I am living what seem to be the last few days here in this city. And yes the reference to the Priyanka Chopra Hall of Crap was just coincidental. It has a life this place like those scary horror movies that claim houses have spirits. Only this city is not scary, in fact it is the contrary. It lives and breathes every day. It sits with you in empty auto rides smiling and hugs the ocean on the Marine Drive from sunrise to sunset.
You can choose to be anyone here because the city is like that old friend who doesn’t judge you. It branches out into parts you probably haven’t seen before and yet holds it back together. There is a reason why the city has been a victim of more terror attacks than other Indian cities. It has this troubling sense of equilibrium; like it is going to descend to chaos any second and yet it hangs on, like an eternal pause. I suppose the terrorists would probably just think it is easy target to bring a nation down but unfortunately every time the city just gets a little ruffled and falls right back into its place as if nothing went wrong.
Unlike Delhi (and mind you it is my hometown and I love the city), people are not looking to pick fights with everyone else. They are instead all about doing their jobs. No wonder it is the financial capital because the culture is that of being industrious. There is no time for laziness, no afternoon siestas (unlike Kolkatta). This city means hard work even when it comes to art and music. It celebrates struggle and gives a grand prize to ones struggling the most. It has so many faces, you tend to lose count. Some days it is that old friend driving you home safe post a night of relentless partying at 1 30 AM. At others it is the boss who works you till the wee hours of the morning. It is also a parent who takes care of you and on many occasions, it is an actor that pretends there is no chaos in this world. The city is like many one night stands rolled into one. Every night you think you know it one bit better and in the morning it surprises you with a new twist in the story.
It is, of course, the people who make this city. I remember a taxi driver telling me this one day he explained why Mumbai is so safe and Delhi isn’t. His logic was that the men in this city come from their homes and earn for their families and send back money. For them, their job is of utmost importance, people are too busy making ends meet to even consider a crime. In Delhi, however, there is no such transience. I have another theory. In the heart of Maharashtrian culture, there lies this inherent respect for women. Perhaps something that slowly erodes as you go up north. Mumbai thankfully has managed to hold on to everything that is good in each culture and build its own humanity.
I didn’t even realize when this city became my best friend until I was sitting alone in an auto, Muhammad Rafi playing in the background and the auto driver quaintly humming “Main zindagi ka saath nibhata chala gaya”. That’s what it does, this city. It has an eternal friendship with life and you don’t even realize it and it has found a place in your heart.
Too much has been written here about the city (with people telling me I’m obsessed). But the truth of the matter is, it is the small things that make a big difference. On Sunday, I was introduced to this small place. Out on the edge of Kala Ghoda (which to this day remains the most mystic triangle I have been on in the city), there is a gallery that houses a tiny café called the Café Samovar. The heritage dates it back to the golden times of Indian Cinema and artistry.
The café is rather small which sort of spells itself to you like a modest little secret getaway from the rumblings of the city. On one side it has the trendy French windows of the gallery with lights decorated with handmade lampshades, on the other side there is a window opening to a garden. It was the first time I had seen Marigold being used to decorate the tables.
We walked in through the narrow doorway and the café opened our eyes to the varied cultures in Mumbai, from old parsi veterans of art to young groups of college going teens. The conversations can just grow on with Hariprasad Chaurasia playing in the background (the patrons have good taste) The service is top class and you don’t have to wait for hours to get your food. The culture in this age old café is so vastly different from your regular CCDs that you almost begin to wonder who it was who said there was no culture of cafes in India before these chains came along. No, the culture was very much there, it just wasn’t pop cultured the way it is now.
The café is housed with the perfect intention, one gets to look at beautiful exhibitions of art and then sip a cup of mint chai and talk of what one just witnessed.
The only drawback is that the café closes at 7 15 PM. But having spent all of around 150 bucks and managed to have 2 chais, a coffee and the beloved find the mint chai and yummy and filling snacks, this café now comes on my regulars list. Definitely, a place I’d frequent much more. So should you! Who knows, you might just bump into the intellectually rich clientele it boasts of J
There are people writing books, some who choose to spam inboxes. I, for one, am speechless. Mostly because of the confidentiality agreement we signed at the start of the internship. But what is not confidential is my view of the city. It’s been a year in Mumbai and I am almost attached to it by now. I say almost because attachment with anything is always fleeting for me. India has a sense of poetry so deeply imbibed in its core that every city seems like a verse but Mumbai, Mumbai is a poem in itself.
Yes, the infrastructure is awful and yes, rains add about 45 minutes to your travel time. But face it, no other city would treat you like its guest every single day. You don’t really belong here, but the city makes you feel at home. It’s a weird middle path between the two emotions. One of excitement over visiting the city for the first time, and other of standing up for the city in front of the critics as if it were your own.
In no other city would being a writer fetch you this many brownie points, and no other city treats its artists with such love and respect. Public transport in Mumbai provides me with that which Delhi, Bangalore and Chennai couldn’t provide – safety! And those who are now going to go up in arms about how Chennai/Bangalore is safe for women, just know that I have indeed lived in these cities and know what safety means and they do not provide it.
Mumbai was once rated the rudest city, clearly, the majority of people who took the survey were rude Delhiites who for some reason just cannot digest the fact that despite of the amazing infrastructure, people still rate their city tad lower than Mumbai. Here is the reason to that, there is no scare of leering men in Mumbai, no scare of the policemen ending up harassing you more if you complain to them, there is no running home at 10 PM scared of venturing out post 11, and most importantly, there is no rudeness likes of which are found on the streets of CP. I have had more number of strangers help me out in Mumbai than in Delhi, Bangalore or Chennai.
Now don’t get me wrong in my heart of hearts I am still that rude Delhiite who tries to (in vain) to find faults with the maximum city. But as my beloved city of Djinns is slowly turning into a true face of capitalistic selfishness, I find peace in the independence Mumbai has given me, an independence that evaded me at the capital. This is the only city where I don’t care whether I have company to watch a play or not, I just go anyway. A city that embraces you the most when you are alone is in its true nature the best gift to civilization.
Be it the walk down Marine drive, or a quiet evening at the Worli sea face, the million malls across the city or the classiness of NCPA or Prithvi, the city lets you live in constant entertainment. Even a daily ride back from the office to the hostel is full of eventful surprises. The city brings out the best and the worst in people both at the same time. It is close to the dark underbellies of slums and yet lives ruthlessly for the rich. Mumbai in its heart of hearts is what a capitalistic society should be about. A society that automatically in spirit, heals itself and grows everyday in its worth, in its value and in its life.