The uniqueness of Mumbai’s inconvenience

Right from the day I moved back here, I have incessantly moaned about how inconvenient Mumbai is to live.

So when I went to Pune for the weekend on Christmas eve, the change was more than welcome. I luxuriated in greener pastures, breathed cleaner air, and enjoyed the clear sunset skies. Houses seemed to have all the room in the world. And I couldn’t help but wonder how much happier I would be here.

And yet by the end of the weekend, I was glad about coming back to Mumbai.

A friend recently asked me how long do I plan to be here, and whether I plan on exploring other options. And despite my constant grumbling about the things I don’t like here, I said almost in a reflex: NO. This is where I’ll be.

I think I understand part of the reason.

Pune had space. Lots of it. So much so, that everyone appeared to be in their own bubble. Rooms, roads, restaurants – they all seemed to have their own private space.

This stood in stark contrast to Mumbai and what I’m used to. In a city that screams out congestion, there is no concept of private space. Despite being alone you’ll never feel like you’re doing anything alone. It’s wave after wave of people wherever you go.

The Mumbai local best illustrates this. She’s like a grand old woman of the city, who’s been around for years, amassing a treasure trove of experiences. And the rest of us are passengers who rush to her everyday, yearning for a new story. Every journey is different.

The Delhi metro has never induced such a feeling with me. Perhaps that is because it is incongruous with the rest of Delhi. The roads and metros might feel stifling but homes and restaurants are generously voluminous.

With Mumbai, the feeling is consistent no matter where you are, because the crowd follows you everywhere. If a day in Mumbai is a song, then traveling on the local is definitely the chorus.

And  you will notice that people who’ve been here for a while understand this. They have accepted this reality. For them, congestion is a part of life, part of the song. Two couples and a guy can all share the same table at a restaurant, and nobody would begrudge the other.

They don’t think they own that table.

As I’m sitting in my room writing this, I can hear buses and autos revving by, workers yelling to each other, and incessant honking. I thought I was buying my own space and air while renting out this single room.

But I’m starting to realize, I don’t own this room, in the same way those couples in the restaurant don’t own that table. We can only own a part of something.

The rest of it belongs to Mumbai.

it’s inconvenient, loud, crowded – yes, it is.

But this sense, that anywhere you go, you’re sharing Mumbai with everyone else – it’s an incredibly intimate  feeling.

There is an unspoken acknowledgement in everyone’s eyes: we’re in this together, and strangers don’t really feel like strangers.

It’s a feeling I’ve started to get familiar with. The odd escape may feel great, but sooner or later…I think I’ll want to come back.


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