10 things I miss about Mumbai + 10 things I absolutely do not
More like I decided and Mumbai did nothing to dissuade me.
Neither an amazing job at Google, nor a Gothic mansion was sent my way. No devastating dude or other natural disaster cropped up to divert me from my departure. So, off I went, bag and ego in tow, with not even a parting tear for Mumbai as it shrank to toy town proportions and my plane soared towards Goa.
Then, while settling into my new live-in relationship with Goa, favored setting of so many peoples' fantasies of a sea and sand-kissed Boho lifestyle, I ran into an unforeseen roadblock.
I desperately missed Mumbai.
In a no-holds barred bid to make it work with Goa, I made a list of 'loves' and 'hates' that I'd experienced while living there. While some had left heart-breaking voids, there were a few nuisances I was happy to be rid of.
Mumbai for keeps
1. Perennial Pali Market: Nothing spoils you for rural living like getting used to opening a recipe book, randomly selecting a dish and then heading towards Pali Market secure in the knowledge that you will obtain every ingredient you desire -- no matter how exotic or how obscure. And it's open from nine in the morning to 11 at night! Now try shopping at your average Goan grocery store. It opens at 9am, doesn't have most of the ingredients you require, closes at 1pm for siesta and then reopens for a couple of hours in the evening by which time you've settled for a less appealing alternative menu, if not lost your appetite altogether.
2. The Wall Project: On a mission to beautify Mumbai, visual artist Dhanya Pilo's Wall Project appropriates cement partitions and paints on them. And you never know when her urban guerrilla artist army are going to strike next. Not only has The Wall Project transformed the wall bordering the railway tracks on Tulsi Pipe Road into a moving picture -- the commuter moving from image to image at whatever speed traffic decrees -- they also recently painted Bandra's Mount Mary steps. Though Goa has a lot to offer by way of nature, its graffiti artists have much to learn. The few examples of public art I have spotted have been racist messages.
3. Rampant rickshaws: People have likened them to cockroaches, mice and lizards. But when you happen to be scratching your head in despair on a deserted road in Kurla at 3am wondering how long you can walk before disaster hits and you see a lone bee-colored rattling carriage on the approach, you thank god for sleepless Mumbai and the lone autorickshaw driver with a lit beedi dangling from his mouth.
4. Steamy street dosas: Not many can resist the temptation of a steaming hot cheese Mysore dosa anytime of the day or night. Any self-respecting street dosa maker can rustle up a crispy butter dosa or piquant cheese dosa in a matter of seconds. While very few street vendors disappoint, I usually haunt the stand outside Cooper Hospital in Vile Parle (West) to assuage my South Indian-Mumbai fusion food cravings. They're always throwing together some unlikely combinations like the bhel-puri dosa or a dosa stuffed with Schezwan noodles.
5. Carter Road promenade: Family members and gangs of teenagers alike share some of their best moments while zealous exercise buffs puff past on Bandra's Carter Road promenade. Dog lovers and their blissed-out pets rub shoulders with doting parents whose tottering toddlers seem to be quite drunk at the unexpected exposure to open air. And the sunset never disappoints. Just don't wander too far towards Khar, the fish smell is lethal. But, if you’re a chess enthusiast, buy a face mask and head to the chess tables on the Khar side to catch a game.
6. Sangria-soaked Sundays: To me a Sunday brunch at a restaurant has always been an urban phenomenon. It was something I enjoyed during a stint in New York. When I moved to Mumbai, I was delighted to find that the Sunday brunch habit had made its way here as well. Lots of restaurants offer unlimited brunch buffets with alcohol but my favourite day drink, just because it’s refreshing and won’t get you too drunk even after extended abuse, is Sangria. Sangria and Sunday brunch was an important ritual with my friends, and though Buffet Tuesday at the Goa Marriott has become a familiar hangout, I’m always on the look out for something deliciously dissolute to do with my Sunday.
7. Tailor-made for me: I hate seeing anyone wearing the same clothes as me, to the extent of wanting to commit physical violence. Rather than risking a prison sentence, I found an easy way out. Namely, custom-made clothes, something that Mumbai has plentiful resources for. I’d hit the fabric shops on Hill Road, Bandra, or in Manish Market, Dadar, and then share my sartorial vision with my friendly neighbourhood tailor. Often I have marvelled at his ability to bring my complicated designs to life. He's refusing to move to Goa and even if he did, it wouldn't matter, because I'd have to visit Mumbai to get the fabric. Foiled, again! Mapusa market has a limited range to offer and most of it is polyester.
8. Sideboarding trains: Though being afraid of the Mumbai local train is one of my favourite pastimes, I still think a Mumbai train ride can give a person quite a rush, the perfect antidote to a blah work day. Why? Open doors and windows! Typically a cautious person, I would think nothing of hanging from the bar at the train door, the rest of me leaning out to catch a breeze. Despite my risky posture, I’d have a huge smile pasted on my face as the railroad view of Mumbai zipped past. In the midst of soaring mercury levels this is a guilt-free way to cool down and you’ll be surprised to see that the surrounding greenery is always lush. Keep your eyes peeled to catch the ivy-shrouded factory ruins on the slow train track approaching Mahalaxmi or the eunuch colony between Mahim and Matunga stations.9. 3-D movie experience: I went to see "Alice in Wonderland" in the best theater in Goa, PVR Panjim, excited to don the eyeglasses and get sucked into a 3-D movie experience. I bought tickets, picked up popcorn and went to sit down on my seat, wondering when they would hand out the glasses. I still didn’t get it when the movie began and it was blurred. There were no glasses! We were watching the movie in 3-D (technically) without the supporting equipment! I looked around, no one else could have cared less about the 3-D movie experience they were not experiencing. I thought of watching the same in Mumbai, and settled back for a big sulk.
10. The joys of garbage collection: Getting your stinky trash collected on a daily basis leaves you completely unprepared for Goa where there is no such luxury. If you’re any kind of conscientious earthling resident of Goa, you’re stuck with thinking about creative and recyclable ways to dispose of every drop of garbage you generate, 24x7. And guess what, there ain't no sewage collection either. You don't want me to get into the details.
1. Soundtrack construction: Mumbai's architecture, effectively the face of the city, has been laid out on the operating table, with hoards of pitiless plastic surgeons giving it a face-lift. Who would want to witness such a thing? An exhibition at the NGMA featured an installation about the sounds of the city. Construction sounds were featured between chai shop conversation and railway track noises. I smiled initially but the smile faded as soon as I realized the joke was on me.
2. Urinate at will: When a girl is desperately struggling to not give in to the demands of her bladder till a hygienic bathroom is at hand, she is perpetually taunted by the sight of some guy staring intently at his member as he relieves himself against the first available wall. At that moment, she is ruing the injustice of her biological situation. Urine is one of the prime ingredients in the rank odor that emanates from every nook and cranny of this city.
3. Deafening traffic island: For most drivers honking has become a reflex action. They do it without thinking and even if there is nothing in the way as a preventative measure. Too bad tuning out doesn’t come as easily as joining the cacophony. Eventually whoever honks lounder wins, so you can imagine. Then there's the unending traffic and the number of idiotic drivers who choose to stop right in the middle of the road, and right in front of your car. Is it any wonder that normally peace-loving people end up fantasizing about rolling through the city in a fully-loaded tank with orders to shoot on sight?
4. Keep your head down, gutter alert: I’ve fallen into them on various occasions. It's not nice. I've cringed with every step I took through dirty water while walking down roads flooded by overflowing gutters, mentally listing all the diseases I’m being exposed to and wondering why in Mumbai you can't just walk with your head up. I’ve pleaded with many an enthusiastic garbage dumper not to dump their trash there because the gutters get blocked resulting in floods and the spread of disease. But to no avail. Remind me somebody, why do we have gutters exactly?
5. Inane hoardings: What is it with local politicians? They just seem to love splashing their less than beautiful faces on tall posters, accompanied with inane messages that mean nothing to anyone but them and the people they’re aiming to butter up. A few months ago Janhit Manch, a local NGO appealed to the Bombay High Court seeking removal of these hoardings and to prosecute politicians guilty of getting free publicity through advertisements without BMC permission as they thank their seniors for their election, gloating over their so-called achievements, celebrating the leader's birthday, greeting followers of different religions on their every festival and such other occasions.6. Sardine trains: Every time you get off the local train you wish you had a moment to savor the battle for survival you just won. And a battle it is. You shove and elbow your way into the train, maneuver to get a few inches of standing room, keep an eye out for pickpockets as you try to zone out, struggle not to get trampled on during the mad scramble for the door and finally there’s the pushing match to get off when the train reaches your station. Your trophy, the odors of all your fellow travelers clinging to your clothes.
7. Mumbai, is the name: I have a life-long membership with the club that calls Mumbai Bombay and sees this whole change of name exercise as an example of the splitting headache we have from our post-colonial hangover. Aspirin anybody? Buy the Bombay Electric t-shirt and wear it proudly.
8. City cattle: Don't get me wrong. I like cows. But within a certain context (think green grass-laden fields and countryside). So when I see an abandoned male bull mooing with despair as it wanders around Mumbai's mean streets, my heart goes out to it.
9. A proposition outside my place: I dislike standing on the road opposite my house near Radio Club past 6 p.m. because I am often subjected to propositions by passersby who assume I'm standing there because I'm a lady of the night. Then they add insult to insult by offering me shockingly small amounts of money!
10. The saffron police: The fact that Mumbai achieved its status as India’s commercial capital because of the combined efforts of the migrants that invested their future in the city is common knowledge. But now that a level of success has been achieved, the local goons want the city back. Admittedly, Mumbai does have a problem with over migration, but beating up a hapless taxi driver from Bihar serves no purpose other than to confuse the issue and drive this city further away from a workable solution. And then, after doing all that, the saffron police is shameless enough to call for a bandh and shut the city down.