‘Ee hai Bambai nagariya tu dekh Babua,’ (This is the city of Mumbai, my boy) I crooned to myself as I, along with my family, stepped out of Dadar railway station of Mumbai. That was in 2003 and I was in the city for the first time as we went to visit a relative there. Before that, the city was known to me in those days without internet through glimpses I had of it in Hindi movies, bioscope, postcards of its landmarks and images in newspapers and magazines.
On that visit, I was struck by the city’s skyscrapers, the dizzy heights of which filled me with awe and wonder. No other city in India has them in such heights and numbers! But then the city has sea fronts on its sides. Walking along the breezy Juhu beach and Marine drive relieved me of the dizziness. The atmosphere was relaxing and I promised myself a visit to these spots next time I am in Mumbai.
Mumbai is a city of contrast. The opulence of the billionaires is as much in contrast to the poverty in the slums as the high-rises are to the depth of the Arabian sea. Pomp and splendour coexist with the stench and squalor. Asia’s biggest slum, Dharavy, are there as much as are the castles of industrialists, film stars and cricketer.
But the city welcomes all with a friendly spirit. Ask a taxi driver where he is from. He would probably be from UP or Bihar. The city respects industry and enterprise as also talent in art. If anyone has them, Maya ki nagariya mein Badle jhatpat badle muqaddar ka lekh babuwa (In this city of wealth, writing on one’s destiny changes very quickly), irrespective of who they are and where they are from. Few cities in the world lift one’s destiny the way Mumbai does. There are so many instances of people rising from rags to riches.
The city was a beacon of hope for the educated youth looking for job opportunities. Later IT revolution created jobs in Bangalore, Hyderabad and Chennai and took away much of sheen from Mumbai. But the city still remains a destination for jobs in manufacturing and service as all major industries are headquartered there. Many of my relatives and friends are well settled in the city with jobs, condos, cars and other comforts of life.
The city is overcrowded and space is at a premium. One could see how people squeeze themselves in small compartments, which is not quite living in wretched conditions. They may have willingly embraced this life and are used to it. And who knows some of them might well be living their Mumbai dreams, trying to make it big in some walks of life? We hear stories of people making their beginnings in railway station and footpaths and later becoming successful in music, film, fashion or modelling.
Despite the paucity of space, the citizens of Mumbai zealously protect its green zones and wildlife. Sanjay Gandhi National Park spreads out to a large part of the city and leopards often come into conflict with people living in adjoining areas. Still the support of citizens for the forest and wildlife remains undiminished! Recent movement of Mumbai citizens for protection of Arrey forest is a shining example of their commitment to environment.
I have been to Mumbai many times later for personal and official work. My admiration for the city only grew with those visits and with time watching the way the city responds to situations of celebrations as well as of distress. The city’s legendary resilience enables it to come back to normal life quickly even after very tragic incidents. I had a feel of it when I had to board a train from Mumbai at CST railway station barely a month after 26/11 terror attack.
Trains are the fastest mode of travel in the city. The southern tip where the Gateway of India, Marine Drive and the Taj Palace Hotel are located is relatively calm and less congested. It is the ideal place for tourists to stay and relax with the view of the sea and get refreshed by the breeze from the Arabian sea.
Very often it is only a one-day trip for me to Mumbai and I have to return by the evening flight. Look downward from the flight, the city looks resplendent with lights from streets and high-rise buildings. Surrounded by the sea, the city lights remain concentrated, increasing the brightness of the place at night. I wish that the city retains its virtues and remains bright like this forever. ‘Jai ho Bambai dham ki.’ (Glory to the city of Mumbai.)