Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Where Oxymorons Exist: Travelling in Mumbai

Surrounded by sea and dreams, the city has everything to offer- success and failure, money and things which money cannot buy- Mumbai, a larger than life city.

This February was my first ever visit to Mumbai- after staying in Delhi for 7 years. I was in Mumbai to participate in the prestigious Kala Ghoda Arts Festival. I decided to stay back in the city for some more time in order to ‘explore’ it and understand it better.

Vendors at the Marine Drive

“It is a difficult city to live in. But I am living here for almost 20 years.” said one taxi driver in the ‘town’. Town in Mumbai refers to the old Bombay- the beautiful South Bombay from Colaba to Bandra area. “I first came here in the early 90s, since then I do not have a reason to go back to my state- Uttar Pradesh.” Almost everybody agrees with the fact that living in Mumbai is difficult, but no one is ready to leave the city. “But this city has so much to offer.” a friend who is struggling to establish himself as an actor shared while having a random conversation about living in the city.

“The city has changed a lot over the years. There are too many people on the streets now.” an old man who sells pastries in and around the Marine Drive said. “I live in Malad.” “That is too far from here. Do you come here everyday?” I asked curiously. “Yes. I have to. It is not that far. I take Churchgate local.”

I had heard about the lifeline of Mumbai- the great connectivity which the Local trains offer. That is the first thing you want to do in Mumbai- explore Mumbai local. Travelling in local train in peak hours in a week day can make you believe that everybody in India lives in Mumbai. You will disbelieve that the population of Mumbai is only 25 Million. At 9 am, on a Monday, at Dadar- you can easily believe that the population of Mumbai is over a Billion! Everybody is in a hurry to reach somewhere. No one has time to stop. Everybody has a particular train to catch. While travelling in the local train, one person gave me a trick to survive the journey. “Just throw yourself. Do not think about the people who are standing below. If you will think about them, then they will walk over you. Just throw yourself, and run.” Everybody in the city knows about the trick, it seems. 

Trains at the CST station
Few years back Raj Thackrey’s political outfit Maharashtra Nav Nirman Sena (MNS) had initiated a campaign against the people of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh living in Maharashtra. The campaign was targeted especially against the people of the lower and lower-middle class background- the vegetable vendors, the rickshaw drivers, the taxi drivers et cetera. MNS was propagating the idea that these people were taking away the jobs of the people of Maharashtra, because they can work at any price. The campaign resulted in riots at many places.

“This is all rubbish. Mumbai does not belong to anyone person. It cannot run without people from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. People like Raj Thackrey try to create tension. But he was not able to win a single seat in the Assembly Elections.” shared an auto rickshaw driver with me while I was travelling from Andheri West to Andheri East.

Having a conversation, while we wait for the green signal
Another taxi driver in the Colaba area said, “It was not a very big campaign anyway. It was a much hyped campaign though. I do not remember any violent incident in this area. There could have been few incidents in Kalyan or far away places. Mumbai accepts everybody.”

True it is. Mumbai accepts everybody. It is just not the actors who get down at the Mumbai railway station with dreams. There are people from every strata of life who come to Mumbai everyday- to become ‘something’. Mumbai stands in the map of India as a mirage.

“People in Mumbai are not going to deceive you. It happens everywhere- in Delhi the most- but not in Mumbai.” another auto-rickshaw driver told me. He was taking me to the airport to receive a friend. “It is probably the only city where you are safe at this hour, and later as well.” It was already 10 in the evening. I agreed with him. The city has an energy which absorbs you. But to say that the larger city is crime free zone, will be demanding too much from it. The city, without any doubt, gives you assurance that you are safe.

City of Mumbai, seen from a boat in the Arabian Sea
“Mumbai is like New York- perhaps a dirtier and bigger version of New York. It attracts you, but does not accept you in the beginning. When you have stayed here for a while, it will absorb you, and then will never let you go. That is the magic of ‘Bombay’.” a friend told me while walking near the Juhu Chaupati.

The city has too much to offer. The city has everything- the maddening crowd, and yet the isolation of the sea; the high rise buildings and the slums; the politicians who initiate riots and the lovers at the bandstand. It is more than a city. Mumbai is a country.

An edited version of the article was also published on LokMarg on February 21, 2015

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