My affair with Mumbai begins the minute I set foot into the train station. The smell of vada pav and samosas mingled with the sweat of a hundred thousand people rushing to work, from work, to home, from home, to a client, from a client.
Every city is depressing. But none smell of hope as much as Mumbai does.
Only in Mumbai can I meet a hardcore business boy, an insightful writer, a magazine girl, an engineer for a top telecom company, a freelance artist, a student and another intern, each with the same opinion of the place, the same thirst for the city.
Nobody lives in the ideal house in Mumbai. Everyone wishes they were in a bigger place, or a place closer to work, or one where the sea was visible. But mention that they could leave Mumbai to get all this and more in another city, and everyone’s eyes mist over. How can we leave Mumbai? they say. How can we leave the place that led us to find who we are? How can we leave the one thing in our lives that demands nothing from us – only for us to be ourselves? Impossible.
In Mumbai, there are only two ways to go – Up and Out. Either you move to the US of A, or you move to a different city. But nobody who isn’t from Mumbai lives in the city for more than five years. Enough to give them a taste of the fast life, little enough for them to not be affected by the loose morals of wife-swapping and desi pornos that the filmi city is built on.
But more than anything else, Mumbai knows how to push. The strength of a thousand asuras pushing Kumbhkarana to wake up is nothing compared to the strength this city has in waking up a dull mind from slumber. One whiff of the sea air and the cotton candy thoughts clogging up your mind are brushed away like a ravenous three-year old went to work at them.
Whatever it is you need in life, Mumbai has it. If you need a friendly hand, you’ll find it in the young lady who catches the auto you were eyeing on a busy morning, and offers to drop you to work on her way. If you need someone to talk to, you’ll find it in the two friends of yours who have unexpectedly settled down in Mumbai a year ago, and feel the same way you do. If you need space, you’ll find it in the tiny room you have sublet with a resourceful room-mate who senses your state of mind and disappears for an hour. If you need a cat to pet, you’ll find one a Juhu beach, or one on your building wall, waiting for you to pet it and feed it a scrap of bread. If you need bottles, trinkets, shoes, vada pav – you’ll find them, a dime a dozen, a stall present every ten meters across the length and breadth of the city.
Mumbai lets you have emotions, an act greatly frowned upon in south India. Mumbai tells you – who cares if your mother was a hooker and your father was a drug addict? You have as much of a right to live as the rich son of the industrialist who lives in Colaba.
And if you need to remember who you are, you’ll find a different you. One you knew existed somewhere, but didn’t know how to bring out. The you whose life you’ve been dreaming of living for as long as you can remember.
Mumbai, you will always be my favourite city.