Monday, June 6, 2011


Life seems to have an unerring tendency to do two things which lead me to the rather megalomanic conclusion that they've deputed somebody up there just to mess around with me. Since the almighty is considered powerful beyond measure, I can convince myself about the practicality of such an eventuality. One, it makes me do exactly what I have declared that I would never do, to myself and the world at large. Two, it picks and chooses from the things I am damn worried about and turns things around so that one fine day, I find myself right in the middle of that damn thing, wondering how I ended up there. Sometimes, when it really wants to have fun, it does both together. And that's how Mumbai has happened to me.

It might seem strange to be scared of a city, particularly a metropolis like Mumbai, especially when the darn thing is just a hundred or so kilometers from the place you've lived most of your life. And yet, fear is the emotion that comes first to my mind when I think of Mumbai. Seven months in the city has taken the edge off a bit of that feeling, but I still feeling an intense wave of restlessness whenever I come back from anywhere else.

So when I'd got into the IIMs, I'd made one promise to myself, and to a few close friends, in the vain hope that telling somebody else about it would make me keep my word to myself even more. I'd said that no matter what happened, I would not take up a job in Mumbai. I'd take a pay cut, a hefty one, but I wouldn't come here. And I continued in the same vein all through the MBA, baffling a fair number of people. After all, around half of the batch from any B-School ends up in Mumbai. As things happened, I did end up away from it, landing up in Bangalore. Unfortunately, as things also turned out, within a few months I realized that that wasn't quite the role I wanted to be in. And left with little choice and a lot of trepidation, I decided to haul my ass over the big bad city, scared out of my wits.

Seven months have passed by since, and I still don't understand this city. It's like a parallel India, one which exists in it's own universe. Mumbai is to India what the US is to the world - everything outside its boundaries is just an annoyance, to be 'managed'. Its residents live in astonishing ignorance and indifference to world that surrounds it. Its residents live in unbelievable squalor, grime and congestion. And yet, they choose to continue living here, of their own will and accord. As I said, I don't really hate all that Mumbai is - I just don't understand it. Why? Why would anybody choose to live the way they live here?

I've never cared too much about money. I've always respected it and been careful about it, but I've never lusted after it. Two weeks in Mumbai and you realize that if you do want to live a decent life here, all such silly theories have to go out of the window. 'Money is the lubricant of life', I said to myself one fine evening, and was instantly appalled by what I said. And yet, that cannot be more true anywhere than in Mumbai. Nothing else really matters in this place. You either have the stuff - and therefore the choice of getting what a decent life demands - or you go about trying to eke out a miserable existence, commuting like a tinned sardine for hours, living in rooms the size of closets, in buildings with no facilities, no conveniences, held together by an outside structure covered in grime and the black stuff which covers any undisturbed surface during the months of the monsoon. You just need to visit another city - and it hits you. You gotta be daft to actively choose this place. And yet, so many people do. You fear what you do not understand, and this is exactly that.

You have to be very clear about life in Mumbai. It's straightforward. You earn lots of money, and you live comfortably. And the scary part is that the city starts changing you bit by bit, by driving home the same thought every day, an insidious little worm of thought that keeps going on and on and on. It's not overnight, it's not perceptible, until one fine day you wake up and realize that everything that you've held sacred in life is slowly looking silly or unnecessary, that the only thought you have is how to earn more, save more, so that you can probably buy a house at an atrocious price and use the rest of your otherwise useless life in paying back the loan. Your hobbies, interests, dreams all get rudely chopped at the extremities and fitted into one sanitized, neutralized heap of crap.

So here I am, seven months down the line, settling uncomfortably and edgily into the place. Winter, surprisingly pleasant, has gone. So has the dreaded summer, the insane heat and humidity. Now comes the last part of the lap, the crazy monsoon. Today is day 2. They say you've gotta experience the rains to really experience Mumbai. So well, here we go. After resisting and fighting for 27 years, I sit in my room and wait for the crazy showers to take over. And then once it all ends, I fervently hope that the I see the next monsoon in more hospitable climes, though that is more of a desperate wish than a feasible reality. Mumbai, you have me by the scruff of the neck for a bit. Damn. Me and my stooopid proclamations.


Harshad said...

Trying to go back to the old normal comments system!

archi-val said...

Heartening to see my comments accepted :P.
Mumbai is one city that gets a hold of you , whether you like it or not. you cant ignore its demands.
But I guess , do your own thing , without stepping into the quicksand.
and yes, the monsoons are quite a spectacle.for the puneri, esp. :P

Hemant Karandikar said...

Many things that you said are true for a lot of people in Pune..those who live in Akurdi and have to come to Pune and other way is just not the city, but which parts you live in and which you frequent decide the quality of life...if the property rates in Mumbai are insane they are no saner in "nicer" Pune. But emotions have their own life and they rule

Pavithra! said...

Still so wanna visit this place and live in it for a while - how can a city have so much character to change someone - so much power as to influence a way of life - so much charm to make you drown in it - Mumbai beckons!!!

Anagha said...

I completely understand and identify with paras 1&2.
I'm scared of Mumbai. The traffic, the congestion, the squalor, the locals, the people falling out of locals, everyone running around like they have a train to catch (!), the grimy, wet weather...
Thankfully, I am yet to experience paras4+ :D

Czaee said...

I hear you Harshad! Well-written!