Vantage point

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

A Farewell Letter To Mumbai

Dear Mumbai

I don't think anyone can fall in love at first sight with you. I didn't. During the dozen or so short trips I made to you while growing up in Pune, my nose was always crinkled and I kept finding reasons to not like you, far less love you. When I got posted here in 2004 by IBM, I was happy only because you are just 4 hours away from Pune. I was expecting to be revolted by the stench, the sweat, the crowds, the problems with finding housing, the rain, everything.

And you gave me a lot of hard time during my initial days too. But our relationship turned out like the boy-girl relationship in several Bambaiyya masala flicks. We started out hating each other, giving each other a tough time. But somewhere down the line, maybe during a song I don't remember, I fell in love with you. I found myself realising what I had thought of as just some media-created cliche. I stumbled upon the heart of Mumbai. And the heart is vibrant, embracing, caring, cheerful, efficient, and yet special enough to defy all adjectives.

My two years here coincided with 3 crises. Two were city-wide crises and 1 was a personal crisis. During all of them, I saw how the city reaches out to its children. The precise reason why Mumbai is so crowded is that it accomodates everyone. No matter how crowded the place, someone will "adjust" to give you a leg to stand on. Mumbai for me is the perfect example of how "selfishness" is not a bad word. That selfishness need not necessary translate into apathy for others. Mumbaikars reaching out to everyone is very much a selfish mechanism. Because it is an implicit contract that you look out for others and others look out for you. "When you're good to Mumbai, Mumbai's good to you", if I may alter the lyrics to a song from Chicago. It is not something imposed from top downwards, by a government eddict. It has evolved naturally, an example of spontaneous order. Knowing that the city will be thrown into crises, one after the other, and no one is going to come and help you.

26/7/05 and 11/7/06 brought out responses from people that were merely an amplified version of what we Mumbaikars see everyday. The hands that are all around us, supporting us, even as our hand is supporting someone else, like some sort of a complex latticed organic molecule.

You're a sneaky seductress, Mumbai. And like millions of others, you've seduced me. And today as I prepare to leave this city, I know that this is not the end of our story. I will return some day. I will go through it all once again. Looking for a half decent apartment, figuring out the most efficient public transport combination, knowing which roads are less crowded at what times, and where to buy what. Many things will have changed. But your essence will still be the same. And that is what I will return to.

Farewell, Mumbai. You've occupied a special place in my heart that I didn't even know existed.