Romola Butalia pens her impressions of Mumbai, where she lived eighteen years, between travelling, working, ideating.
The City of Sri Mahalakshmi
A city of contradictions. At once, a city of crime, where the crime is not visible. And still a city where you feel safe no matter who, where or when you are. A city in India where a policeman will help you push your car if it stalls. But a city, albeit, where cars do not stall. A city that seriously worships money. Where to be a ‘mota seth’ (obscenely rich man) is not an insult, but a title that replaces any that the old aristocracy might have had on offer.
Mumbai: Little Boxes
Little boxes, people on people, concrete humanity. The only city where it all works, against all odds. A city within which people strive for excellence. Or how else could they stand the pace of desperate living here?
Bright lights, neon signs, fast cars, beautiful people. Naturally, the city never sleeps. Mumbai, the commercial capital of India. Home of Bollywood that churns fantasies and dreams, reality and unreality.
The Vitality of Dreams
Local commuting trains that belch people out into the underbelly of the city. Street urchins so street smart they actually reach adulthood smiling. The dirt and the squalor. One giant slum of a city. And yet, each individual respects the personal space of another. Truly cosmopolitan. There are no divisions, no differences, no advantages, no qualifications. Only your ability to deliver.
Throbbing with the vitality of dreams and the will to realise them. To reach for the stars. It is a city of instant changes, constant changes. A city of opportunities, a city of fortune. It is where tomorrow stands today. If you have the guts and the gall to live in Mumbai, survive it, and enjoy it, you have arrived. Welcome to the real world. No-one has time for anyone here. And yet, at times of crisis, no city responds with greater solidarity.
Mumbai is where the intrepid traveller sees yet another face of India. The caterpillar during chrysalis. Certainly a strange transition from the nineteenth century to the twenty-first.
When I first visited Mumbai I thought it was the one city in India I would avoid living in. Yet, I have done more living in Mumbai than anywhere else. Even while living there, I escaped from Mumbai at every opportunity. But why? Surely, the city had been nothing but kind to me. Perhaps, indeed, it is the presence of Sri Mahalakshmi – gracious, gentle, bounteous.