I arrived in Mumbai in the early hours of a hot summer morning in May. Just a few moments after stepping out of the air-conditioned train compartment at Mumbai Central station, two distinctive things had registered into my senses- the stench in the air and the high level of humidity. Welcome to Mumbai!
|Chuski Ice cream Gola at Juhu Beach, Mumbai. I somehow love my expression!|
As I lay awake on my berth the previous night in the train, millions of thoughts and questions had crossed my mind. I was not able to determine how things were going to be. ‘No clue what I am going to see when I step out of the train at Mumbai. No idea how things are going to be. I might just love it all. Or I might simply hate it. I don't know. Everything is uncertain. But I somehow like this feeling- it doesn't happen very often- it's a combination of excitement, nervousness, anxiety and some kind of a very different feeling. This is the kind of adventure I have wanted for so long. I like it.’
Well technically, I was in Mumbai for an internship. More importantly, I was in Mumbai because I wanted to see, live and feel life in this city. I wanted to determine answers to certain very important questions of my life. It’s a quest for self-discovery, I told myself. These were going to be 40 days of adventure.
Hour 1 in the city- Had travelled in the local train.
Day 1 in the city- Had visited the Juhu beach, located my internship location, travelled in the city bus and tried the vada pav, egg pav, gola, travelled in a crowded local and seen a movie at a Mumbai multiplex.
The trip had just begun. ‘Are you going to see everything in Mumbai in a day?’ my friends asked. I was too excited and there was a lot to be seen and done. A lot of experiences were to come. Each new day was going to teach me something new. I was ready for it all, to experience everything the way it comes to me. I wasn’t going to be disappointed with anything because each new experience was indeed a new experience- something to be learnt from, something to be taken home. And so, when one evening later that week, when I was returning from office I couldn’t get out of the local due to the unexpected immense influx of people and got down at the next station and then took the train back in the opposite direction. It was a new experience. I was smiling.
Loads of such experiences added to my memories in the coming weeks. Walking around and discovering Juhu area, taking a ride on the Mumbai metro on the day of its inauguration, experiencing high tides and getting wet at Marine Drive, walking on the sea bed at Carter Road, walking through the streets of Colaba and taking the double decker bus ride for the heck of it, going to Siddhivinayak and not standing in a queue for the darshan, gazing in awe at Mannat and Jalsa and wondering at the wonder that I was separated from big celebs by just a wall and so many more experiences- some of which did and didn’t figure in my checklist.
I have read this so many times in blogs: Travelling is never about the places we visit; it is always about the people we meet. I agree. The best part of my stay in the city was, no doubt, the amazing people I met there.
When you stay with people who live, eat and talk a life that you want to be part of, spending time with them automatically brings on a huge amount of new things to your platter and you love to learn as much as you can from them. I was welcomed home to a PG accommodation by a good friend of mine from the very first days of college, Sanyam, relieving me of the stress to find a good place to stay in the city (after over a month-long futile attempts).
And then there was Sakshi. Very good college friend, my editor (:P) and in the city for an internship herself. (She was later going to help me get through for a short work experience, which would change many things completely- more of it in the next blog entry probably) Just a few hours had passed in Mumbai. A new city that could have been so strange, for which I was too scared and nervous just the previous night in the train, now suddenly felt like home in the company of the friends I have been fond of most for so many years. How many of us are this lucky? Suddenly, the prospect of spending 40 days in the city started feeling so much less daunting. I was already in love with my Mumbai adventure.
|With the two people who before anybody else made me fall in love with Mumbai. Location: Versova Beach, Mumbai|
In the first few days itself, Sanyam and I were both out on late nightouts around Mumbai, he proudly showing me the city he had made his home for the past year, and I trying to live, comprehend and understand life in this fast-paced city. He telling me things about the entertainment industry from a first-hand experienced perspective, I trying to grasp all the knowledge I have been so thirsty for so long and gaping in awe at the so close yet distant Bollywood dream.
You go to somebody’s place looking for accommodation, they provide you one without question because you are a good friend of their friend and they are good enough to even prepare dinner for you on countless occasions, not very usual, is it? You are made to feel at home and promised a place if you plan to come back. New place, great people, what else could I ask for?
On one of the following evenings, as I was having a conversation with one of my flatmates, and on my request he went on to show me his TV episodes, I was awed. I had seen some of those particular episodes long back and remembered his character well, and right now I was sharing a flat with the very same guy. It felt incredible. Over the next few days, we often had dinner together, many times past midnight, at the nearby restaurant and sometimes when he was around my office in the evenings, he would pick me up. When I was leaving, I told him- Do keep me updated with your shoot schedules. It feels amazing to see people I know on TV!
It wasn’t just the people I lived with. Everywhere around the city, I met good people. The guy on the ticket counter at Santacruz station who patiently explained to me how to get a monthly pass made, and the many people in the queue behind me adding suggestions rather than asking me to hurry up; the first auto-rickshaw guy on day 1, who returned two rupees when I paid him 35 and the meter read 33 and all the many guys after that (You don’t expect such acts when you have lived and tolerated Delhi auto-wallahs for so many years); the people standing in a queue outside the railway station to get on the auto, and the auto guy switching the meter on first and then asking where you want to go; the many people at the bus stops who would patiently make you understand which route to take; my colleagues at office who explained to me the local train running details and how not to be confused about which train to board; the co-passengers in the Virar train who helped me get down at Andheri and explained why taking the Borivali train is a safer option; the colleagues at my second place of internship who took me on board and helped me learn even though I was there just for a week; the colleague/friend who dropped me home every evening and answered all my stupid questions patiently even during the shoots on the set; my Creative Director who let me off from work for the last two weeks so I could work in a film set and try and do what I wanted to do; and there were so many more experiences which I seem unable to recall right now.
It started with pav-bhaji. Vada pav, egg pav, channa, baraf gola, sev puri, pani puri, bhel puri, and so much more followed. Seriously, you can just not get done with the street food of Mumbai. They aren’t expensive and they are filling. So many of my evenings were spent having street food from different locations and then skipping dinner because I was too full. You can just not go hungry in this city at any time. Whatever time of the day or night it might be, just look around the corner of your house and you are bound to find something or the other. I had a good number of bun-maska-jam and Irani chai during my stay. Not to forget the idli-sambar that was available 24x7 outside the call centers near our place. And the Jini-vertical-Dosa outside the Mithibai College.
|Jini Dosa in front of Mithibai College|
Then there is Naturals Ice-cream. ‘Try weird flavours’, my friend had instructed. I tried jackfruit and muskmelon- weird for an ice cream flavor, but it tasted too authentic!
Bombay, its ‘aura’ and the Celebrities
I was going through the photos of my trip when I was on the train home two days back. Suddenly a thought- more of a feeling- struck me:
40 days ago I was lying just like this in a train wondering how Mumbai was going to treat me, scared of what lay ahead. And right now, all those 40 days are over. I have left Mumbai, without any idea if I am coming back here soon. Yes, it seemed such a senti-goodbye to a new city while leaving from CST! I mean the place which I saw in so many films and ads, about which I had so many perceptions and ideas, but it was still such a huge mystery- now I have seen it. And that too so much of it in such a short time. The places, the amazing people, the way of life, the trains… What is it about this city that's pulling me towards it so much? What is this ‘mystery’? What is this aura? It's all just so scintillating!
I remember telling a friend once, “Mumbai is one place that probably everyone of us has seen so much of on screen- in TV and films. But still we want to visit it. From more than being a discovery of new places, at least for the film-lovers like us, it is about seeing those places for real”. It wasn’t surprising that I kept looking for the exact place near the sea and rocks where Munnabhai stood in Lage Raho Munnabhai (took a long time to discover and realise that it was Nariman Point), the view of the Bandra-Worli sea link as seen in Jaane Tu...Ya Jaane Na from the Bandra Fort, the iconic view of the Gateway of India and the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel from the Arabian Sea, seeing the bullet marks reminiscent of the 26/11 attack at the Leopold Cafe- all of it.
|On my very last day, went for a solo trip to Colaba. Took the ferry, couldn't have missed out the iconic view|
After about a week in the city, I was out with Sakshi and Sanyam at the nearby CCD around midnight.
“You said Mumbai mein to aate-jaate celebrities dikh jaate hain, mujhe koi kyun nahi dikhe itne dinon mein?” I complained. (You said in Mumbai you spot celebrities every now and then, but I haven’t seen anyone in so many days)
“Turn around. See who is sitting right behind you,” Sakshi told me. I was shocked.
What followed was spotting Achint Kaur, Geeta Kapoor and Rithwik Dhanjani at close quarters within the next few minutes. The casual and behind-the-screen life of celebrities! Soon to follow was spotting Mandira Bedi outside my office, meeting Shashi Kapoor at the Prithvi Theatre Café, spotting Renuka Kunzru from Jaane Tu… Ya Jaane Na at the next table in a pub and spending a full day with Mr.Amitabh Bachchan. But then, that’s for the next blog post.
|Surprise meeting Mr.Shashi Kapoor at Prithvi Theatre Cafe|
When I had arrived in Mumbai, I was carrying a 20-pointer to-do list with me that I had prepared, a 15-pointer list on a McDonalds tissue paper from a good friend in Delhi and a food-to-try list from another good friend who had been to Mumbai earlier. On the last day of my stay in the city, I proudly ticked off the last remaining points from the checklist. In a short time, I had seen varied faces of the city. Some with friends and some on solo day-long walks across various areas. From the posh and frequently celebrity-sighting life of the Western suburbs, to the what-seemed-completely-deserted Wadala area, to the medieval architecture of the town- all different faces of Mumbai.
So many people asked me during my stay, “So how do you like Mumbai?”
“I like it here. The people here are way too good mannered and frankly, it’s a great escape from my present life in Delhi. I love this place.”
"It's the city of dreams after all."
It’s one thing to dream and another thing to live the dream.
Other posts with the Mumbai adventure: