It is Monday morning; 9am. Armpits have earned their first patch of sweat. People pack the local train stations; make sure your health and life insurances are updated, bring your GoPros, and step into the toughest urban wilderness India has to offer. Mumbai.
Two things run Mumbai. Local trains and vada pav. If a segment of the former is delayed or suspended, the city still manages to find its feet. But should the latter go out of sight for a day, the city will come to a standstill. Never screw with a Mumbaikar about his vada pav.
Just as there is no such thing as too many people in Mumbai, there is no such thing as too much spit... in revolting red.
I have been meaning to write about Mumbai since the time I moved here for good. Twenty months ago. But I couldn't, or rather, didn't want to. I was buying more time to see if Mumbai would come to be a part of me, as much as I was becoming a part of Mumbai. The generous might have the heart to love and not be loved. Not me. If I loved, I'd expect nothing less in return.
When you are in Mumbai, things work on the principles of stage diving. All you need to do is jump and the crowd will take care of your momentum. Mumbai's a mother with 25,000,000 children in her 603 sq km house. If rubbing shoulders could generate revenue, Mumbai would make a killing.
Just as there is no such thing as too many people in Mumbai, there is no such thing as too much spit. Almost everybody, unanimously, anonymously, adorns the cityscape with modern art, mostly in revolting red. No other spitters in the country wield the dexterity, audacity, and avidity of Mumbai's spitters. If Jaipur is the pink city, Mumbai is the red one.
Luckily for us, the fiendish reds are castrated of their virility by the contrasting trademark yellows and blacks of the taxis and auto rickshaws that pepper the streets. Unlike the drivers of taxis and autos in Bangalore, Chennai or Hyderabad, Mumbai's private transport riders don't hold your hair and demand a whimsical fare for your ride. You give what the meter says. They will give you back what's due. This gravity of fairness, even to this day, makes me want to cry in joy. Although, I must admit that Mumbai autos do need a seat belt. Some of the drivers are convinced that what they have is a McLaren, not a three-wheeled passenger vehicle.
Mumbai may not guarantee a foolproof conversion of your dream to a fairy tale. But it will most certainly give you the inspiration to jump down that rabbit hole.
I hate comparisons, but sometimes you need them for context. In the South Indian cities that I have visited and lived in, decent auto rides come to you only if you got out of bed on the right side. In Bangalore, the prices differ based on your ability to speak Kannada, the language of the state. In Tamil Nadu, the prices vary depending on the driver's mood and how rough and tough you look. If you have the body of Baahubali in Baahubali 2, your ride might even come with a discount. And if you are in Hyderabad, boy—be ready to bid goodbye to your credit card, your debit card, and yes... your wallet. In Hyderabad, you don't just pay the charges for your ride, you pay the EMI for the vehicle that you just boarded.
The women to men equilibrium, the rich to poor disparity, the dynamic to regressive outlook... Mumbai is revitalising every dawn with a constant improvisation of an anaemic utopianism that is still deep down in the belly bigoted and unsecular. But hey, women feel safe, the city gets its good night's sleep (sadly it can no longer live up to the tag of "the city that never sleeps"), the cows are safe, Dharavi is still standing having generated US$ 1 billion last year, housing societies have more "rights" than the law, and Karan Johar is alive.
Mumbai is a place where your legs hang, while your heart goes into the abyss. It's a place where your hands sing, while your spine surfs the ripples. It's a place where your chest flies, while your brain rides a new wave. One that only you know. Mumbai may not guarantee a foolproof conversion of your dream to a fairy tale. But it will most certainly give you the inspiration to jump down that rabbit hole. It's a city that lives for you, even if you don't intend on returning the favour.