When one thinks of Mumbai [or Bombay, as was its former name], a hot, bustling, densely populated city comes to mind. As an original Bombay girl myself, I have come to terms with all the descriptions of this city; dirty, busy, humid, home of ‘Bollywood’, home to the largest slums in the world, financial capital of India, most populous city of India…the list is endless. While I don’t deny there is truth in all these descriptions, I can honestly say, that the experience of growing up in Mumbai was so much more.
So, here’s my attempt at presenting Mumbai from the perspective of a true Mumbaikar.
1. It’s a cultural potpourri
Mumbai is one of the truest cosmopolitan cities you can find in India. Many religions; Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Zoroastrian, Jainism, Buddhism, to name a few, all coexist quite harmoniously. I have seen Mumbai celebrate every single festival and every single religion with equal gusto and fervor. For any visitor here, that means a plethora of cultural and culinary experiences, any time of the year. From ‘Makar Sankranti’ [the Kite flying festival] in January to ‘Gokulashtami’ (when one can see human pyramids) in August, from the colors of ‘Holi’ to the lip smacking Ramadan ‘Iftar’ dinner experiences at Mohammed Ali road, from the chants of ‘Ganesh Utsav’ to the carols of Christmas, Mumbai has something for everyone
2. One can find peace admist chaos
One often hears Mumbai being described as ‘The city that NEVER sleeps’. The pace at which this city moves can almost be brutal. Constant noise and chaos is a part of everyday life. However, for those truly seeking peace and quiet, there is ‘Vipassana’ Meditation. Vipassana is an ancient form of meditation in India, rediscovered by Gautam Buddha more than 2500 years ago and in recent times, has come to be a part of “The Art of Living”. Vipassana is a means of self- transformation, through self- observation. Taught in the Global Vipassana Pagoda, located in Borivali (one of the western Suburbs of Mumbai), ironically next to the Essel World amusement park, this might just be what one needs to lose (and find) oneself in the midst of chaos.
3. Life happens while you are commuting
One may have seen horrific pictures of severely overcrowded Mumbai local trains on the internet, leading one to believe that daily life is less life and more strife. Commute (largely by train and bus) is an intrinsic part of the Mumbai life. Journeying together, and suffering the crowds together, has the ability to form lifelong bonds. While it is a common practice to categorize one’s friends; friends from school, from college, from work, only in Mumbai will you find a unique category of friends called “Train friends”. If one sees a familiar face for the better part of the week, and has about an hour to kill every day, one tends to strike up a conversation; about kids, work-life balance( or lack thereof), politics, cricket and very often in the ladies compartment, a love for cooking and assorted recipes. Over a period of many years, I have greatly come to admire those women who (believe it or not), shop for, and chop vegetables during their long commute back to the suburbs, so that they can spend that extra time with their children.
4. Slumdog millionaire is a reality
When I say this, I am not referring to the Oscar winning movie that put Mumbai’s slums on the world map. I am talking about hardworking entrepreneurs and the budding industries that thrive in the heart of Dharavi, often referred to as the world’s largest slum, housing more than eight million people. In a place where extreme poverty, misery, lack of education and hygiene are rampant, one would be amazed to find tanneries, small and medium cloth businesses as well as budding real estate empires amounting to millions in personal fortunes.
5. Harvard [and the world] has learned about service efficiency from the Mumbai ‘Dabbawalla’
The ‘Dabbawala’ or tiffin carrier has been a prominent figure in the Mumbai landscape since the beginning of time. Delivering home-cooked lunches to the busy working man, the ‘Dabbawallas’ have created a model that is astounding in terms of accuracy of timing and efficiency in light of the ever changing environment around them. So praise-worthy and amazing is this model, that everyone from the prestigious Harvard Business School to Prince Charles of England have made a beeline to take lessons from these super-efficient heroes in white. You can know all about the ‘Dabbawallas’ here
Despite one’s early slew of complaints, one tends to fall deeply in love with Mumbai and in spite of its million flaws, the city rubs off on one and follows one wherever they go. Its tenacity, feistiness, ability to recover from countless adversities like terrorist attacks, floods and riots and a ‘never give up’ attitude tend to live with whoever pays it a visit. Often, one might find oneself recollecting all the time spent in Mumbai and everything that the city has taken from one and given so much more in return, as I am today in this article. After all, they say, true love lasts a lifetime.