Bombay- Wander, Wonder, Surrender.
It has earned the sobriquet of “Maximum City”
They call it the “City That Never Sleeps”
And it has been veritably dubbed the “City of Dreams”
And they are all correct.
India’s commercial and economic powerhouse, every bootstrapper’s destination de reve, and India’s glamour capital, Mumbai or, as yours-truly prefers it, Bombay, is a coruscating kaleidoscope of colonial landmarks ,understated glory ,culinary delights and dubious honours.
The city’s skyline is outnumbered by skyscrapers, whose coronae mingle with the cumulonimbus, each of them trying to outwit the other.
The beaches seamlessly blend into the humungous milieu of tourists, locals, kids and honeymooners.
The Gateway of India, is more than a landmark, it is the visage of honour and pride.
There are swanky malls, swankier cars and glitzy apartments, all of which house only about 20 percent of its dwellers.
You can treat your taste-buds at any roadside vada-pav stall or trick them into emptying your pockets at Yuuka or Olive Bar.
The sea, that stretches from the grandeur of the Taj, to the secrecy of naval base and into the mystic Elephanta caves, captures your fancy like a dream catcher.
The sheer resplendence of the Jehangir Art Gallery, Hanging Gardens and the Prince of Wales Museum, is mind boggling
The grace and unparalleled charm of the Lavni, is guaranteed to arrest your senses in femtos.
The local trains that ply from the heart of the city to its farthest corners carry people and hopes in equal numbers.
The thread of devotion that runs deep through the kilometre long crowds at Siddhivinayak, and Haji Ali is unbroken and resolute.
The majestic Taj stands testimony to the prestige, and the blows of 26/11, irrefutable and proud, as ever.
The night-lights at Marine Drive (famously called Queen’s Necklace), would put a constellation to shame.
The panoramic view from the Bandra Worli sea link is breathtaking.
Posh, star-studded, and overflowing with pizzazz, the city of dreams never disappoints you.
Even the loneliest of winter mornings are punctuated by the shuffle of dabbawallas ferrying meals and auto rickshaws brimming with late workers.
That is where a tourist’s account ends and a traveller’s begins.
When all the razzle-dazzle wears off, and resfeber is superseded by fernweh, the wanderess in me soars to life and glances at Bombay with my rose tinted glasses. And I find a city whose subtle dynamism unhinges me, and makes me stop and stare. For all I know, Bombay is an elusive bequiz. You may hear it sigh, you may feel it throbbing, you may nudge its raw nerve, yet its pace evades your senses. Bombay belongs to its denizens, it thrives on their opulent dreams, and gives them back their due. Whether it is the locals or the immigrants, it owes its identity to both. A city, where squalor and glamor coexist in symbiosis.It has embraced the very extremes of the paradigm. It is home to Asia’s largest slum, Dharavi (“Slumbai”) and it is India’s answer to Manhattan, and Hollywood as well. It belongs to both the purist Shiv Sena and the quaint Parsi community. It is closest you can get to “Vasudhaiv Kutumbakam”. The chai and vada pav stalls and the swanky Phoenix and Westin, both claim their leverage to the city. Whether it is the billionaires at Antilia or the street urchins at the traffic light, Bombay has witnessed their woes.Whether it is a thought provoking theatre play or a money spinning blockbuster, they look up to the city as their muse. Terrorists, dons and gold diggers have repeatedly mauled the city and ripped its soul to shreds, but the city has never been unforgiving to a newcomer. It nurtures nubile dreams, and writes off seasoned players. It has seen the grit before it turned to glitz, and seen gold turn to dust. It is neither unsettled by glamour, nor fazed by poverty. It infuses into you a sense of belonging, you never knew you could forge with a city bedridden with gilded temptations . Truth be told, whether you are commoner or a celebrity , once you arrive here, Bombay seeps into your integuments and claims a part of you.
If Calcutta stands for the amalgamation of the old and new, Bombay vouches for the dichotomy of our fate.
If Delhi represents the India coming-of-age, Bombay represents the steely resolve to claim the crown.
We all have a part of Bombay in ourselves. While a streak of traditionalism and simplicity hues all of us, we all have, more than once, fallen prey to flimsy traps of glamour. A part of us wants to be atop that parabola of fame and money, while a part of us would dearly latch onto the languid pleasure in licking the last bit of vada pav off greasy fingers.
And this brings me back to my rambling wanderlust. For, I landed in Bombay, with bleak expectations, but the city endowed me with a patina of warm indulgence and staggering revelations. The recipe is to wander without a map, get wonderfully lost and surrender to the sublime enchantments of the city at dusk.
And so with a nuance, and a bereft smile, I look away, leaving behind my soul scattered on the Marine Drive and the Prince of Wales Museum, so that, when I come back, I can mingle with Bombay not as a tourist or a traveller, but as a storyteller whose parables transcend time.
Adios, the good old bay.
(Fondly called Bombay)
(Mumbai, what is in a name anyway?) !!