14 October 2006

The Spirit of Bombay

It took me two years to fall in love with Bombay. And when I fell in love with Bombay it was time to leave Bombay.
Although I have been to Bombay earlier, but it was different when I landed there on 28th of June 2003, with a suitcase and a bag and a job at a software company. It was raining heavily and I and my friend A were supposed to go to a senior’s place at Thane. (I know Thane is not a part of Bombay but it shares the life of Bombay and moreover it was my abode for the 33 months I spent in extended Bombay so for me Thane is one of the many suburbs of this city which is made of mainly suburbs).
Growing up in a campus 20 kms away from the nearest city, I always had the impression that Bombay is full of crooks, autowallahs and taxiwallahs, who intend to strip you off whatever cash you are carrying the moment you land there. For me Bombay was synonymous with cold, impersonal people who don’t give a damn to anything which is not concerned with them. I had heard, like all of us, that the life at Bombay is fast. But you have to really live here to experience how fast it is.
I never liked Bombay during the initial 2 years. In fact, I hated Bombay. I always used to say that is this the life one aspires for – commuting in trains, packed like sardines for 6 days a week, paying 40% of your salary for renting a pigeon-hole in some distant suburb, having that vada pao for breakfast while running to catch 498, reading ‘Mid-day’ while waiting for the 6:28 Borivali fast. Believe it or not, it took me a year to understand the difference between ‘town’ and ‘suburbs’. (For the uninitiated, ‘town’ mostly consists of the South Bombay or older parts of Bombay and whatever comes beyond Dadar, towards the northern side is suburb. The biggest differentiator between the two is the real estate prices. In Bombay, as you keep on going towards the south, the realty prices keep going towards the North).

But sometime during the preparation of CAT 2005, while shuttling between the GD classes and braving the Bombay locals for writing mocks every Sunday, I started liking Bombay. The speed. The sheer struggle for survival. The hunger of the people which the rest of the world calls ‘indomitable spirit’.
Bombay, the mayanagri, is different from other metropolis in many ways. I guess there is no other city with a heart and soul of Bombay.
The part of Bombay, I, just like most of us, like the best is the place around VT. The Gothic structures of CST and BMC buildings have always inspired a sense of awe in me. This part speaks of a bygone era. The legacy of the British Raj. The Gateway of India, Bombay Stock Exchange, Flora Fountain, Mantralaya, the Marine Drive, Sterling. It is this picture of Bombay which has been glorified by innumerable Hindi movies. The Fort business area and Air India Building at Nariman Point are the places which make you realize why Bombay is called the financial nerve centre of the country. These are the places which harbor the corridors of power be it the Bombay House of Tatas or the Makers Chambers of Ambanis.
Bombay has given India its own ‘Wall Street’ (Dalal Street) and ‘Hollywood’ (Do I need to mention that).
The sunset at Marine Drive may not be as good as the sunset at Calangute Beach of Goa but sitting at Marine Drive facing the sea with the skyline of Bombay on my right, always used to make me feel humble and insignificant. This is the city which has nurtured countless dreams, seen many of them turn sour and a few of them turn into reality. This city takes in everything – love, loathe, joy, sorrow, successes, failures - just like the sea, which surrounds this island city, takes in everything.

Personally, I made some fantastic friends in Bombay. Most of them from my workplace. Had some great times with them – drinking sprees, weekend outings, picnics to Matheran, Alibaug and treks to places near Lonavala, Pune.
Exploring Bombay was an adventure in itself, which I thoroughly enjoyed, mostly alone.
Looking for the watering holes offering ‘happy hours’ near Churchgate at 6 in the evening, after getting ‘raped’ once more in one of the MBA entrance tests. Watching plays with the intellectual and sophisticated of Bombay by shelling out an amount which can buy you two multiplex tickets and then wondering was the experience worth the money spent. Getting drunk in the pubs of Bandra, catching the last local from Dadar to Thane, quarreling with the auto driver for 10 bucks at 2 in the morning in an inebriated state. These are some of the fond memories of the whirlwind days I spent in Bombay.

Bombay has taught me a lot of things. At the very least, it has taught me not to get overwhelmed by anything. Now, I don’t get shocked by looking at the prices in a menu card, however exorbitant they may be. I had had enough such shocks in Bombay. The rush hour crowd in locals taught me that ‘Nothing is Impossible’. When you think that not a single grain of sand can be accommodated in the train compartment, then somebody on the platform pushes the guy bulging out of the footboard, says ‘Ghus, ghus’ and makes a 3 inch space for himself on the footboard to rest his toes and hangs on. When you are standing on one foot of yours, somebody comes, makes place besides you and says ‘Boss, thoda side ho na’, in the name of our ‘adjust kar lo’ culture. It is amazing, it is unbelievable. Bombay has also exhibited its 'humaneness' to me, in more than one ways. I have borrowed money from an absolute stranger and before I could return it to him, he was lost in the crowds. Numerous times, I have been pulled in, hauled in the local train, as it is picking up speed and I am racing to catch up with it, by hands of strangers.

Some things which I regret having not done at Bombay – Having chicken biryani at ‘Bade Miyan’, watching a movie at Sterling, visiting Mumbadevi temple (Mumbai owes its name to this temple).

I don’t know whether I would ever like to settle in Bombay. The city is probably too fast for a slow guy like me. But one thing I am sure of is whenever I go to Bombay I will always feel at home.

Bombay always makes me think of Rafi’s immortal number on this enigmatic metropolis – ‘Yeh Hai Bombay Meri Jaan’. This song is probably 50 years old but this is the song which actually speaks of the spirit of this city. And in order to truly understand and appreciate this spirit you need to be a part of the daily fabric of this city. This song describes in exact terms what this city is like. The city was like this (the way it has been described in the song) 50 years ago when this song was penned and will remain the same even 50 years from now. I remember one of my friends saying ‘You can take a man out of Bombay but you can’t take Bombay out of a man’. As they say some things never change. I guess the magnetism of Bombay is one of them. I salute the spirit of Bombay.


Sagar said...

That was one awesome description... Mumbai - the mayanagari couldn't have been better portrayed than that... and that too by its biggest critic (atleast when he was in Mumbai).. keep posting blogs.. gives a really different perspective...

Anonymous said...

Terrific description of mumbai...seriously it grows on you...and how true ...i grow nostalgic everytime i hear the song...yeh hai mumbai meri jaan