Saturday, July 16, 2011

THE MUMBAI OF MY DREAMS

Written on 21April 1999

This happened in Jan 1991. I had gone shopping with my friends to Warden Road. After the regular doze of looking around Benzer, Eternia, etc. and having a sundae at Snowmans, we decided to call it day and head home.

I was 17 years old then and my curfew time was 10.00 pm. It was already 9.30 p.m. and I knew there was no way that I would be home on time. My friends decided to wait for an ‘empty’ bus. I always thought that the words ‘empty’ and ‘BEST buses’ couldn’t be used in the same breath. They are a contradiction of terms!

So, I hurriedly got in the first 80 Ltd. that came by. Luckily I got a place and that too a window seat! “Not bad”, I thought and quickly sat down and started gazing out at the hustle bustle of Mumbai streets (It was Bombay then).

I noticed a middle-aged lady get in the bus. She came and sat next to me. I politely smiled and received a very big smile in return. We got talking and she asked me where was I going. I mentioned that I was on my way home. She expressed her surprise that I was travelling all alone at 9.30 in the night, all the way from town to suburbs. “We live in Delhi” she said, “and I don’t let my daughter go out alone after 8.00 p.m.”

I smiled and with the utmost pride, answered, “Yes aunty, but that is Delhi and THIS IS BOMBAY. Here a girl can travel alone till really late, and there is absolutely no problem. Bombay is one of the most safest places in the whole of India.”

Today, 7 years later, I cannot help but be amazed by that incident! Bombay? Safe place? Cannot imagine saying that now!



I live in Singapore now and last week I met some new people. They were Indians but were born and bought up in Singapore. When they heard that I was from Mumbai, I was bombarded with questions on “Bollywood”. I can never decipher the obsession that Indian’s abroad have about Bollywood. It’s as if Mumbai is only Bollywood!

We spoke about Mumbai in general, the life there, the pace of living etc. Suddenly, one of the girls said, “Yeah but Mumbai is so unsafe! You know there is so much extortion and crime! It’s so sick!”

I tried to maintain my cool but all I wanted to do was to drown her in jug of beer that was kept next to her. How dare she! Nobody says anything bad about my Mumbai! I put up a face and tried to get through the rest of the evening.

We left the bar at 2.00 a.m. and I caught a cab home. While travelling, I thought, “Can I travel alone like this in Mumbai today?” I knew the answer was no, but I hated admitting that, even to myself!

So how do I defend ‘amchi Mumbai’ to other people? Rather, how can I defend, when everything they are saying is true?

The thought made me really sad and I began thinking about Mumbai I once lived in. The Mumbai of my dreams!

The Mumbai before the bomb blasts, the Mumbai before the communal riots, the Mumbai before the underworld rule……

The Mumbai, where thousands starry-eyed people came everyday, to make a future for themselves. Mumbai embraced them and gave them the opportunity that they were looking for.

The Mumbai, where every individual lived by himself and for himself, yet if you were to turn around and ask a helping hand, you would receive a smile and not a look of distrust.

The Mumbai, where communal riots were only found in newspaper stories about Bihar and UP.

The Mumbai, which gave, hope, which offered opportunities, the Mumbai, which fulfilled dreams.

Will this Mumbai of my dreams be a reality again?

Silver Beach- Juhu. Still one of my favorite places on earth

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