What can I say about Mumbai?..that in spite of my endless visits to the coastal city I have never really understood it, could never figure out what made it tick so fast or that I am intimidated by it and not a little addicted in a very perverse way. It’s 1 city where I have always got lost, can never differentiate between its famous neighbourhoods and a place where I have never felt at home.
My quirkiest and most faithful memories of Mumbai/Bombay as it was earlier known had been humongous gluttonous meals at the famous seafood restaurant in Juhu, called Mahesh Lunch Home. Incidentally, by stroke of some strange luck, I have always ended up having a meal there either before/after my every heartbreak/break up. This trend had started during my early flying career and huge MLH lunches/dinners have never failed to fortify me with courage to do the necessary emotional slicing or comfort me post act as I had wallowed in misery.
I have always thought of Mumbai to be a good place to deal with post breakup hangups. The crushing surge of Mumbai’s humanity had always given me the necessary solitude without being lonesome and it had been a great city to walk around with emotional baggage. Mumbai’s 2 redeeming qualities have always left me dumbstruck (read distracted to brood over sobby personal sagas) and those have been its frenetic pace and its rancid squalor. Having stayed in super stylish cities and grand capitals like New Delhi, Moscow etc (with exception of Calcutta), I have always found Mumbai to be awfully squalid in an unfathomable kind of way. For e.g I remember that the 1st sight which would greet us, the exhausted airline crew after our early morning landings into the city’s international airport, had been neat rows of publicly defecating human bottoms. Although that had been an old blast from the flying past phenomenon, still now Mumbai’s squalor is at times soul crushing.
However like every grand civilization in the world, Mumbai starts revealing itself slowly, in layers and after my initial shock, I have always been left breathless by the endless scattering of beauty at every step in the city. The city’s true highlight is it’s growing by the minute population and in no other place in India, have I ever felt so helped and cocooned in a community, than Mumbai. While the hassled, time crunched residents of the behemoth city, during office hours would never fail to elbow you or buzz past you rudely without any response; at a more relaxed pace, they take time out to help, guide and even walk newcomers to their destinations. I have myself experienced this generosity too many times and coupled with the no nonsense, blunt mannerisms of the people, it is no wonder that I have developed an intriguing addiction to a place I can never call home.
My 1st foray into Mumbai had been at the age of 17 to see our ancestral house where my father had been born and unlike my roots in Trichy, it had long been disappointingly bull dozed out of existence. After that, only constant night halts, stopovers and transits have taken me to India’s famous Bollywood city and I never had much time or enthusiasm to explore it beyond a few touristy spots. I have been there on quite a few personal trips too and they have always involved getting pampered at the comfort of the super grand The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. The hotel itself had been a famous landmark in the city and post 26/11 bloody aftermath, the grand structure had become its unofficial icon. While the main building had held its most spectacular suites, the deluxe sea view rooms of the Tower had been pretty awesome too. I remember always having a smile on my face while checking in to the opulent hotel and never once during those trips had I ventured out much into the city. Incidentally, Mumbai also had been 1 destination where despite the cost I have always stayed at 5 star properties and their luxury had been a major reason why I had not explored the city much.
Mumbai’s horrendous traffic, pollution and frenetic pace too used to disorient me a lot and I had always preferred depending on my host for traveling around. In fact, it is Mumbai’s crazy breathless pace which intimidates me a lot and hailing from India’s most laidback (read lazy) city, I had never been able to keep up with it. All this and too much time on my hands had made me explore Mumbai through Gregory David Roberts epic novel “Shantaram” and on a few romantic nights I had walked hand in hand along the glittering Queen’s Necklace/Marine Drive. With so less experience, I feel like a fraudster trying to pen my thoughts about a city which I have hardly bothered to explore, but it is impossible to buckle in my love-hate strangeness with Mumbai anymore. So here goes my love-hate saga of an intriguing island city, a place which has entranced me deeply and has always kept me wanting for more.
RESPONSIBLE TRAVELING-BECAUSE I CARE.