When you move to Mumbai for the first time, they tell you horrifying stories of how they hated it, enough to make you think that you will hate it as well. They tell you how the city is crowded and humid and how nothing good ever comes of crowds and humidity, and that someone like ‘you’ would never fit in. They tell you that it’s too fast-paced, and people like ‘us’ prefer slow-living and extracting meaning from every moment.
But there is a fair bit that they don’t tell you.
They don’t tell you that you get used to crowds, and how they begin to look familiar, making you less afraid to wander about the streets at weird hours of the day. Fellow runners at 6 am are no longer strangers, and you could’ve sworn you saw the back of Rohan Joshi’s head at that CAA protest.
They don’t tell you that you can feel like you know too many people and no one at all, at the same time. Just when you feel like you’re a nobody in the city, a random intern you worked with for 2 weeks 10 months ago comes up to you at a bar to say hi, and you realize that you’re a somebody.
They don’t tell you that being a nobody also has its perks, especially on Sunday mornings when you have your favourite café all to yourself and can order just one thing and sit in your pajamas reading for hours without the fear of being judged, or worse, displaced by a solitary entrepreneur who clearly has more important work to do.
They don’t tell you that at exactly 5:30 pm, the maska-vaala’s shop across the street will fill with frustrated asset managers and enthusiastic media agents enough to make sure that you don’t get a seat with your equally frustrated and enthusiastic friend, and making friends with the maska-vaala won’t guarantee you anything other than a little extra maska. But that’s definitely worth it.
They don’t tell you that some evenings after work you have to make an excuse to get out of going to drinks because your bank account won’t allow it, and dammit it’s not even the 15th yet. So you wander up to the station at 8 pm on a Friday and grab a 10-rupee samosa-pav to ease the pain, and oh, it does.
They don’t tell you that after a while, you start thinking differently, some may even say you get smarter while handling crises and challenging situations, such as no matter how hard you try, your banana always gets squished in your bag during your morning local ride to the office. So you buy a banana-shaped box to protect it and simultaneously learn how to push through the local to find a spot where you and your banana are both safe.
They especially don’t tell you that when you fall in love with a true-blue Mumbaikar, it feels just like falling in love with the city. The city never tells you that it loves you back, but shows it in soft, subtle ways, that sometimes makes it so hard to keep loving it, and other times makes you feel like everything is just the way it’s supposed to be.
They leave out the part about how there comes a time when you know where every road in a particular area leads, well enough to become a rickshaw driver, and you wonder – is that all there is to this? Has figuring out this magnificent city been reduced to a knowledge of crossroads and chai stalls?
But somewhere you know that this isn’t all there is because you’ll never be the same.