In 2010 when I moved to Mumbai, I didn’t know that the actualisation of my dreams would change me forever. It was the city where I knew no one and had no prior acquaintances and yet hoped I would somehow live there since I was in school. And when it actually happened, I was in disbelief. Have you ever been so protective of your dreams that you felt you could jinx it? I certainly did with this one and until a few months after my move I wanted to do every thing that it takes to keep it safe.
I must have done something right. A city which is famously accused for being tough, superfast and detached worked so wonderfully for me that I have made a lifelong commitment to it. Mumbai is full of money-minded people I was told, and it were those professionals who taught me to put my money where my mouth is. I have heard endless stories of how people had come out during the July 26, 2005 floods and helped stranded commuters with food and water. I have spoken to people who have moved here from different corners of the country to make money, support their family and be happy. Not once has anyone told me that they’d rather be elsewhere. I have met people who had left the city with unhappiness or disorientation and have come back with more clarity or opportunities, because they know they’ve outgrown that piece of the jigsaw puzzle of their life. Once you’ve allowed Mumbai to touch your heart, there are very few fleeting affairs that can tempt you.
I admit there are challenges and it is definitely not as rosy as the words above read. But when did anyone say that living a dream would be easy? I’ve often reminded myself of that special moment when I first walked into the Times of India Building to go to work and the first day I met my team at Femina—it is a constant memory of encouragement. Whenever I may have questioned my interest to work, it was that memory that made me realise that in this city, you win some and lose some. After all, it is the delicate balance of nature that keeps the world go round.
And even though I can hardly tell you what I have lost other than material goods, I can share with you what I have won. Probably, the most assuring of them all is the friendship and the acquaintance of people whose voices and laughs continue to stay with me. Or may be gratitude for space and outdoors (because houses in Mumbai are really small!) Or perhaps, respecting time and managing it well, since 24 hours in a day is too less in the city.
After my recent visit to the megacity, I realised that all these years I hadn’t accounted for the most important lesson from my years there. I went around my favourite alleys and neighbourhoods, walked in Colaba and along the lanes of my previously rented home in Bandra, stopped by my favourite bar and chatted with the friendly security guard, hired a cab and drove past the sparkling Queen’s Necklace and the Bandra-Worli Sealink while getting acquainted with the cabbie, and heard my auto-rickshaw driver sing Mohammed Rafi songs while I added verses from Kishore Kumar’s popular ones. Bombay had taught me to listen to people and respect them for who they were and where they came from. This diverse city has so many stories that a lifetime seemed less to know them all. And yet in the limited time span, these few people had shared theirs with me and I felt grateful. Somehow, I’ve grown to respect myself through the eyes of these people. It feels like a mutually evolving love story. Has that ever happened with you?
My frequent visits to the city have often been questioned by people who don’t understand my love equation with Mumbai. In all fairness, it is not something I can articulate very well. But perhaps the closest reason is that I want to keep my foundation connected, I need to spend time with friends and strangers and hear them, I need to walk fast so that I know when to slow down and I need to stay in love because falling in love is not enough.
Which city does your heart call out for? Share your love affair in the comments below.