Is it the people, the places or the memories that help define a place? Or is it the ever remaining all pervasive sights, smells, feelings and experiences? Or is it the bustling office crowds thronging the streets? Or is it something more, something so ridiculously innocent & naive that in the course of our daily hustled bustle, we overlook them. Mumbai, the city of dreams, ambitions and stardom, is all that and perhaps even more. It is a city which makes and breaks dreams and dreamers with the same malevolence and determination and ease as those who do not.So, I ask you, what is Mumbai if you had to describe it in a word.
Dirty? Serious? Happy? Homely? Selfish? Fast? It just goes on. No one word really. A city working 24 × 7 nonstop – relentlessly and mercilessly. It is a machine tuned to perfection and so maintained by ceaseless daily reminders which do not spare the careless. The penalty for imperfection is the quick deaths and the critical accidents leaving you scarred for the remaining portion of your life. The city survives on to things – the ever refreshing sea breeze and the suburban train network called locals. Whenever, we name objects interacts extensively with ones daily existence, they become a part of the city and its culture. The suburban network traversing the length and breadth of the city is the lifeline of this Marine metropolitan. The city moves due to their tireless operations from dawn till dusk servicing the daily needs of this ever expanding giant. The glittering lights dotting Marine Drive, the tall office spaces lining Nariman Point or Cuffe Parade, or the multitude of Bollywood fans wandering around Bandra Bandstand – life passes in a jiffy just travelling on the locals. Just like the ocean tides, the people just come and go. There are highs and lows of peoples’ lives – all spent in the habitual comfort of the blue seats beside net covered windows or the ever appealing footboards of the suburban coaches. The bonhomie Spirit of Mumbai locals is legendary. In the words of Po, it is the stuff of legend.
From dawn, the bustle starts, men and women stuck in their daily rat race to secure sustenance and make it big. For a city that hardly sleeps this is normal. When every child in the city prays to their new God, Sachin Tendulkar, despite there being 33 million Gods & Goddesses in India, the city does not survive but thrives. But that is essential for a city wherein the countries film industry is hosted and everyone imagining them as the next Shah Rukh Khan or Shammi Kapoor or maybe even a Salman khan. The brand obsessions and star cult dictate the lives of these residents. Every year sadly tens of thousands flock to this marine settlement hoping to chance their fortunes on a stroke of pen or click of a photographer’s camera.
But films, locals, marine drive an just one part of this city and its culture. The other part is the orange of savouries available all day all night. From basic street food of Vada Pav, Onion Pakoda, to Bread Pakoda or the continental cuisines – the city boasts it all. The exotic Italian/ French dishes to the mouth watering desserts, one is always kept asking for more. However, that heavy and often sumptuous mealis brilliantly washed down with the beautiful Nasik wine.
But then here I have gone and discussed the sights and sounds I So wished to avoid. And why not. Dried fish or sewage canals dotting the city or the sea breeze poisoned by pollution and garbage does not create a healthy atmosphere. Neither are the smells from the little fishing villages worth mentioning though distinctly noticeable in the morning on the way to work. Mumbai also has the locality division existing today. The old quarters and haunts still dot the city. Walking down back alleys and through the colonial buildings truly capture the mind. It is not one or two things in the city that make it interesting but rather a combination of them. The old housing colonies and the new shinier offices all jostle for space in this relentless battle for existence. The old colonies with their shadowy rooms and the grilled windows with the occasional Vespa Scooter or an old Fiat parked out front is still a reminder of the city’s growth times. The quintessential feelings and the nostalgic memories are countless and priceless of course.
So what really is this city? Is it the utopia of a person’s aspirations or it is a hellhole counting down its day to its doom? The city built on reclaimed land and swamps is gradually sinking by the day. The pressure of the unbridled population is taking its toll. The floods during the monsoons or the ever present chance of tidal waves have all but brought the city to a standstill. The life of Mumbai is indeed one of perpetual struggle and determination. The warmth of the city despite the daily rush and the flavours of the city are truly worth experiencing. The culture, the heritage and the nostalgia is infectious and all pervasive – permeating into the minds of the most seasoned traveller or the occasional ones like myself.