of my crockery/cutlery for more than a year, hoping fervently that we could leave for good.
That hasn’t happened. And it has been exactly six years that we are in Mumbai now. And during this time, we don’t know when we fell in love with it. Partaking in everything that is Mumbaiya — be it eating sandwiches or vada-pav or pav-bhaji off the street eateries; loitering around the historical buildings in South Mumbai; reveling in the magic that is Mumbai rains; squealing like a child while crossing the Sea-Link every time; starting the day with Bombay Times; driving all the way up to Marine Drive or Bandra Bandstand only to catch the setting sun; insisting for the pan only outside the Status restaurant at Nariman Point; running to Mohammad Ali road for its delicacies every Ramazan; swearing by Paradise, Theobrama Colaba, Café Madras, Café Mangi, Oh Calcutta,Sweet Bengal; quenching the creative thirst at the many shows of NCPA, Prithvi, RNM and the likes; rushing to Ramkrishna Mission/Mount Mary’s every time the divine beckons; sucking up the festivities of Christmas at Bandra and Khar; pandal hopping at RKM, Powai, Lokhandwala, Durgabari, Juhu during the pujas, witnessing the transformation of the city when Ganapati comes visiting in September, seeing the city run together for the Standard Chartered Marathon…..the list, surprisingly, seems to be endless. But most of all, partaking in Mumbai’s ‘never say die’ attitude, in the freedom it offers, in the drive it gives to its dwellers to dream big and achieve even bigger.
Yes. I now look beyond Mumbai’s slums, dirt, grime, crowded and noisy streets, non-existent/pot-holed roads, chaos. Our six years of Mumbai-living has showed us what a leveler this city is — rich and poor alike jostle for space here; both get drenched in the same rains; I have seen an old Muslim man minutely carve out a home-temple in his marble shanty near Mumbai Central; when asked the direction to Bandra Bandstand, we saw how an auto-driver eagerly told us to follow him, and beamed with happiness when we reached it in our car. Once again, it’s been an endless account of some heart-warming experiences.
Don’t you realize then dear heart? Mumbai is home.