Mumbai was home for half a year – now I was going to be a tourist.
India’s New York. The city that never sleeps. Resilience. Spirit. Hustle. I’m certain that anyone reading this knows what I’m talking about — ‘Aamchi Mumbai’, of course. The capital of Maharashtra, India’s financial hub, Mumbai is a city riddled with clichés. However, when I got my first job there, straight out of my masters, I was beyond excited. I was sure I’d be living in an uber-chic neighbourhood, I’d love my job, make a lot of friends, and explore everything this metropolis had to offer.
But of course, life never turns out the way you think it will. While I did manage to find a place in an uber-chic neighbourhood, I was paying through my nose for a room that was no bigger than an office cubicle. I hated my job, I was lonely, and constantly sick. I began resenting the sheen, the wealth, the crowd, and even the smells associated with the city. I moved out in 6 months.
However, my boyfriend was in the city, so later that year, I went back to Mumbai for a week. I was between jobs, and had a unique opportunity — to be a tourist in a city I’d lived in. I didn’t go with a planned itinerary — instead, I went back to my old neighbourhood, Bandra. I went back to the restaurants I used to pick up dinner from after a particularly bad day at work, the parks I used to frequent on the weekends, the promenades I took walks on with my boyfriend.
Without the burdens of an unsatisfactory job and a weak immune system, I found a renewed appreciation for Mumbai, for things that had become just a matter of routine. I relished the the food at my favourite Bandra restaurants — the fresh, hearty salads at Bombay Salad Co., the savoury crepes at the celeb-favourite Suzette, or the greasy goodness of the rolls from Mini Punjab.
That’s not to say that I didn’t try new things — I made it a point to step out of my comfort zone during this trip. I was yet to experience Mumbai’s art and culture scene, so I made my way to the Sassoon Dock Art Project, held at, you guessed it, the Sassoon Docks, Colaba. Never much of an art buff, I was still awestruck by the very first installation, on the idea of smell. Giant nylon nets, signifying the native Koli community, were suspended from the ceiling, bearing phrases that invoked the sense of smell, such as ‘a new shirt’, ‘your girlfriend’s neck’, ‘wet garbage’. It truly brought forth the power of this sense to take you back to long-forgotten memories.
Post this unusual experience, I made a visit to the landmark Cafe Mondegar in Colaba for the first time (yes, unbelievably, I hadn’t visited while I was actually living in Mumbai). No doubt, the food was delicious, but what really caught my fancy was the energy, the vibe, and the music in the restaurant — Michael Jackson, The Beatles, George Michael. It was kind of like stepping into a time machine, but not quite – almost a metaphor for the city itself, the presence of old within the new and vice versa.
However, being a creature of habit, what I enjoyed most about Mumbai as a tourist was the little things I took for granted as a resident. Walking along Carter Road in the evenings, munching on roasted corn while watching the waves crash against the rocks at Bandstand, and the close proximity to superstar homes (I walked by Mannat multiple times, but I didn’t catch a glimpse of SRK. Perhaps he doesn’t step out to buy milk or groceries like the rest of us mere mortals)! I even found happiness it the city’s cliches — the constant buzz, the 24×7 activity, the smell of the sea.
It’s then that I came to certain realizations — the truth in another oft-repeated cliche — that even in an expensive city like Mumbai, the best things in life are free (or at least, really cheap). And that, anyone can be a tourist in their own city. All you need is a change in perspective.