Mumbai Sojourn

Couple of things have triggered me to write this blog. In few weeks I would complete two years of living in Mumbai, away from my family. More importantly, I experienced the  real rainy day of Mumbai on 29 August (300 mm rain in few hours). It is almost akin to rites of passage, a test of whether you have adapted to the city. Not only have I adapted, I have a deep sense of gratitude for this city; Mumbai indeed has been kind to me!!

For several years, I have been traveling to Mumbai for work. But I never spent more than couple of days. Every time I visited, I went back with an unanswered question: how do people live here? So congested, dumps of garbage, slums, narrow roads, unimaginable commute times? Most flats look so dilapidated. To top it, Mumbaikars love living here, they can’t dream of living anywhere else. How? For what?

I shuddered at the thought of living here. But, deep down I had an intuition that I would live here someday. I hoped to delay it as long as possible.

I still remember the day I received a call from a search consultant to talk about this exciting role, it was 19 October 2014 (remember the date as it happens to be my birthday). I decided to give it a try and think of other issues if and when I get the offer. I did get the offer. The role was challenging and I loved the people I would get work with. I was torn between the desire to take up the role, my dislike for Mumbai and need to stay away from family. My son was in class X and I could not dream of disrupting his education. There was one huge silver lining though; my bestie from college days, another from school days lived in Mumbai. The possibility of meeting friends often was enticing – the pleasure of shopping with girls (after having shopped with husband for decades, my girl friends can imagine the pain), late night girlie gossip, watching movies etc. After much deliberation, I decided to give it a go!

The day came when I packed my bags and moved to Mumbai, it was 18 October 2015. (Why did it take me one year to land this role? Well, that’s a long answer, how about leaving it for another blog?) I left Hyderabad with loads of mixed emotions – excitement for future, anxiety of staying away from family and despair of leaving a city that I loved and called my home.

I landed in Mumbai late in the evening. As the taxi rolled on to Bandra Worli sea Link, huge hoarding of Abbott advertisement, live life free caught my sight. It showed an elderly lady happily riding a bicycle on a green meadow, her grandchild running behind her, to hold her just in case she falls. Her joy was so genuine and contagious. Her picture illustrated the joy that human beings derive out of freedom, indeed, we are all born free! Being a Sunday evening, there was hardly any traffic. As the car zoomed through the sea link; I was awestruck by beauty of the sea link, the beautifully lit buildings across the sea. It reminded me of NewYork, Hong Kong, and Bund in Shanghai. A little voice inside me called out “Bombay doesn’t seem bad”.

Alas, the pleasures and beauty of life are always so short lived!. We crossed over the sea and my car hit Worli. In no time, I was transferred from a fairy tale world into the reality of Mumbai. I checked into the company guesthouse in Worli. It was close to my office and was going to be my home for next 3 weeks. While it was comfortable and homely, it had one challenge. It was practically at the intersection of two main roads, bang opposite to a temple. Being Navratri time, a loudspeaker was blaring devotional songs. Combine this with traffic noise and Indian’s penchant for honking (we have a unique ability to express to all our emotions by honking). I found my worst fears coming true. I rummaged through my bags and took out my ear plugs (being sensitive to noise, I never travel anywhere without them) and tried to block away the noise. I blessed 3M for making good products.

Next morning I opened the window to look out. My room was overlooking another house barely 10-15 feet away. I could see the family engaged in their daily chores, and could also hear their conversation. Remember the famous song of Kishore Kumar, “mere samne wali khidki mein ek chand ka tukda rahta hai”, Sunil Dutt expressing his love to the Saira Banu in opposite house. All these years, I believed that it was a figment of director’s imagination, something like that can never happen. Well, Mumbai proved me wrong, it is possible. Unfortunately, there was no Sunil Dutt for me there (not that I needed one!) I quickly closed the window, it remained shut for rest of my stay.

While my induction at work was going smoothly, the bumpy ride of house hunt began. I met the broker and gave my requirements: close to road (as I was going to depend on public transport) but not on the road, no noise, not overlooking another flat, clean area. I can still remember the expression on his face, it said, “madam this is Mumbai, not a hill station”. As if this wasn’t enough, I added, no South facing flat (I believe in energy and Vastu). He asked, “anything else madam”, I could sense the sarcasm in his voice! Fortunately for both of us, I had no more conditions.

I searched and searched, I lost count of the number of flats I saw.  At long last, with the help of my husband (he flew in to help his indecisive Libran wife), I found the flat that suited all my needs, yes, each one of them. It was overlooking the Arabian Sea and a large patch of greenery. Couple of evenings later, I went to the flat to sign the lease documents. As I signed the papers, I was mesmerised by the beauty of the Sun setting into the sea. As the Sun disappeared in the sea, the clear sky was painted with innumerable colours that no man can ever paint. It was breathtakingly beautiful. That day, my belief in perseverance was strengthened.  If you pursue your goal relentlessly, without giving up, you will meet it, some day.

The last 22+ months in Mumbai have been well spent, both professionally and personally. I did all that I wanted to do. Have taken up challenging assignments, learnt new things, have spent wonderful time with my friends, did all that I wanted to do with my bestie – day-long shopping, clubbing, watching movies, dining out, doing some really fun stuff. Honestly said, more than half the credit of my wonderful stint in Mumbai goes to my bestie and her husband. Remaining half goes to my great boss, wonderful team and colleagues in the organization. Over these months I have come to like many things in Mumbai:

  1. Safety for women – in first few weeks, I was surprised to see young girls walking freely on roads, even very late in the night. Today, I take safety for granted. I wish other cities in India are as safe as Mumbai.
  2. Discipline – people are extremely disciplined. Unlike anywhere in India, they naturally fall into queues, and patiently wait – be it for a bus, taxi, restrooms in shopping malls.
  3. Adaptive and happy – people are generally happy. They would dance garba at the corner of the road and smile and laugh. They are happy with what little they have. Kolkata is called the city of joy, I believe Mumbai deserves this name.
  4. Spirit of camaraderie – Citizens stand for each other in times of need. I personally witnessed it during the rains on 29 August. Colleagues were freely opening up their homes for others, and standing for each other.
  5. Professionalism – rain or shine, people turn up for work and deliver what they are expected to. I have worked in places like Kolkata, where people look for a reason not to come to work. It’s heartening to see their professionalism.

This city has taught me the power of gratitude. Do I love Mumbai? I am afraid no! Not yet at least. Hyderabad still pulls the strings of my heart. But, do I like to stay here? I would say a resounding yes! May be it will turn to a love when my family moves in here next year! Who knows!

Till then, keep rocking Mumbai! You indeed have been very kind to me!!

8 thoughts on “Mumbai Sojourn

  1. Padma, you have so well brought out the emotions associated with your decision to move from Hyderabad to Mumbai. We generally fail to notice the good things about a place, unless we really want to. I like how you have enumerated the positive traits of the city. 🙂

  2. Paddy, as always you are a great writer and I know this has so clearly flown from your heart and being penned down. You are a great example for my daughter. And keep posting more interesting articles.

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