For the love of Bombay

About a year ago, I was studying at a reputed media institute in Pune. As a class, we were a mix of people from all over India, and even abroad, living in the uneasy harmony and exaggerated friendship of people living away from home. I thought things were quite ok, actually. Until the day a few of my classmates voiced their opinion about Bombay.

"Bombayiites as so stuck-up", one said, "There's nothing down-to-earth about them."
"Yeah" agreed another, "And the city is so confusing, you don't know if you're coming or going - there aren't any signboards to tell you where you are!"
"Seriously, man" quipped a third, "I can't stand that city - it's so... wannabe!"

I agree. There's nothing down-to-earth about Bombayiites. What can be down-to-earth about a group of people living in one-room tenements and shacks, yet dreaming of owning the city? Yes, Bombay is a vile city indeed. It teaches you to dream, and believe in those dreams too. True, often those dreams come crashing down like an illegal construction. But then you pick up the pieces, dream a new dream and move on. Nothing down-to-earth about that.

And it is a wannabe city too. In fact, it's so wannabe you could just cry. Every person in Bombay is a wannabe. Everyone wants to be someone. Preferably someone big, powerful and in Bollywood. But definitely big, in any case. Like dreams, this too is a hunger that feeds the hungry. And like dreams, it never goes away. Time may fade it a bit, but it remains in the hollow of the stomach, edging you on and on along that cowpath of Life. It's like a rollercoaster really - you don't get anywhere as such, but the ride is one hell of an experience.

But what really sets Bombay apart from all other Indian cities is its ability to make you one of its own. You might have been born and brought up in Bombay, or you might have shifted to the city just six months ago, in search of a job (everyone does, sooner or later). Give it enough time and you become a Bombayiite. You rant about the crowds in buses and trains, and become one of them. You complain about how "those outsiders" are stealing jobs and opportunities from honest, upright Bombayiites like you. You learn to tolerate and accept and not judge too harshly. You visit the sea-face now and then, polish your dreams and get back to reality. And your religion, caste, creed, language and personal beliefs all simply blend into the greater truth of the city itself. And you love it - because you certainly can't leave it.

To cut a long story short, yes, I come from a wannabe city where no one is down-to-earth. I also come from the city everyone wants to be in, a city that sees the most migrations each year, a city (and this is important) where most media aspirants hope to make it big in. And a city where, in most cases, if you look carefully at the signs on shops, you'll notice that the address (and consequently the area) of the shop is neatly written below the shop's name. Failing which, there are always at least a dozen helpful Bombayiites who'll tell you exactly where you are, how to get where you want to go, which bus to take, or the way to the nearest railway station. You just have to stop being stuck-up, and ask.

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