During my recent trip to India, it was work, work, work all the way. Well, almost.
It’s up to us to ensure that life is balanced after all, so I deliberately carved time out for other activities. Therefore, all that work didn’t keep me from a wee, little bit of fun. Or some serious shopping. Or a couple of loud and impassioned political diatribes with friends and family (they’ll never invite those again!). Or the payment of some weighty debts.
Those debts are interesting, to say the least.
And it hasn’t really stopped coming through. At the end of the day, it’s really what you believe, isn’t it?
For being such a frequented destination for some in Bombay – there’s always a line of people waiting to enter – the temple itself is a very modest, peaceful dwelling adjoining a neighborhood park and an ode to Hanuman. It has no doors, just thousands of bells of all sizes hanging all over its ceiling and pillars, bells that have been contributed by (I assume) gratified devotees over the years.
The Hindu god, Hanuman is known for, among many other things, being the repository of incomparable strength and the one capable of liberating (mere mortals too) from dangers.
Well, my debts to this Hanuman had been piling up over several months, from earlier visits that I had paid to the temple, mostly from when I was a temporary resident and expat in Mumbai.
So much so that on the one free Saturday that I had in Mumbai recently, I set off to “my” temple again.
But before I got there, I had to make a crucial stop – to purchase the bells that I would deliver there, with much gratitude. Yes, that’s “bells“. In plural. Not one or two, but six of them in all. That’s right, six. One for each fulfilled wish made on behalf of important people in my life (uh, that includes one for moi).
And, here’s the most curious thing of all…I am not (by any means) a religious person. I’m really not. But I do like to pay my debts, real or imagined. Who doesn’t?
And in that moment, with the liberating feeling of having satisfied these past obligations of mine, I completely missed invoking any new wishes or desires at the temple.
Now, I’m rather glad that I restrained myself. No sense in getting too greedy so soon. There’s time enough for new aspirations to be gathered up for another visit. Isn’t there?
A “Standout City” – frankly, this is a topic that can be observed and written about any place. However, with my new life in India and Mumbai, my head is so often spinning with what I see and experience that are both different and unique.
These then are some of the things about Mumbai that standout for me – the good, bad and ugly or more appropriately, the yin and yang. Some of them make me glad – and is probably why this city is quickly growing on me and becoming my second home, so to speak. Some of them move me in a different way – for the sad state of the city, when things can be so much better, with the right leadership, vision and mission.
1. The People
This is the largest metro in India and one of the largest in the world. Yet unlike other large cities in the world, there is a warmth and hospitality you find in the people here that is intrinsic and unbeatable. Who would’ve thought? I’ve been able to write one post just on this topic. After visiting many places around the world and around India, I can’t say that this quality stands out for me elsewhere like it does here. Yes, this is definitely a standout feature of Mumbai.
2. The Pulse
An ultra fast-paced city made up of very hard-working communities of people, Mumbai’s pulse is untouched by any other city in India, that’s for sure. The energy and frenetic pace can be felt by everyone here – especially on the weekdays. It is a bit muted during the weekends when the city tries to take a well-deserved rest and respite, but usually fails.
3. The Monsoon
Unerringly predictable, Bombay’s monsoon (see these pictures, and these) is welcomed and cherished year after year after year…at the same time annually and spanning a few months. This is the time when the city is cleansed and the much-needed water to support the populous is captured and stored, to be used during the rest of the year. Just as predictably, heavy rain combined with high tides can temporarily paralyze the city, flood the roads and stop the trains. But, at the end of the day, what you remember is the sheer pleasure of cool rains pounding down on scorched earth.
4. The Traffic
What can I say about the insane traffic that has not been said before? It’s chaos, crowded, pandemonium, sheer madness. It’s all of these things, but then it somehow works. Combining something like 600 new vehicles adding to the mess every day, are the taxis and auto-rickshaws that ply the inadequate highways and streets of the city. And, parking? That’s a joke. Here are some mind-numbing numbers. There are some 2 million vehicles navigating the city streets every day (of which 200,000 new ones were added just in the last year!). According to a recent news report, public parking in the entire city is limited to 30,000 cars. So, if you find one, grab it!
5. The Slums
I think I can say conclusively, that nowhere in India are slums as apparent and widespread as in Mumbai. Outside of what you have seen in Slumdog Millionaire or read about in Shantaram (if you have not read this book, go right now and buy it!), here are some staggering truths about these slums – some 55% of the population live in slums but they cover less than 8% of the land; parts of this land, however, are also some of the most expensive real estate in the country. These people are enterprising, hard-working and made up of both locals and migrants. But where are their basic services? Water, power, sewage (forget about it!)… I can write an entire series of posts on Mumbai slums and perhaps I will, but I will stop with this now. However, here’s a good post I found, especially if you want to see some real-life incredible pictures of what slums look like, up close and personal.
6. The Expanse
Like New York, this is an island city and is located on the West coast of India. Seven islands which were fishing communities comprise what is today the city of Mumbai. South Bombay (SoBo) or “the city” was inhabited and built up first by the Portugese and then the British. It actually does have the look of London – with grime (look closely!). Wide tree-lined roads and pavements with long stretches of coastline roads, it’s truly a beauty beneath the grunge. The city has since been extended far and wide – North, East and West with many, many suburbs, each with their own intrinsic qualities and subcultures.
7. The Shopping, Drinking, Eating, Party Experience
Feeling bored with nothing to do? Never in Bombay. There’s always something to do, and some new place to visit, some new restaurant or lounge to try and new people to meet. If you are in Bombay and you are bored, you either have no imagination or you are just feeling sorry for yourself. But no one else will feel sorry for you or that state of mind. Just get out there. Experience. Enjoy. There’s always something to do in this city. So much so that sometimes you just have to stay home and rest.
8. The Entertainment Capital
Home to Bollywood and an established yet burgeoning theater community, Mumbai is the undisputed entertainment capital of the country. India is obsessed with cinema, television and cricket. And at least two of these three have found a home and base in this city. It has therefore become part of the culture and there are signs of Bollywood everywhere you look in the city. What’s even more special here is the theater culture. There are English plays, Hindi plays, imports and experimental theater. So, in a way, there’s something for everyone.
9. The Service Industry
I wrote about this amazing discovery (for me) when I first arrived in Mumbai. Indeed, there is a remarkable service industry that plies the people who live here with all manner of services. People appear to have an inbred ethic to work hard. Very hard. The question to ask is not “what services can you find?”. Rather, the question is whether there are any services that you need that can’t be found here. Unequivocally, no. And, if by chance there is an exception to this rule, just tell someone about it, and lo and behold, if you don’t have someone offering you that service too!
10. The City Never Sleeps
Another post that I had written profiled this city alongside NYC. The mad energy of this city lives on…24×7 you find people out and about, traffic on the streets and sheer movement. Another quality that is not replicated elsewhere in India, and is rare, in fact, in many cities around the world.
If you are a native or current resident of Bombay, you probably have much to add to this list. I know I have missed other standout features of Mumbai like the beaches, Marine Drive, the ports, the location, the financial district, the diamond district, the crazy infrastructure (pot-holes and all), its resilience, people’s industriousness, the Dabbawalas, its cosmopolitan and secular nature and more. Well, I guess that means that this post is just going to have to get a Part Deux someday…
Now, if it’s been awhile since your last visit to the city, or if you have never had the pleasure (and sometimes pain) of a stay here, I hope this has intrigued you enough to give it a try. I promise you won’t be bored.
Flower Seller: By Meena Kadri
Monsoon: By PlaneMad
Carting Bricks: By Greg O’Beirne
Bombay at Night: By Premshree Pillai