A girl in a very short skirt and high boots walked down the crowded streets of Dadar nonchalantly. None of the street vendors who were sitting on the road even looked up to see her pass.
This was a scene way back in 1992, which as an outsider visiting the city had fired my imagination. Freedom to live life the way I wanted it seemed to be here in Mumbai. It took me around 15 years since then to finally find my way into this city. But when I came here I saw a city which was fraying at the edges and its people edgy and guarded. The riots of 1992 and a series of disasters after that had completely changed the fabric of the city. And post the economic boom of the 90s, people started flooding in leading to overcrowding, traffic, too many buildings, chaos, cheating and callousness. Like Elizabeth Gilbert mentions in her book Eat Pray Love, the word that described Mumbai had shifted from ‘carefree’ to ‘struggle’ over these years. That scene and that carefree world is nowhere to be found anymore.
But despite that, Mumbai continues to hold its lure on many people, a pull which only an outsider like me will ever understand. The city still has the innate ability to draw you in, make you dream and virtually spin you around till it decides that it’s okay with you. The moment the city accepts you, it lets you be and lets you find your own warm corner or space.
And in the daily chaos and humdrum of regular life, you can still find hidden the warmth and remnants of a carefree life. A taxi driver who at 2 am will take the straight route to your home and quietly wake you up on reaching the destination; a guy who will continue to hold his girlfriend’s hand standing by the door till the train picks up speed; an old man who will buy a packet of Parle G everyday and feed the society dogs; a commuter who hurrying to catch a train stops to make sure that the tiny kitten is out of harm’s way; five hands that reaches out to pull the person trying to board a running train; or an auto wala who will defy the strike and backlash to ferry somebody in dire need.
One evening, I was waiting for the three young girls dressed in salwar kurta to get down from the auto. It was apparent that they were excited about something. After I sat down, one of them shyly told the auto driver to give her a call. A quick exchange of phone numbers and names happened post which they went away giggling.
I smiled to myself thinking of a possible romance unfolding. In a seemingly unfeeling city, perhaps all is not really lost.