I vividly remember, in my first job when the HR asked me – “So, Rohit, what would be your preferred place of posting?” and I solemnly answered – “Anywhere BUT Mumbai.”
That was my hatred/fear of the city. Like most hatred or fear, it was irrational too, but like most hatred/fear, I had my own reasons. How can you live in a city that has so many people? How can you live in a city where the commute is a daily tryst with life/ death and suffocation. Why would you bear with a city that crushes you and doesn’t even give you the space to breathe thereafter?
However, it was bound to change and happily so, in this lifetime itself. The cards so fell into place that I got an offer I could not refuse from this very city that I hated my guts out. I packed my bags, emotions and freedom and came strolling reluctantly to Mumbai.
Two years hence, my perspective has drastically and diametrically changed. Today when I step into that city, I feel I am home. There are numerous reasons why you should love the city and numerous to hate it too. While I was still in the city, I could not categorically point out the things I love about Mumbai; I am not talking about the reasons you read in the listicles; I am talking about the reasons that genuinely make you fall for something.
A month back, I quit Mumbai. Yes, you quit Mumbai; you do not leave it like any other city because Mumbai isn’t just a city, it’s a habit. Quitting Mumbai cleared the vagueness of love/hate/fear/missing I had about the city. Now I most probably know what I miss about the city.
The Method and The Chaos
When you watch Mumbai as an outsider, through movies, books or stories, you find crowd and chaos. You watch and hear all of that again and again and unknowingly conclude that the randomness will engulf you and you will be lost in an abyss of commute and struggle. Nobody tells you and expresses you enough that there is a method to this chaos .
The first time you step on a local train station, all the stories, jokes, movie scenes will come haunting you. You would remember the comedians’ comparison of Dadar stations population to be more than smaller Scandinavian nations. You would see innumerable heads queuing up for a train that hasn’t even arrived but is ready to leave. You would witness chaos, in the purest form you would have ever seen.
What you wouldn’t know is the horde of unknown people coming to you in the train approaching your station, care for you. They are already lining up at the exit gate of the train so that you and the hundreds of you have a chance of getting in through the other gate.
You assume that you know the Ganpati Pooja as it is one of the most documented festivals of India – in movies, documentaries, news media and whatnot. Hordes of people walking into the sea to bid the final goodbye of the year to their God / Friend / Bappa. What you would probably miss is the little kid who is carrying a half-foot Ganpati, accompanied by his family of 3, and still getting a place to perform the visarjan.
You would imagine when a train full of people get down at Andheri, you will not get a seat in the 5-km bus ride you still have to endure. But the city will surprise you when everyone else starts standing behind you, in a line which nobody told them to form.
The chaos is the nightclub you go and dance your heart out till 3 in the morning, the method is that auto-rickshaw guy who would not charge you a penny more than the meter.
It does not care, but it does
Imagine India, imagine a girl, 2 o’clock in the night, sitting on the roadside, enjoying the sea. Dreadful is it? In Mumbai, it is not. Mumbai does not care if you are a boy or a girl, if you are in a tank top or a burkha, if it is 4 in the evening or 2 in the night. It simply doesn’t judge. There would be hundreds of people around and still when you are sitting with your someone, leaning on each other, there will be just the two of you.
But it also does care; when you need it to. In all of my two years, I never found one person that tried to mislead me, even when it came to a petty thing such as finding an address. There are numerous stories every day when Mumbaikars rose to the occasion to help another one in distress or need. The city never sleeps, and it will not surely blink an eye when you need it to stand beside you.
The Crowd and The People
Mumbai is not just about the films, glitter, nightclubs or even locals. Mumbai is about its people, regular people just like everyone else, doing the right thing to make the city a better place to live. It’s not just a crowd; it’s people with identities, sensibility and the resolve to keep Mumbai alive and kicking.