Minimum City: How I Tried Convincing My Firang Friend that Mumbai is a Great City

Humour

Minimum City: How I Tried Convincing My Firang Friend that Mumbai is a Great City

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

Ah, Mumbai! There’s something about this city that just doesn’t let you feel at home anywhere else in the world. Mainly because you get so used to this school of hard knocks, that after a point you just stop feeling like you deserve comfort. In Gurgaon earlier this year, I truly felt like I wasn’t worthy of the cutting-edge infrastructure and spacious roads.

Yes, even Gurgaon. Even though Mumbai’s warm, tropical weather is best rivalled by the warmth of her people. You ask for a helping hand and you’ll have hordes of Mumbaikars volunteering. Why just the other day, I was escorted off a Virar Fast, without me even wanting to get off.  

In that moment, as I was getting mashed harder than the potato in a batata vada, something snapped. My SkullCandy headphones, worth 10 per cent of my income which I bought using Flipkart Paylater just last week, were now broken, much like my soul. But as a lifelong Mumbaikar, I knew the time was right to channel my inner spirit instead of getting hassled over a pair of headphones. So, I closed my eyes and focused on the Queen’s Necklace and Marine Drive where I’ll never be able to afford a house, the dabbawalas that give us management lessons we happily ignore, and getting a selfie at the I ?Mumbai installation in Juhu after waiting for 30 minutes. Livin’ the dream, isn’t it?

Imagine my horror when a Caucasian tourist who recently visited the city refused to sing paeans to our famed spirit. The fucking nerve! Naturally, as a true-blue Mumbaikar, I took it upon myself to defend the city. I shoved him inside a kaali-peeli, after realising that Uber was charging a surge price, and showed him the glorious BKC, Bandra, and uh, the cooler parts of Colaba.

In Gurgaon earlier this year, I truly felt like I wasn’t worthy of the cutting-edge infrastructure and spacious roads.

My gora friend still didn’t seem to get it. But you can’t really blame him. You see, Mumbai might be a city, but Bombay is a feeling, I told him. (I don’t really know what that means but I’ve swallowed it all these years, so he must too.) A feeling that everyone is equal, one that is evoked only after you realise that you are in a rickshaw, stuck in the same traffic jam for two hours as the CEO of your company in a chauffeur-driven Jaguar.   

Mumbai is a city of dreams – mostly unfulfilled ones, but that’s a given much like the terms and conditions in small print on a gift voucher. So when you look at pictures of Antilia, which appears like three dhoklas stacked on top of one another, covered in the same blue tarpaulin in the rains as the hutments around, you proudly tell your friends what a great equaliser this city is. Only to realise a few hours later that it was fake news. But that’s a secret you will take with you to your grave.

Speaking about big homes and spaces, the Dilliwallas gloat. But to them I ask, what’s the point of the balcony and the verandah when you have to put on a mask to step out and stretch? I’m rather be happy holed up in a one-BHK a little bigger than your bathroom for which I shell out half my income. And really, what’s the point of that sea-facing Bandra house called Mannat anyway, if at the end of day you are going be serving food at a wedding dinner?

You could be an Ambani or a Khan or an average Kulkarni, I tell my alarmed white friend who has been insisting he is no friend of mine, in Mumbai your biggest enemy is the pothole. And no matter what your clout, there is no maneuvering around this menace. Potholes, I feel, are a better ice-breaker than chanting “Sachin, Sachin” at a sports bar.

Potholes, I feel, are a better ice-breaker than chanting “Sachin, Sachin” at a sports bar.

Besides, Mumbai is a city that keeps you grounded – each time it rains, or there’s a Uber or Ola strike, or the rickshawallah refuses to go to Andheri. It’s the city of strugglers, across industries. Perhaps, being a Mumbaikar is knowing that SRK’s horrific death in the first half of Om Shanti Om after being singed in a studio explosion and then being run over by a privileged Bollywood star’s car, is still far less painful than the slow death his aspirations would have died had he continued struggling in Mumbai. Because as a Mumbaikar, you know the real reason they call it “the city that never sleeps” is because the sidewalks are paved with the broken dreams of those who didn’t make it. But hey, Caucasian friend, our footpaths are safer than those in Delhi and our homeless don’t fall prey to the cold.

Mumbai isn’t a city that never sleeps. It’s a city that wakes you up… to harsh truths, mainly. And most of us are happy believing the lie that the unrealistic cost of living in this city is worth the abysmal quality of life we’re afforded.

I was telling my friend how safe this city is, when he told me about the hustlers at Colaba. I was telling him about the traffic in Bangalore, when he pointed out that we were stuck in the same narrow lane for the past 30 minutes. It didn’t seem to matter, because I am a Mumbaikar and I live in the greatest place on Earth: Denial.

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