She sucks the life out of you and blows it back with the salty sea breeze. She’s make sure that you stand for at least an hour in half a square inch of space and then sit tight on a cushioned chair for 8 hours every day. She’ll make you wait at signals for 60 seconds and feel like a sloth. And before the signal turns green, you would’ve instantly transformed into a cheetah, leaping forward on its prey by pushing the accelerator with all your strength. She would make you slurp exotic wines and taste the world’s best sushi while hungry infants would look at you from the other side of the glass with eyes that have forgotten when the last meal had touched their lips.
She would make you stand in a queue to offer prayers to your favorite deity and then kick a dog on its face the moment you step outside the temple. She would make you clean your lips with a soft tissue paper after a filling meal and then let you color the road red with your Benarsi paan. She would let you set your foot on a half a kilometer long walkway that is overflowing with beggars, hungry children, disabled persons, and people in need of dire medical attention, to get to the holy shrine where you may ask for God’s blessings for your family. She will let you spend lakhs on a private card game on the festival of lights and also offer you the courage to shoo away your peon when he asks for financial assistance to wed his daughter.
She will give you strength, honesty, courage, faith, and everything that’s noble. But, she will not forget to give you what makes these things noble in the first place. She will give you the best of both worlds since that’s her curse and her boon. She’s a mother, who loves her child dearly and also has the power to remind him who’s in control. She’s a gypsy who attracts people from distant lands and then vanishes in thin air. She has the power to change a lot of things, including your destiny. She never abandons you, but she never owns you completely. For her, you are as good as the next person thinking of her. She willingly accepts all that come to her, and never complains. And then, there are only a handful who ever dare to break free from her spell. For it’s a spell that brings down the mightiest, the wealthiest, and the poorest.
O to break away from here is painful! The one who has kept you close to her, like a mother hugging her child. It’s as difficult as snapping the umbilical cord and leaving your mother behind. She will eventually forget you, for she is busy as never before. But will you ever let her go completely?
Will you ever be able to forget the evenings where you cried your eyes out over a broken relationship and she silently saw you from the corner of her eye? Would you ever let go of the nights that you spent with your friends on noisy bikes while she warranted your safe return home? Would you ever forget that she always fed you, whether it was 3 in the noon or 3 in the night? I’m afraid it’s not that easy.
Breaking away from your mother can never be easy. No, she may not have given you birth, but nonetheless, she’s shaped you to be what you are today. After all, who else does so much for anyone? Yes, she’s your mother. She’s my mother too. There’s no wonder why they gave her that name. Yes, her last name was rather fancy and the new one sounds like its been taken from a 17th century book. Some even say that the new name is just a gimmick to appease the locals. I don’t buy that. I think the new name speaks volumes about what she does for you.
For the elite SoBo’s, she’s a mum. For the middle-class suburban’s, she’s baa. And for those barely hanging onto her from far flung corners of the island city, she’s aai! Bombay was a cool name, no doubt, but it lacked a personality, a certain charisma that only Mumbai can possess.
From the dark alleys that are littered with hand-carts to the halogen-lit flyovers that are packed with never-moving traffic; from a sea that offers solace to lovers while staring at sunsets on Marine Drive, to letting people thrive on the fringes of the literal black joke called Mithi river, Mumbai is full of ironies.
A line from Hotel California, a very famous song by The Eagles, aptly describes Mumbai and its relation with anybody who has ever lived in this crazy city:
Relax, said the night man. We are programmed to receive.
You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave!
If this doesn’t resonate with you, you’ve probably never known the city. But if it does, remember that you may take a (wo)man out of Mumbai, but you can never take Mumbai out of a (wo)man!
In conclusion, ghabru naka! Aani gheun tak, Mumbai ishtyle!