I was staring at my blank screen for quite some time, wondering what to title this. And then I realised, this is just it. How I’d summarise my eight years in this wonderful gutter of a city. See what I did there?
When I first came to Mumbai – it royally kicked my ass. I felt like I was being put through some kind of an initiation test – where only the strongest survived. And I was barely surviving.
For context – I was living with two other girls in a small room in a rat infested PG – pretty much the only thing I could afford with my recession impacted joining salary. I couldn’t quite get myself to accept that Andheri rickshawalas will take you anywhere but in Andheri during office hours. And then came the monsoons, and all hell broke loose (Almost literally, the ceiling in my PG collapsed, all my clothes caught fungus, I hurt my foot and wasn’t allowed to let it get wet while wading through knee-deep water). I was a spoilt kid, and the city had taken on the challenge of ragging me into submission.
And yet, it’s been ten years, and I’m still here. I even moved back to Delhi once, but I’m here, again. And don’t get me wrong, I still don’t love this city. I’m not one of those romantics who will write about getting drenched at Marine Drive as something dreams are made of. I do not believe in calling not-having-a-choice-but-to-move-on the ‘spirit of the city’. And I still hate monsoons.
And if anything, this lockdown has made me think long and hard about this city. The standard of living will keep getting worse. The houses will always be tiny. The locals will still run over people, and everyone will forget it, because it’s just something that happens. It will flood every year, and probably disappear in large parts in another fifty. And crises like what we’re experiencing, will always hit it harder than the rest of the country.
Then why am I here? What right do I have to crib about this city that I’m actively choosing to live in? Which brings me to the positives.
- The people. No, I don’t think they’re saints here. But they’re definitely relatively better than in other parts of our country, specially the part that I come from. (Except if you’re at the station. All bets are off then. When I fell down the stairs at Andheri station and broke my tail bone, a guy stood there and laughed, before running and getting onto the train. My train.)
- The work culture. Maybe this should’ve been point 1. Sure, nowhere in India do they respect your personal time, but trust me when I say this, I’d take working in Mumbai over Delhi ANY day. When you have had your share of politics, ass licking, showing off of the latest iPhone, and sexist remarks, move to Mumbai for a slightly more professional view of things. (Not that I haven’t faced sexism at the workspace here – it’s just relatively – SO MUCH BETTER.)
- Freedom. In one word, that’s what this city means to me. Freedom to step out of my home after dark. Freedom to wear whatever I want. Freedom to not care about log kya kahenge. Freedom to be myself. It’s the one thing that has kept me here. The one thing that keeps bringing me back. So every time I find myself cribbing, and yes, I know, that’s a lot of times, I remember to take a deep breath, and remind myself, this is what freedom smells like – pigeon shit and drying fish. Okay okay, am kidding!