It was another evening when I was standing at the window in my room and sipping hot tea from the inverted bell shaped mug that I have preserved since the past six years. The Sharma family lives right across my window in the neighboring wing of my apartment. I saw Sharma aunty descend the stairs of the building with her daughter and her husband, carrying huge amount of luggage. As I stole a glance across the garden I saw a taxi was waiting outside the colony. I could hear aunty instructing Nikky, her daughter to be careful and not to talk to strangers and reminding her of a big to-do and not-to-do list of things. “Nikky is going to California today!” she exclaimed as she saw me. Aunty added, “It’s a new land altogether and she has never been away from home. I am so worried.” “She will be fine aunty”, I cajoled her and waved a goodbye to Nikky.
As the taxi drove past the road I was driven down memory lane to my hometown. I could reminisce a similar day of my life; the day I was packing my bags to come here, Bombay. My mother was apprehensive, just like Sharma aunty. She had her fingers crossed. My father’s nervousness was pretty obvious on his face. Sending an eighteen year old to an unfamiliar unknown land was not easy for them. It wasn’t easy for me either although I was not afraid. It is difficult now to recollect the precise contemplations. Perhaps it was a muddle of excitement, seizure, anxiety and pensiveness. But not once I had thought that this was the beginning of my protracted love affair.
When I came to Bombay for the first time I was diluted amidst the exasperating throng. I was filled with fear; fear of being lost, fear of being lonely and fear of failing to manage my life. I hated to rush in the crowd. The locals brought a wave of stiffness to my nerves. I just couldn’t understand when the train would leave. I was so confused. The gargantuan city seemed to engulf me into it and I detested the course of struggle that Bombay hurled against me. I was a small town girl and Bombay seemed to me to be made of millions of small towns. It all appeared like a big chaos. I had never been away from home and now I was all by myself. I found it tough and harsh. Life kept unfolding and situations turned up that I had never before encountered. There were moments of downheartedness, moments of anger and there were moments of melancholy. However what is admirable is the fact that despite this ordeal, I was never even once struck with the idea that I should leave Bombay, the reason of which I realized sometime later.
I was shopping at the Colaba Causeway with my friend. We stopped at a shop in front of the Parsi colony where I was buying the inverted bell shaped mug. “Madam, can you please drop aunty at her house. It’s just adjacent to the shop. Her walking stick broke down.” said the shopkeeper, pointing to a nonagenarian lady, who looked feeble and shaky. She was dressed in a dull blue middy. Her hair was short and all white. Her eyes were covered with large thick spectacles. “I can’t leave the shop madam. You just need to hold her hand. She lives in the next building”, the shopkeeper pleaded. I gestured a yes to him and gave my hand to aunty. She held my hand and smiled. She asked me my name and said she had never heard of such a name though it sounded quite lavish to her. She introduced herself as Mrs. Dorabji. Her husband had been in the air force and it had been several years since he passed away. Her children were all settled abroad. Aunty Dorabji had the sweetest voice I had heard. Her feet took steps smaller than a baby and she spoke with the eagerness of a child. Aunty told me that the distance from the shop to her house is a mere two minutes but she takes eternities to cover it. “Thanks to you dikra, it won’t take eternities today” she said. On being asked why she steps out of the house when it is dangerous and difficult for her she said, “I can’t always depend on others. I have to step out of the house. If I always fear, I would never learn and I would never risk. If I don’t risk I would always regret. I have lived in Bombay for ages now. Once you come here you would never leave. Bombay has taught me well. Taught me to live by my own and on my own and whenever there are troubles god sends angels like you!”
That evening when I and my friend were sitting at marine drive, I looked at the massive sea in front of me, the sea I have always loved. Then I looked at the skyline of towers adorning the city and the Queen’s Necklace that shines with the illumination of the city. My friend asked, “Have you ever fallen in love?” “Yes”, I was quick in replying. I had fallen in love with Bombay. It had drawn me into it as it does to millions every day. It had woven a bond with my heart that I had not realized till now. How, when and why were questions that I could not and cannot answer. It’s just the way it is. There would be hundreds and thousands like aunty Dorabji who come here and never leave and I was one among them now. All the hardships that I confronted here did take a toll on me but never once did they make me think of leaving Bombay. Perhaps that is the reason it is hailed as the city of hope. It fosters the undying spirit to live and learn, to find companionship in solitude, to pace ahead and yet to stop and enjoy the special moments in life, the courage to dream and to live that dream. Although loaded with riches and poverty, lonesomeness and masses, excesses and deficiencies, it still manages to bloom a dream in every dweller’s life and the robust fortitude to keep going even when life is not at its best.
If diversity is to be viewed in all its glory, then the destination is Bombay or Mumbai as it is better known today. The name might have changed but the assortment of cultures that the city has held has not changed. It is a city of extremes. From the towering buildings to the dusty slums, from the scorching heat to the pelting monsoons, from the mega malls to the cheap shopping by lanes, from the glamorous eateries to the roadside snack sellers, Mumbai has it all and Bombay had it all too, always. The two things that have remained perpetual amidst these contrasts are dynamism and hedonism, and that is how Mumbai continues to attract and submerge huge populations of people. It has its own tales of courage, victory and defeat. It is mixture of people who lead different ways of life and keep the magic of Bombay alive. Everyone is a common man here and yet everyone has a unique story to tell.
This city made me fall in love, in love with absolute strangers, with the everyday tribulations, with the encounters and experiments I undertook, with the feeling of taking risks, taking second chances and with the spirit of living a life despite the plights that surrounded me. It taught me to dare and to dream! I don’t know if I am sounding stereotype or if I am sounding conceited but the truth will persist that after living here I never want to leave it. My six years long love affair with Mumbai has made me fall in love time and again and each time it feels afresh. It has impressed me with all its sumptuousness, benevolence and affability. It has helped me identify myself and made me strong. It has given me love that will last for lifetime. It will forever be my ‘first love’.