Sunday, August 21, 2016

Mumbai 101

“But Bombay 101 sounds better”, was the collective reply of this piece’s first audience, who with a generous garnish of irony call themselves Mumbaikars. As I watched them read the following few paragraphs, I mentally consolidated some of their common behavioral traits possibly inherent from their roots in the city – general appreciation of spaciousness, spotting well-concealed patches of greenery, subconscious disregard for moving slow, automated swiftness, promptness, and the adorable nature of accommodating in a ‘chalta hai’ fashion. Because in Bombay, anything goes.

Over the last four years, I have lived and loved five cities – Mumbai has been the finest teacher. Anyone who needs a crash course in adulting must consider living alone in Mumbai for a while. It is the big (not so bad) city that your mother warned you about, an expensive appendix to your wallet, a large labyrinth of space that takes tremendous energy to navigate with climate that will take getting used to and speed that will need some serious keeping up with. What Mumbai also is, is many little wonderful worlds enclosed in a marvel of engineering. Cutting edge technology and modest fishing villages coexist side-by-side. Navigating across its expanse is structured like a guide to dummies with over-efficient local transport. Infrastructure band-aids to serious cracks are fixed overnight and the next morning, all is forgotten. Hipsters and the mainstream get along. Elsewhere, colonial opulence and local splendor merge seamlessly.

Having lived most of my years in a city that is being accused of losing its identity, the balance Mumbai has found for itself almost induces envy. The place simply changes you no matter how hard you resist. For instance, rent is so steep that you will include a financial accelerator in your career aspirations. Lazing around is not an option because the local will leave at 9:02, and how else will your employer know that your train being late that morning is a work of fiction? The rain will flood the roads every June - it’s geography - but watch the Mumbaikar’s walk of nonchalance against the storm, armed with barely an umbrella. Pretty much nothing is a big deal for the people of this city – what the rest of urban India would call third world problems are Mumbai’s first world problems. Its citizens are Zen, respectful, show visible attachment to the city and stay invested in its fixes, constantly defending it to innumerable skeptics and doubters. Had Mumbai been a company, its citizens would set the bar for HR case studies.

While most cities let you choose your pace, Mumbai does not. The ways and quirks of people, businesses and corporates are contrastingly different from the rest of India. The city’s primary quality is that of an equalizer: irrespective of the percentile income bracket one belongs to, the average daily life here requires effort.  Yet there is an indescribable charm – glamour, even – associated with life here that needs to be experienced beyond a round of the (highly recommended) Bombay Darshan. A few weeks into living here will begin to throw light on why a Mumbaikar will not feel at home elsewhere. And old friends that we are, I can barely wait to do it all over again.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Ten Years

This blog was started because a teenager ran out of paper one March afternoon. Over a decade, not only did it translate mood swings into phrased strings but influenced the aforementioned teenager’s transition into adulthood. And what better way to do a celebratory post than usher in some nostalgia.

Nostalgia, the deceptive force that compels one to resist change by cunningly bringing forth happy memories from the past. That, coupled with apathy is the reason this blog still uses a static template, has primitive social media integration tools and chooses to stay away from the modern-day icon-loaded landing pages with Helvetica slashes. You see, this blog is my sole reminder of what the internet used to look like when we were younger – everything was plain, simple and text-heavy. There were fewer people, lesser sites, and sparser media. The internet was anonymous and we reveled in it. One could say things, be people, get away with it or simply not care at all. And as irony would have it, ten years later, I ended up working for a company whose very foundation (and a significant revenue driver, may I add) is in attaching a single identity to every click, anywhere on the internet.

From text and music, it became image and video. From Yahoo chatrooms, it became Tinder. From being an escape, the internet became the focus. From being restricted to half an hour on a dial-up modem after school, it became fifteen hours a day, only a minimum-hour restriction this time. But let’s go back to the modem thing, because apparently restricting access to the internet may be a human rights violation in the years to come. Back in the late 90s, getting online was both slow (we’re talking 56 kbps) and expensive (as in choosing between making a phone call or loading a web page). Yet my family’s prime concern about their darling daughter embracing novelty was what it is today – moderation. That ‘online’ was new made it induce skepticism; we didn’t trust novelty back then – new cultures, traditions or even food. It took pizza chains half a decade to even consider scaling up in India. 'New' was never entirely trustworthy, 'new' could waylay children. 

But that was then. Now, we are more flirtatious, make informed choices - and faster- because of something that was once a novelty. In a country of adopters driven by word-of-mouth assurances and the fear of missing out, going online is a matter of four out of one’s five friends being online and recommending it. I personally look forward to the day restricting internet access will account to criminal violation and the juicy media output said violation will result in. That may also be the day we realize we are on the other side of a massive pro-liberal culture shift, but that’s for another blog post.

From pen and paper poetry being typed out and uploaded for the world to see to not sparing time to write at all, the internet has ironically affected the sustenance of this blog in ways more than one. But here’s to ten more years.