As I near 15 months of completion of life in Mumbai, I have decided to move back to Bangalore, home sweet home, as they say. Over the past few months, I have thought about writing about my life in Mumbai, and see how it measured up to the expectations I had before I moved to Mumbai.
Let me first examine how true my initial opinions about Mumbai turned out to be:
1. Mumbai is crowded. Too crowded. This has to be one of the most densely-populated areas in the world – Too damn,annoyingly crowded. Not a moment of peace is anywhere to be found. You go to a supposedly quiet, isolated beach on the outskirts, only to find a thousand present there with the same idea. It was fun for a while, but in the past few months it just got to me.
2. Corollary to 1, the infrastructure has just crumbled. It is a miracle that the city still functions the way it does. Roads are being dug up, there are slums every 100 metres and housing is practically unavailable – Nopes. Not a miracle. This is how people have got used to things out here. It is what they have settled for. Why don’t people fight or protest this? A little later on this.
3. Time is important in Mumbai. It is more precious than housing. Be it an auto-driver or a managing director, if you are wasting his time, he won’t tolerate it. Men finish their newspaper reading and women cut their vegetables on trains – Very true. Like all major urban centers or hubs of industry, everyone is single-mindedly focussed on his kamaai. And that is just about what you can find time for in this city.
4. When you hear people tell you that in Mumbai, people run, they are not exaggerating. You can sense that urgency everywhere, especially if you are coming down from a laidback city like Bangalore – Oh God! Why do they run so much??? Amusing at first, with time it makes you think philosophically about what are they all running for? You think – If not this train, the next. If not this auto-wallah, the next. All this while you run to catch your bus.
5. The people, despite all their commitments and deadlines, are helpful by nature. In fact, I might go on to say they are the nicest crowd in any of the metro cities. You ask for directions, five would come around to help you out. Do the same in Delhi, you might receive an angry stare – Someone left a comment on my earlier post saying every city has its bad and good apples. In a city as huge as Mumbai, it is especially true. But, on the whole, it is truly remarkable that tempers are not as frayed as one would imagine them to be in a city of such contradictions.
6. The Mumbai man, by and far, is an honest man. No one is looking to short-change you or make a quick buck. He will earn his dough the hard-earned way and expects you to do the same – Ditto as before. I have met absolute crooks of auto-drivers, house owners and cablemen. I also met the most honest of dhobis and bais.
7. The Trains. They are surprisingly clean. They are more surprisingly precise, so much so people set their times according to railway timings. They stop running and the city stops working. It is a simple, highly positive correlation between Mumbai’s economic output and the functionality of the trains – 60 lakh passengers a day. What more can I say? It is the single-most important economic driver in this city. With such a geographically spread city (No one knows where Mumbai begins and ends really), there is no other way this metropolis can function.
8. Safety. After the recent episodes of More and others, this might be hard to believe. But I have seen no other place in India where women can safely walk about almost any part of the city way past midnight. They don’t have to adhere to “rules”(courtesy Shiv Sena) of wearing the proper clothes or have the company of males to be safe. I consider this the best indicator of a city’s living conditions and Mumbai easily outscores Delhi, Bangalore or Chennai – If you are a woman, tired of all the constant interefering and harassment you have to face and just want to live your life the way you want to, this is the city to be in. By far the safest city for women, and hence, it is also the most mature of all cities in India.
Those were the observations I had more than a year back, fresh into this city. How do I feel now? Well, Mumbai has been like this crazy, loud, chaotic party where you can have a ball. But, as the night wears on and the rush gets to your head, it is just a nasty hangover feeling you are left with. At this point of time, I have grown tired of the city in more ways than one. Tired and frustrated. With what you ask?
1. The Mumbai Spirit!– Wake up and smell the reality, people of Mumbai! This is a big media hoax that is used by everyone to pretend that everyone else is inspired by the “Mumbai Spirit” and so they should be too. The resilience exhibited by the people here is not because of any spirit for sure. It is just plain, hard-core reality. The common man on the road does not have a choice. Blasts on the train? Who cares, I have to be at work tomorrow morning. Spondylitis due to the pot-holes? Who cares, I can’t miss the 9 am meeting. Slums on the sides of road that seem to mock at the grand BKC? Who cares, this is the shortest route to take and so I will, day in and day out. As long as the city is running, no one cares about anything else. Definitely about any spirit. At least I don’t. I admit it is admirable the way people function here, but I suspect it is more out of helplessness than any strength of spirit.
2. Cost of Living – Nothing against anyone or the city. Huge, expanding metropolis with loads of wealth in everyone’s hands. But no smooth roads for the Mercs, or bungalows with lawns, or parks to spend out a quiet evening. Means huge demand and very less supply. Means freaking eyeball-popping 25,000 rents in suburbs. Means Rs. 200 movie tickets. Means Rs. 50 for handful of popcorn. Well, it may suit some pockets, but not mine!
3. Urban Chaos- I think this has to be the most important reason in making me decide to move out of Mumbai ( and also think seriously about my long-term goals in terms of leading an urban life). I use this term to collectively define the state of unrest one feels in this mad, mad rush. This is a city of migrants. So, everyone is living a life away from close ones and in alien environs. Life assumes hues of montonocity and fatigue sets in. 5 days a week, get up, rush through peak hour traffic, slog at work, come back through rush hour traffic. You can’t take a quiet walk outside because the road below sounds and smells like a fish-market, all the time. Mechanically switch channels on the TV, have dinner cooked outside and hit the bed. Come weekend, you are either finishing up some last-minute work at office ( which I never did. I kept my weekends strictly for myself) and then rush for the usual show at the multiplex. Watch movie, come home late and wake up late on Sunday. As the Monday morning blues set in on Sunday evening, you brace yourself for the rest of the week. Since you have so little time, you feel rushed. You want to go spend an evening at the sea-face but the noisy auto ride till there leaves you pooped. Difficult to be yourself. Difficult to make new friends since your social circle is so constrained. Concept of neighbours is non-existent. They are just people in the building. You end up doings things to enjoy because they are supposed to be enjoyable, doubting whether you actually enjoyed it or not. As I said the initial rush is all euphoric as you feel you are doing so many things at once. But, after a time the triteness of it all defeats you. It took me around 12 months for the hangover to kick in.
Ah! Now that I have vented out my frustrations, let me tell you about what I will cherish, and definitely miss, about Mumbai.
1. Small Pleasures – In a city of of the biggies and wealth, people gravitate towards finding the abnormal, the unexpected and the little. So did I. I loved the kheer at Crystal, a two-floor ancient eatery, a misfit amongst the massive buildings. Or, the plates of butter-smeared parathas at a road-side dhaba by the Andheri station we used to raid on lazy and bankrupt days. Or, the book-sellers at Fountain with their quaint and original collection of old and second-hand books.
2. Friends – Both at work and at home, I made some great friends who made all those crib-post times bearable and even enjoyable. I had numerous room-mates, largely people from my class but whom I hardly knew, with each of whom I had different fun times. In those initial days, the L-ICICI gang – Syco, Bhavin, Nakul and Tirthankar, with whom I shared memorable food and forgettable movies. Khandu, my constant room-mate, with his phone as even more constant companion; Singhal, the weekend drop-in who would make the booze and music flow; Rajat, the inspirer-in-chief to persuade all of us to get out on Saturday nights;and there were many others who fleeted in and out of our apartment. At work, a fabulous set of people – Ghatak, Ashutosh, Naveen, Pathak and all the other last-year joinees, made working less of a chore. We had numerous gossiping, debating and discussing sessions over buckets of tea. Old close friends like SS still remained that crucial wall against which I could lean on in times of crises or the buddy I raised a drink to in a happy moment. Gube helped me tide over those initial, lonely days in Mumbai, when I was new and lost. I associate these friends ( even though I knew some of them earlier and some were not from Mumbai) with Mumbai because they form a crux of my memories from this city. Thank you guys for being there! :)
3. Good Life – As a financially independent young bachelor, there is a whole realm of independence you get to face. Cliched, I know, but true. In my initial months, I tightened my purse strings to ensure that I save enough. But, as I grew older ( and mature I hope), the importance of saving diminished. My philosophy adopted a line that went – What will I do with the money I save? Invest it again? Make it grow? And then what?. So I moved from thinking about my expenses to enjoying them. Of course, I still invested a percentage, but of the lot that I saved back I found more joy in spending lavishly and living it up, so as to say. Suffice to say that I have thoroughly like this attitude of mine :) My philosophy on how I should spend my life has slowly crystallized over the last 15 months. Not rock-solid yet, but yes on the way there.
In the end, the goodies did not outweigh the complaints I had with the city. And the situation back home also warranted my presence. So, after a 3-year gap, I book a flight to Bangalore, knowing no return ticket this time. For some time, at least.