Anyone who visits Mumbai as a tourist will not necessarily get a flavor of this but if you are someone who has stayed there for 3 years (that’s me!) you would be able to walk through the streets like you know them from your previous life. Listed here are some of the things that I miss about Mumbai and I know I might never get to experience them just that way, ever!
Nevertheless, these are not all the things that I miss about Mumbai, but some of them. Walk along.
5. Not the Vada Pav: In spite of traffic woes, Mumbai takes you to some of the best eating places around the city. From luxurious 5-star facilities to the Vada-Pav vendor just around the corner, one can find everything that can satiate hunger pangs here and everywhere in between. Street food is the most accessible item on the road/train stations. Hoards and hoards of street-side stalls of South Indian food (Idli, Meduvada, Dosa, Upma, Uthapam), sandwich (Cheese, Veg, Potato Onion), Pav Bhaji, Sev Puri, Bhel Puri, Paani Puri, Dabeli, fruit chaat, kulfi, samosa, bread pakoda, paalak bhajiya, kanda-batata bhajiya (you get the drill, right?) line up almost every other market. Even if you are stranded somewhere, like in a corporate jungle or a sidewalk of the busiest street you will never stay hungry (I can bet that!!) or even pass by a stall not being tempted to grab a snack.
All my friends from North are, kind of, Vada Pav fans considering its one of the most popular snack from Mumbai or maybe Bhel Puri, but it’s the Bhajiya Pav that totally takes my heart and scores well above the batata (potato) loaded Vada Pav. The edges of the Bhajiya bring in the required crispiness and the mirchi chutney adds that extra zing to the stack stuffed inside the pav, that makes my mouth water like a rabies inflicted dog. Yeah! That’s the absolute favorite when it comes to street food from Mumbai (and I am salivating now!!).
4. Not the night life: I have tasted the night life here in Delhi/Gurgaon that has one of the best pubs in the country, so that really does not excite me anymore. A wanderer that I am at heart, for me a place that lets me be and gives me freedom to express beguiles me way more. Mumbai has a whole lot of places to visit, a whole lot of things to see, a whole lot of people to acquaint but the flavor of it all lies in your ability to be able to float through it all, alone. At any time of the day or night a particular place/street would look almost the same, and not in a derogatory way. It would beat the same heart, I mean.
So Bandra on a peak day or a Ramzan holiday would exude the same kind of charm. Churchgate with its old world architecture would be as easy to transport you to the pages of history on any given day. Carter Road with the salt water smell in the air would make your hair damp just the same, any summer evening. Mohammad Ali Road would be as busy in the afternoon as it would be at 1 a.m. with kebab-scented air filling your nostrils and feasting your appetite. So it’s not just the night that makes a brilliant visit to town, but ANY time of the day is just as exciting, just as involving, just as magical. If you open your heart to the city, it opens its arms to embrace you.
3. Not the Marine Drive: Marine Drive (or the Queen’s Necklace as it is fondly called), the horseshoe boundary to the Arabian Sea makes for the fancy of many who visit Mumbai from elsewhere. For them if they have not visited the Marine Drive, they have possible missed out on knowing Mumbai as much. Or maybe, another landmark, the Gateway of India with a backdrop of The Taj makes for a stupendous view from the sea. Not that I don’t fancy the place myself, but these do not happen to be my most favorite places in the city.
When I imagine Mumbai, the place that flashes before my eyes is the Flora Fountain, now known as Hutatma Chowk. Lined by old world charm buildings built by the British it has an ornate fountain in the middle of the crossroads. The delicately carved figurines, smelling of history and art, make one feel invited. People scurrying away from one end of the road to another like flashes of lights through the lens of a camera; always amazes me! On each of the corner on the sidewalk you can find books being sold by weight rather than the price indicated and you can find some of the best bargains there. A staunch bibliophile’s heaven? Indeed.
2. Not the local transport: No doubt when it comes to local transport, there’s no city better connected than Mumbai (at least from the ones I have visited). From anywhere in Mumbai to anywhere within the city a taxi, an auto, a bus, a double decker is just a raised hand away (not literally though) and of course, the Mumbai local is the life line of the city that never sleeps. Am sure you have heard horror stories about the conditions in the Mumbai local during peak hours. Yes, I was as aghast when they asked me if I had ever traveled in the local. Before I set foot on it for the very first time, a year ago, I was not totally sure what I was in for. A huge big surprise!
I had heard that you’d get stuff on board but what I experienced was way over stuff. In fact it was almost ALL the stuff- yeah, all the stuff that one might need. From hair pins & accessories, tea strainers, torches, plastic bowls and cutlery, toys, t-shirts and lowers, imitation jewelry, books & notebooks/stationery, snacks, fruits, vegetables and fish/prawns, bags and purses to even lingerie , you can get anything there….phew!! I am sure, there’s a whole lot of stuff I have missed listing here, but that’s not the point. The point is how Mumbai makes it so much easier for you especially when it knows life is tough in the metros. The people who sell these items can be anywhere between the age of 10 to 80 and the pride with which they deliver the goods is respect worthy. They work hard, real hard to get meals on their platter in the evening and not one I have ever met who had a frown on their face. Plus you can bargain (to some extent, of course). The best sales people I have ever grappled!
So it’s not always the destination that excites or the medium that sails you through, it’s the journey itself!
1. Not the island: You know that Mumbai is an archipelago of seven islands. Right. It is also the most populated city in the country. One can find a sea of people all around, on the roads, in the markets, in the malls. In fact when I was moving to Mumbai a Mumbaiite friend, who was preparing me for life in the city, described it as a “swamp of floating heads”. That was a scary description, indeed, but when I landed here I found myself lost and lonely among the floating heads. A new city with no one to guide me through it was a bit overwhelming in the beginning. Of course, as time flew, so did I. Made acquaintances I could relate to, zoomed across the city to explore and even before I could realize the city grew on me.
Yes, there are times when one feels lonely here and the island becomes bigger but all one has to do is turn the other way and voila, the carnival is just around the corner. Any time of the day (or night) can be scary because no one really stops to look at you or look after you but on the flip side that makes one stronger and independent. The transition from being an island to a habitant is totally dependent on when and how much one is willing to transport themselves. In a sense, it is kind of liberating.
I don’t remember how and when I fell in love with this city, but I did. In a city that was totally new to me, I made memories I can’t ever depart from. The images of places I visited, the awesome people I met, the friendships that I fostered will stay on forever.
Mumbai was an enigma when I landed there and three years hence, I feel like a piece of my heart stayed back. Yeah…that!
Disclaimer: The pictures in the post belong to the author and may not be used without prior permission under any circumstances.