“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.