Bengali Fresher Meets Mumbai Pro
chillibreeze writer — Nafisa Islam
We are featuring the newly released Mini Namaskar eBook in place of our Mumbai Expat Guide.
Read more about the ebook.
As an opinionated and headstrong person, I have always been quick to form a certain notion about a place or person and have been eventually proved wrong! To make things worse, I am a Bengali from Kolkata, known for their so-called “hung up on the past glory” attitude and knack of forming groups in just about any place.
This perception not only circulates among people but you also read them in various articles on the internet, magazines, and of course blogs and chain mails. However, reality may be completely different but I am no expert on that. After all, when I meet another Bengali, in spite of my best efforts I do sometimes break into my native language especially when I need that extra gossip to brighten up my day. Let’s face it, even at work on many occasions things have been simpler because of the “Bong Connection”. Personally, everything said and done, Bengalis have their idiosyncrasies but if you venture beyond that, Bengalis are a warm and approachable lot. And that’s true about Mumbai and its people as well.
My tryst with Mumbai began in 2005 when I went from Pune (where I was pursuing my post graduation) to work with a news channel. The first impression of the city was horrifying. I was not new to the dirt scattered around or the stench which is a common affair in Kolkata as well. It was the sheer volume of the population that I saw on the VT platform. The Bengali in me kept screaming in my head “What were you thinking leaving Kolkata for this place? Delhi was a better option you fool!” At this point I should tell you that I was an intern with a news channel in Delhi for three months – a stint I thoroughly enjoyed. I always wanted to go back but as luck would have it, Mumbai it was.
As I slipped inside the yellow and black low level fiat taxi with my brain still screaming at me, I looked around. People with white shirts and Gandhi caps, office goers, young people wearing all sorts of clothes from strapless tops to torn jeans to formal attires, kids playing cricket, couples sharing a quiet moment in the middle of a working day….it was all very intimidating, confusing, and claustrophobic – the cynic in me hated every bit of it.
My perception of the city didn’t change for a long time. With every passing day I hated the city some more. After Pune’s pleasant weather, Mumbai’s humidity was a menace. Auto drivers making that “Ittss” sound to attract passengers was utterly uncivilized. The subtle distinction between the super rich part of the city (read Town) where autos are not allowed and the part with mostly moderate income group (read Bandra onwards) was symbol of capitalism to me. I had used all these instances to initiate in my head what is called a mental block against the city. I was determined never to like Mumbai.
Never say never - that’s what I have been told. In the days to come, I invested all my efforts towards one purpose - to positively loathe the city, convince my family to believe the same, and basically leave. Frequent calls at home gradually helped me achieve the second. However, the nagging uncertainty about the first and the third kept pricking my brain every now and then. A month into my new job, I had to travel from the suburbs to Town daily. While others took the famous yet affordable local trains, the “cultured” Bengali in me refused to even visit the local station once. The result - the same yellow and black taxis that I had earlier found less spacious compared to the legendary Ambassadors back home in Kolkata, were my only mode of transport to work. This was the first though subtle step towards changing my opinion of something that belonged to Mumbai.
As a fresher, you are always in a shoestring budget and I seem to have a special talent for attracting trouble. So eventually, I decided to stay in Bandra, one of the most expensive places in suburban Mumbai. Apart from it being very popular, the perennial hustle bustle of the area kept my spirits going and for that I was ready to shell out more than half of my salary. One good thing was that Bandra was a mix of the rich and the famous as well as the fun loving happy go lucky not so rich population mostly belonging to the Anglo Indian community much like Kolkata. Affordable restaurants in the area attracted friends regularly to my house and that for sometime took my mind off the battle I was fighting with Mumbai.
While work pressure was building up resulting in long working hours, after going around the vast stretches of the city in search of news, and staggering back home only to find a party in progress instead, literally everyday would have in normal circumstances driven me insane. But surprisingly it didn’t. In fact, I must admit here that I enjoyed it thoroughly. It was more like a candy being offered to a child for finishing her homework. I would in the middle of all this sit back and think how work had taken me to cover a glitzy press conference with the presence of the who’s who of the to some obscure corner of the city in search of a story about how mangroves were being destroyed to finally this mad gathering of friends, all on the same day. Where is this possible but Mumbai?
Coming back, these diversions would eventually leave all of us hungry and too tired to cook. So we would end up going to the local station and what do the most bizarre- gorge on boiled eggs and tea or coffee from mobile vendors, mobile as they would travel the city on their bicycle selling these goodies. I loved this new found work-hard-party-harder attitude in me not realizing that’s what most Mumbaikars do. I too was becoming just like them.
Weekends slowly changed from just buying grocery and watching TV to meeting friends for breakfast by the sea on Carter Road to watching movies in cheap theatres like Glamour or Gem for fun to Chai in Prithvi Theatres just before watching a play. To change the taste a bit a quick ride to Marine Drive to have strawberries with cream at Bachelors or simply a visit to the dog park near jogger’s park in Bandra would do the trick for me. I would be surrounded by friends, acquaintances and colleagues almost all day long. Yet I never missed the space that I had so dearly valued earlier. I was changing and I was changing fast. The same congested city was turning into a world that I was a part of just like everybody else. The world I once hated.
Life throws surprises at you when you least expect them. Just when I was absorbing the lively spirit of Mumbai (this I insist in spite of the unfortunate Mumbai blasts that I had witnessed and covered), Delhi came calling. I remembered how eagerly I was waiting for this opportunity even during my stay in Mumbai and it had finally arrived. I grabbed it. While I watched the packers carefully pack each of my belongings, I felt they were packing parts of my experience of the city and my life there. However, I still managed to be the I-know-it all self and reminded myself that it’s all about adapting oneself to an environment and that I would soon forget, all along not admitting once that I loved Mumbai.
I did eventually when I saw Mumbai from my window in the flight travelling to Delhi at six in the morning looking at the Dharavi slums and then the high rises of Marine Drive against the sun rising , feeling sad that I will never again wake up to the smell of Mumbai like I did yesterday. The haughty la-di-da Bengali had finally met the vivacious unpretentious Mumbaikar.
It’s been three years and I still miss Mumbai.
Editor's note: Most articles submitted to Chillibreeze go through a selection process. Only 30 percent of submitted articles are accepted for publication on the Chillibreeze.com featured article list. All accepted articles are edited and proofread for glaring errors of punctuation and grammar. Sentence structure is changed in certain cases and sometimes, entire sections are rewritten. If you notice any errors that have slipped through the cracks, do let us know! (Email us at info at chillibreeze dot com).
Chillibreeze's disclaimer: This is a contributed article and was published on Chillibreeze in August, 2010. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the views of Chillibreeze as a company. Chillibreeze has a strict anti-plagiarism policy. Please contact us to report any copyright issues related to this article. The relevance of the facts and figures cited (if any) could change after a period of time.
More on Chillibreeze.com
Other popular articles on Chillibreeze:
>> Read more articles written by Chillibreeze writers:
Urgent 24 Hour Editing
Copyright 2004 - 2013 Chillibreeze Solutions Pvt. Ltd.