Goodbye, Mumbai

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Here it comes. My heartfelt tribute to Mumbai as I bid goodbye to the city after 21 months. If you think am going to whitewash my time here, well, you should read another blog for imaginary fairytales. We didn’t do that here. Don’t worry, this isn’t another rant either. After 11 years, am finally done with my complaints against the city.

Is that a collective sigh of relief from Mumbaikers?

Mumbai is the hardest city to live in. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. When Mumbaikers claim they love the city, it is because they haven’t seen life anywhere else. Mumbai was the first city I wanted to spend the rest of my life in. That, and Bangalore (not anymore, of course). Which is why the betrayal is so hard to get over. I moved to this city with the intention of falling in love with it. It’s like when you have sex for the first time and it sucks. You assume sex is overrated until one day, it is fabulous with another person. That is when you realise there is much better sex out there but you had no idea. Until I moved to Gurgaon, I assumed that is what life is like in any city. 4 hours of daily commute, bad health, loneliness, no hobbies, friends only in suburbs close to yours etc etc.

No matter what my rent budget was I never found the perfect house. Whether I paid 13k or 25k or 31k for 300-500 sq feet of space, I always settled for the least horrible one. That is what house hunt in Mumbai is like.

Sure, there is more diversity. I live in a building with Sikhs and Muslims around me (very, very rare in Mumbai), travel through an area with fisher folk, cross a road with Muslims on my left and Hindus on my right and reach my office in a Jain Gujju dominated area. Delhi doesn’t have that.

The only way to survive in this city is with blinders on. You have to be able to ignore the dirt, poverty, zero civic sense, rude locals, lack of open spaces, traffic woes etc to the point where they become invisible. Sometimes Mumbaikers come across as zombies.

Them – Mumbai is awesome. We love the city.

Me – But you don’t even have a balcony in your house. Why are the beaches so dirty? Can’t you see the plastic hanging from the trees at Bandstand? The sea is choked with trash at Worli sea face. Why is Aarey, the green lung of the city, being replaced by buildings? Why isn’t there better connectivity between suburbs on the trains? Why aren’t there better trains? Why is there traffic at 10 pm? Why does the city get flooded every year during the rains? Why are the rents so high?

Them – Who dis? New phone.

DS and I were discussing this today. He is from Navi Mumbai so he hasn’t been zombified yet. He can see the problems like any other outsider. The apathy of Mumbaikers for their city is appalling.

Living here is a leveller. No matter how rich you are, you will get stuck on the road in the rains. Some auto or taxi wala may be kind enough to charge you double and drop you to your destination or he may leave you stranded on the road without a cover. You never know what a new day will bring. Kindness or cruelty, you need to be grateful and thick skinned in equal measures.

It is the only city where rains bring people together. Friends and acquaintances will throw open their houses for the stranded. Twitter will have a 24/7 helpline. Every person in the city will offer help. Adversity brings the city together for a few hours after which everyone goes back to the business of earning a livelihood like nothing happened.

But there is one reason why Mumbai is special and I have and will always keep coming back. I have always lived here on my own. Every decision, every friend, every battle, every house has been mine. I like Delhi but am not a Delhite. It isn’t a category of people I would like to associate myself with.

But when I hug Mumbai, our bodies fit together. No matter where I come from, there is 300-500 sq feet of space somewhere I can call home that is mine and mine alone.

I, me, myself.