Mumbai, New York, London, Paris, Tokyo
The greatest conglomeration and variety of humans that you can ever imagine to see in one place. Melting pots. Trains are king. Finance. Fashion. Love it or hate it.
So I’ve heard in the last decade. My memories of Mumbai date back to when I was visiting cousins more than a decade ago; the biggest impressions were – being allowed to travel alone at fifteen, the awe-inspiring size of Gateway of India, and my first ever McDonalds visit. So I was rather curious how I’d react to a couple of hours in the city one particular weekend last June. The agenda was to visit cousins (B’s this time around) and hang out at his meeting venue.
I walked into the Taj, lush luxury that’s accompanied by piping music, the smell of cleanliness and the tinkle of glasses. It was easy to settle into the corner of a couch, whip open my book and just wait for B to come back from his meeting. But no, the inner aimless nomad in me would not listen; her insatiable urge to be on her two feet walking somewhere finally won and off she went.
I stepped outside the Taj, into the mid-morning 35-degC heat and set off towards the Asiatic Library. A glorious building from the outside, it seems stuck in time on the inside – with every speck of dust exactly where it has been left ten years ago! I was much impressed with its size and organized sections, and with the students who had their noses in their books in their respective corners. More a study library than a lending one, I couldn’t poke around (unless I wanted to draw attention to myself), but I could settle into a chair and read in relative calm for an hour.
A home-made lunch box in my bag beckoned (family, you gotta love ’em!), and dreaming of lunch by the sea, off I walked to the Gateway a kilometer away. Snaking my way through street vendors and throngs of crowds outside, I went to gawk at the Gateway for a while. There was really nothing much else to do there and I went to have lunch on the parapet overlooking the sea. Half-way through lunch, I retched at the gunk of plastic in the sea and tried hard to protect my lunch box from the dust everywhere else. Lesson learnt – a meal by the water is not a good proposition in India if it is a marked “tourist spot”.
I scurried back into the comfort of the Taj – away from the heat, plastic, dust and crowds and into the arms of the clean white couch. Two hours outside was good for the first time, I thought. Yet, I get a strange feeling that I can’t wait to go back and see so many more things that she has to offer – as much as Mumbai is a study in contrasts that thrive next to each other, her energy is palpable. No, she’s not New York or London or Paris or Tokyo, but she’s Mumbai – and she can be uniquely addictive.