One fine day in the January of 2019, I decided to move my base from Ghaziabad. I badly needed a change of scene. So, I started exploring my options which (I realised after a while) didn’t exist. In times like these, I turn to wiser people for advice. Even then, I turned to one of the greatest teachers in my life – Bollywood. And before I could ask, the answer was given to me, ‘Bam-bai’, or as they say – Amchi Mumbai. So, I spoke with my sister who accommodated me in her house, and my bosses at work who granted my wish to relocate to Mumbai. And within three weeks, I was in the city that’s known to evoke extreme emotions. My friends warned me that Mumbai won’t be so friendly. No one would care about you. It would be a tough city. And it would be tougher to live there.
Tough, it was.
Yes, the city didn’t care for me generally.
But I felt loved nonetheless, for I made some really great friends there, met some amazing people & made some forever memories.
On February 8th 2019, I landed in Mumbai and spent 2 hours at the conveyer belt alone. There was some mix-up. And we had to wait as long as it takes to fly from Delhi to Mumbai, just to collect my luggage. My loving sister thought I had scooted somewhere to eat Misal Pav and hence she texted me to inform there was dinner at home, and I should immediately leave for her place, which I did as soon as I collected my bags. The next few weeks went off fast. Every morning, I would get up, dress up and leave for work from Chembur. There was this tall coconut tree in front of my house. I would stand by the tree every morning, and wait for my cab. In the evenings, I would stand outside my office building, with both my hands busy holding my laptop bag & lunch bag, and wait for my cab. It took me a few days to get used to the routes, but eventually I figured my way around cabs & commute. When I began working in the new Mumbai office, I didn’t know there was a surprise awaiting me. The cafeteria was next to my workspace, and inside the cafeteria, there was this Chai shop on the extreme Right. There was something about this Chai Shop that made me feel – at home. And before I knew, I was drinking Chai 7-8 times in a day. He customised it for me – more ginger, no sugar, less milk. Sometimes, a bit of cardamom. Most weekdays looked like this – cabs, chai and colleagues (some of them became real good friends).
Weekends became my gateway to experiences – of the megacity that’s called Mumbai, but still fondly remembered as Bombay. They say that there’s soul in Bombay. Mumbai sounds too cosmopolitan. Bombay is known to a few, while Mumbai lives in touristy places & tall office buildings. I wanted to know the real deal, the real city, the Bombay. So, with the best company I could get, I started doing what a Bandra girl told me to – exploring cafes in the nooks & corners of lanes. Not just the Leopold’s & Cafe NCPA of the world, but also the Taj Mahal Tea Place, the Tea Villa’s, the Grandmama’s & the Parsi & Irani outlets that served the finger-licking Bun Maska’s and Chai. My all-time favourite was – Sodabottleopenerwala, D block, Bandra. I never liked this place in Noida and Gurgaon. In here, they were not just another outlet of Cybercity or Mall of India. In Bombay, they are a Parsi cafe that enjoyed serving food, flavours and a bit of flamboyance. I met many of my friends there, and had long & deep conversations – the ones that make you feel lighter.
I was happy exploring the cafes when someone surprised me with tickets to a play one mild evening – 12 Angry Jurors, a stage adaptation of the classic movie, ’12 Angry Men’. It was happening in Prithvi Theatre. I had heard so much about the theatre and the cafe, I was excited. When I reached there, it was nothing like Siri Fort or India Habitat Centre. It was different, unique rather. I was very excited throughout the evening. The play ended post 11 pm, and with that, there was a huge crowd that exited the premises. That night, for a change, I wasn’t worrying about my safety, rather busy finding a cab. There were no dark parking slots; no looming fears of being stalked. Under a streetlight, I got into my taxi and reached home past midnight. That was the beginning & soon followed the trips to Rangsharda, Bandra Reclamation, the Habitat, NCPA and a few laughs in the breweries. These are my best memories – may be because of the good company I had, or may be the peace that you find in indifference. When no one is noticing you, you notice yourself. Your preferences begin to matter. You do what you like. With no norms to follow, you have a free mind, and a freer soul. May be, that’s why they say that once you have lived in Mumbai, no place is good enough.
For me though, no such thing happened. I had a decent place in Chembur where I stayed, and soon it became bad from being decent. As the rains became brutal, this place started ditching. It leaked everywhere. There was this patch towards the end of June last year, when it rained consistently and flooded some areas. To my horror, I was on Ground floor. I kept imagining my place being flooded while I’m asleep. I was scared that there will be a power cut because of water logging and there will be water in my house at night. At around 2 am one night, I was following the Twitter feed & busy getting scared by flooding incidents when I heard a huge thud outside my house. In the morning, I saw a coconut branch lying on the ground. No big deal. That’s also how Mumbaikars, feel about the rains. No big deal!
June and July were particularly tough with constant rains. Mildew inside the house, accumulated foliage outside the house were keeping me constant company. And as if this wasn’t enough, moisture did the rest. My clothes, shoes, bags and kitchen supplies met Moisture & it was love at first sight. I couldn’t save my possessions & lost some for good. At that time, I missed my home. I missed the times when it rained at home. The times when there will be enough puddles for us to sail our paper boats but not ourselves. The Times when rains meant rainy day in School & an uninterrupted stretch of favourite shows on TV. Times when rains meant pakodas and Chai; when rains meant getting drenched a little – enough to experience but not to fall sick. Mumbai rains were different. I became homesick. I liked nothing in Mumbai then. The non-stop food delivery services were no good either; the paranthas were nowhere close to what we get back in Delhi. I was always hungry – for food, for family and probably for familiarity. Nothing made me feel good. And I realised that when I fell ill for a week. I was so sick that I didn’t get out of bed, couldn’t watch movies/ web series, didn’t have chai for three days. My eyes kept hurting. I only felt better when my parents came to Bombay in July, my brother came from Pune, and we had a big, family reunion along with my younger sister who acts like an elder one.
The next few months came and went by like Summers – with some uncomfortable times and some respite; with some rough days and some colourful evenings. Like the iconic spots of Mumbai, I also lived some moments that are special because they mean more to me. Because I weaved stories there – some sunsets by the beach, some evenings in Marine Drive, Pandal hopping during Pujo, warm invitations from friends during Ganesh Chaturthi, Christmas celebrations in Bandra, a crazy night on a friend’s wedding, lunch trips to Bar Stock Exchange and people who welcomed me, accepted me, celebrated with me, shared their love & became friends for life.
Bombay may not be my city, but its people sure became mine. I may not live in Bombay, but I live in the memories of my friends and family. Like a close relative, I would meet Bombay on festivals, pay visits on occasions, participate in celebrations & stay friends with the city, forever.