I landed in Mumbai late at night, but even through the darkness and steamed up windows of my taxi, it felt like a world away from the rest of India. Cramped high rise buildings, bright lights and glamorous billboards lined the expressway, I could have been in one of many large cities of the world.
Mumbai is where modern India crashes directly into traditional India, where rich and poor co-exist next door to each other yet live in completely different worlds. India is constantly called a land of contrasts, nowhere is it more in your face than in Mumbai. Walking down Bandra Bandstand, to one side are multi-million dollar apartments owned by movie stars next to small stalls of fisherman selling their catch for a few rupees. Nowhere else in the world have I seen two more extreme socio-economic groups live as neighbours.
Before arriving in Mumbai this time (this is my fifth visit to Mumbai in my life), I read Suketu Mehta’s book “Maximum City”. It describes many different aspects of Mumbai’s underworld in rich and evocative text, so much so it made me feel a little bit apprehensive about going there but I needn’t have worried. Just in that long drive down to Colaba, in South Mumbai, I instantly felt relaxed and calm. I felt at home.
My first few days in Mumbai were spent in South Mumbai. Unlike other Indian cities, Mumbai seems a lot more British to me, particularly in the South. Beautiful English buildings line the streets of Fort and you feel the colonial presence everywhere… what is missing is India…the India I had seen for 9 months, temples, tombs, palaces, ornate carvings of deities.
Whilst this India does exist in Mumbai, it doesn’t feel like its a part of the central town or daily life like it is elsewhere that I have visited. I guess that’s part of what gives this city its more cosmopolitan feel.. but its more than that. There is a buzz in Mumbai, like big things are happening around you, like you can achieve anything here and you can be yourself.
I certainly feel more relaxed and comfortable in Mumbai then I have anywhere else in India, it is somewhere I feel like I can fit in.
So for now, Maximum City Mumbai it is … but for me… I think I will just call it home.