‘Mee Mumbaikar’ which means ‘I am from Mumbai’ in local language Marathi. I have read many blogs and articles where people have highlighted how they feel about Mumbai, what were their expectations when they came to Mumbai and what they discovered about Mumbai over a period of time. These are so beautifully written, I envy those who have discovered Mumbai on their own. Mumbai has this character which makes everyone feel at home. But, since I had lived my life always in Mumbai, I couldn’t discover these feelings that others have been talking about.
But, when I stayed away from Mumbai, I realised what the city means to me. It’s not just Mumbai as a place I grew up, but its the people, the attitudes, the work ethics. Mumbai is so ingrained in me, that I felt a bit out-of-place in other cities. Mumbai is a business city, its a financial hub, it has a world-class port, airport. It is connected to almost all parts of India. Because of its strategic location and opportunities, people come in from all over India to reside here. By the way whatever I am writing doesn’t degrade any of the cities I have been too.
Let me start with Kerala. That the place I originally belong to and I have been there umpteen times. I had been to some of the cities in Kerala, namely – Thiruvananthpuram, Kollam, Kottayam, Trichur. One of the first things I noticed is the way the men there will look at you. It’s a lecherous stare from top to bottom. It doesn’t matter if you are fully clothed, you are a middle-aged plump lady, you are struggling with children. The stare is always there. If they notice that you have a different accent when speaking Malayalam, the local language, they will still consider you an outsider and try to fleece you. Somehow, in those places, I am scared to travel alone at any time, day or night. I think then, that in Mumbai, I can travel alone at anytime without any fear. I have travelled home alone by 12:40 am train too, and found it fully crowded. I can even go to an unknown place with just an address in hand and find the place with help from the locals. No one will stare at me or take advantage.
In Bangalore, I had to make some work related visits. What I saw is people are generally very laid-back. They walk around leisurely. Even within the office, the body language is very relaxed. Cut the scene back to Mumbai, where people are running, pushing, jostling to get into a train or a bus or an auto. Even in the office, they will be walking briskly. No relaxed body language there. In Bangalore, I am very much dependent on my colleagues to pick and drop me by car. Because, the autowallah always quote astronomical sums for distances of even 1 kilometer. I thought of the honest autowallahs back home. They do refuse short trips sometimes, but atleast, I don’t have to worry about burning a hole in my pocket for crossing short distances. They will charge only by the meter. After all, it is hard-earned money, no?
Pune, is another laid back city. Here again, if the autowallahs see you coming out of a SEZ, think that we are loaded with money. Any trip costs Rs. 100 for less than a kilometer or Rs. 250. There is nothing in between. I again think about the autowallahs of Mumbai. They will not cheat the newcomers also. Even if you don’t know the way, they will help to reach your destinations. Even the BEST Bus conductors. They are so helpful to a new student or a newbie on the bus. They will inform you of your stop in advance, if you have requested the conductor for the same.
Another thing I noticed when I went shopping for clothes in a mall. It was 8.30pm. The shopkeeper was actually irritated to see a group of us walk in. They were also very reluctant to show us their wares. They gave us some irritating looks and asked us to look up whatever we wanted to. We did make purchases, but the ladies were not pleased about us coming in at closing time. But, in Mumbai, the shopkeeper always has customer as king. That is the attitude they will have. The shop will be kept open till we purchase our stuff. Even if we do not purchase, he will have no complaints. When leaving he will tell us to ‘come again for new stock’.
Even when I was abroad in London, I missed Mumbai. I had gone for a walk in the evening one day to a high street in Western London. It was the same place I used to go everyday in the mornings to walk around, go to the library, check out the internet, do shopping. In the mornings, it is a bright and cheerful place with people, families, school children, and all. But evenings, was terribly different. There were druggies hanging around, kicking cans, asking you absurd questions like ‘do you have some spare change?’. And I thought, this doesn’t happen in Mumbai. It’s the same in the morning, it’s the same in the evening. It is definitely not scary. If I forget to purchase something on my normal outing, I can make a late night dash to get it from the market, and no one will blink an eye.
I was once stationed in a remote place in UK. It was a village which had only local English people. Being a vegetarian, it was very difficult to find food for myself. For the two months I stayed there, all I ate was potatoes – fried potatoes, boiled potatoes, mashed potatoes, potato chips. When I came back, I wouldn’t look at another potato for days. I once went to a shop and asked the person, what he had for Vegetarian. First of all, they don’t have ‘Vegetarian’ in their terminology. Then I explained, ‘no meat, no fish’. So, he told me he had ‘Chicken Sandwich’. Seeing my exasperated look, he apologized. But, there was nothing I could eat. But thankfully for Subway and McDonalds which helped me to customize my fillings. And I thought, in Mumbai, there is food available for every diet, every budget. This is probably because of the people who come here from all over India. All type of local cuisines, shops selling local ingredients are available in Mumbai. And also, they don’t cost a bomb.
I have also lost my I-Cards, my Railway Pass and more recently, my Aadhar card. But, in Mumbai, it was returned to me by post. It has happened 3 times already and I have full faith in Mumbaikars.
I have also lost my mobile phones, which I have never got back. I have lost money too when someone picked my wallet. But, the I-Cards were returned.
The city does have character, a soul. I realized I may go anywhere in the world, but the Mumbaikar in me will always remain. I always end up comparing with Mumbai.
I love you Mumbai, Maximum City.