Mumbai is a scattered-in-parts, palace of opportunities by the sea, because it is known to fulfill dreams, to fuel ambitions, and also because it provides the means to achieve those goals and aims. Mumbai gives travellers a chance to see it for what it is—in its many forms. A clustering of concrete, a getting together of like-minds, celebrating fashion and films, verve and swing, elaboration and simplicity, everything packed in one—the city does enamor. But is it only for good reasons, or is it just a facade, for behind the scenes abound darker stories? I travelled to Mumbai several times during the year, to understand the intricacies of the city, as a traveller, and what it meant to be in this glamorous and electrifying part of India. Was it truly alluring for travellers and locals, a city where dreams-came-true, or did I sense something hidden and see shades of gray here, as a traveller?
I had some other questions on my mind as I travelled the city. Was the charm of the city still intact through 2014 as it has always been? Is it still a buzzing and alive city that it has always been? I saw the city in its many shades and colours during the entire year. I have tried to answer some of these questions in the following passages.
Journeying through Mumbai
Some metropolitan cities in India either wake one up, and some, could possibly turn one into a dozy traveller or inhabitant. The first impression of Mumbai, however, is a feeling of wakefulness. Therefore, if one comes from a gentle environment or country life, the energy of the city may hit one, sharply, at first, and what was an hour in one’s city, will turn into ten minutes here. I don’t know what happens to hasten time, but it does—figuratively. So one must adapt and quickly. Something electric also flows beneath the city floors and it can transfer itself to a person. One will understand this transition only if one comes from a gentler city—because Mumbai is a driven city. Be it January of December, or any other month of the year—the city maintains its pace—and a lot goes on.
This is also reflected in the industry-driven-nature of the city, where career and personal opportunities are plentiful, and in various spheres. An individual on the basis of merit, skills, and work experience can find a path into independence and abundance here. If one is not-so-ambitious, the atmosphere here might just get to the individual and the person may be propelled to achieve more—even if one is just a traveller—also because maintaining a decent standard of living here is expensive.
From the point of safety for women travellers, there are things to note. Mumbaikars say that Mumbai is a safe city, and in most parts, it is, but there are risks in every city, so one should always be alert and carry a pepper spray along, whatever time of the day it may be. Keeping this in mind, I spent my time here, pacing my visits, with caution. I visited varied sites within the city, including the Gateway of India, temples, and other holy locations, markets in Colaba, and in Linking road; then visited places in Bandra, Juhu and Lokhandwala, finding my way through beaches, shops, malls, the occasional Starbucks, other cafes, eateries, and several other locations. My visits were divided throughout the year, and every trip was a developed narrative on the previous.
A buoyant energy encapsulated me, like the energy of going-about-your-work, and achieve-what-you-can, to the best of your abilities, envelops anyone, roaming the streets. The city can be perplexing and invigorating. A glamorous and inspirational life, on the other hand, is evident at parties, at outdoor events and even in shopping malls. Fashion crazy dwellers, at least within some urban sections of the society, can be seen everywhere; and marketplaces, catering to all segments, seem to enrapture everyone too. Locals enjoy the delicious street food, while, travellers, enjoy the dreamlike ambiance of the city and also its food—Mumbai has it all—and 2014 was no different.
As I travelled from one place to another, in autos and local trains, during the many visits I made there, I gained further perspectives on the pulse of Mumbai as it was in 2014. The city has layers, what you see at first glance, could only be one aspect of life here, a kind-of-covering—a lot more forms the soul of Mumbai. A struggling and endeavoring grips the city, under wraps, or blatantly, as people from all cultures, who live here, go about their work. So, survival is the foremost word here, for the city can be quite high-priced in some areas. There is poverty here too, but in the poor as well, one can find spirit and an effort extraordinary. Therefore, the sheer effort of endurance in this city is immense—even as a traveller, finding a decent place to stay here should be considered one’s good fortune.
For locals, however, Mumbai is a beautiful dwelling place where festivities in the form of the Elephant God’s (Lord Ganesha) auspicious birth celebrations and other festivals become sources of revelry and devotedness. Various visits to the city may help one acclimatize; however, one’s first couple of visits may be a task. The city provides opportunities to those who live here. Whosoever has made a name in the city, like film stars, musicians and many many celebrities from the entertainment and fashion industry, businesspeople and others, have undoubtedly gone through innumerable struggles, before moving on to grander things. Those who were born into well-to-do families, well, they, too, have a lot of stories to tell, because a perfect conflation with the city, and keeping their luxurious lifestyles going, requires courage and tenacity. Travellers too will feel its aftereffects. Mumbai is a fast-moving dream, a live wire, a path into the timeless future and could turn out to be a treasure casket of fortunate opportunities.
As the year comes to an end
Pre-elections, during the start of the year, Mumbai was frenetically driven, chaotic, and as the year comes to an end, especially as the new government launches new projects and changes, Mumbai has settled into a slightly different mood—the city is as materially oriented as ever, but changes are happening—commercially and financially too; the city is fast evolving into a place where a lot more will be accommodated, and where many more individuals and families will be able to shape their destinies. ‘Regular-Mumbai-Chaos will find new and varied outlets’ is the unspoken hope here.
As 2014 progresses into a new year, Mumbai denizens continue to pursue a life the city demands—a life of work, for either survival or for luxury, and then embellishing it with entertainment, cinema, socializing and business-centered efforts, in whatever measure. The city, with its slums, and established and upcoming highrises too, tries to support everyone, provided people make exertions in the right direction. Mumbai, as was in 2014, should also continue taking active strides in the coming years. So if one is planning to travel to Mumbai in the future, one can look forward to experiencing a city that has the capacity to enliven one’s journey through life itself.
Therefore, the answers to my previous questions are clear—although the city had its flaws in 2014, but its strengths overshadowed them. The metropolitan also seems to welcome all those who come here. Not only is Mumbai a live wire, but it offered much to travellers from all parts of the world in the year 2014 and is likely to retain its charm.
Author Website: www.trishabhattacharya.com
Picture Credit: Local Trains of Mumbai by Trisha Bhattacharya