Aamchi Mumbai. My Mumbai. The city I was born in. The city I live in. This is truly the city of dreams, the city of contrasts, the city of hope, joy, despair and new beginnings at every corner!
Why do I love Mumbai? There is so much that is there about this city that it is very difficult to pinpoint any one reason. I don’t think anybody can explain why they love Mumbai – it is an experience that has to be lived, a city that demands complete immersion in its cultures, in its pace of living!
My earliest memories of Mumbai are of my childhood home in the Teen Batti area, at the junction of Malabar Hills and Walkeshwar Road. Waking up in the wee hours of the morning and going with my father for a bun maskaa paav and chai at Keki Seth’s Irani joint, sitting with him while he read the newspaper, and then holding his fingers while walking back as the early morning sunrays drenched the whole area with a magical glow…it all seems so far back in time. Yet, that is the Mumbai that I shall always remember, and keep trying to recreate for my children today.
I used to be a total introvert as a kid, and would go to sleep early just so that I could wake up before everybody else and explore the different nooks and corners of Teen Batti, and later the rest of the city, on my own.
Those were the days of safety, of tranquility. That was before my brother died an untimely death in the sea, and before Mumbai was rocked by the riots and the bombings. Two tragedies – one intensely personal; the other shared with millions of others across the country. But there is something about the city that continues to hold me back.
Despite all its problems, Mumbai is a survivor. There is a certain magic about it, a certain quality that binds you for life. When the British fashioned the city, they proudly proclaimed that they had built a city for one million people, and that this city would never have any problems related to space or population. Today Mumbai houses more than 16 million people! What brings them here? What keeps them here?
Yahaan ka bolchaal, yahaan ke log, appun ka phillum industry …sub kuchch to yahin par hai. Glamour, theatre, arts and culture, industry, entertainment…life is complete here. Jehangir Art Gallery and the Prince of Wales Museum stand juxtaposed against the city’s industrial hub in the Fort and Nariman Point areas, where everybody from Tatas’ to the Ambanis’ hold court; theatres like NCPA and Prithvi are as integral as the grounds that house myriads of international and national fashion shows every weekend; little nuggets of history like the Queen’s Necklace and the Gateway of India blend seamlessly with the largest film industry in the world; and the sandy beaches at Chowpatty and Juhu compete with the pubs and nightclubs like Athena that come alive when the sun goes down.
Many people ask me how they should “get to know” Mumbai. According to me you can only discover Mumbai if you are willing to loose yourself in it, forget all your inhibitions. Have the vadaa paav at Shivaji Park and the paani poori at Chowpatty, Saarvi Nagpada’s seekh roti and Shalimar’s biryani. Then move on to Bade Miyan behind the Taj Hotel for the best kebabs in town and to Mahesh Lunch Home for the most amazing seafood anywhere in the country. Trattoria’s pizzas, Maratha’s Lebanese food and Regent’s Chinese fare need no introduction. The great thing about Mumbai is that it has something for everybody, and for people like me just love every sampling every nuance. Which is why I guess, even after so many years, I am still not tired of exploring the city.
On other days it is bliss to just sit by the waters of the majestic Indian Ocean and enjoy Mumbai’s favorite – seeng chana – or relish the tranquil charms of a simple, steaming hot bhutta in the monsoons. Or climb aboard the colorful horse carriages that stream past Marine Drive and Nariman Point in the nights. These are my little oases of relaxation amidst the dynamic activity that is Mumbai.
Mumbai was created by welding together seven islands into one land mass. To me, it seems more like a blending of a multitude of cultures, of a coming together of contrasting shades that would be disjointed in any other city except Mumbai. But then, Mumbai is not just any other city! And no other city can ever be quite like it.
Read the complete transcript in India Today Plus (January, 2003)