Saturday, May 20, 2017

...and that's how I found love in Bombay.

From my very first tryst with Bombay, I'd felt an unfathomable pull towards it. We had a connect I couldn't describe, though I didn't yet harbour any liking for the city. In fact, the first time I came here in 2014, I had rather disliked Bombay. But I moved here when I got the opportunity, because I wanted to get away from where I'd always been and to take a chance on new things. Little did I know a strange kind of love awaited me here.

On 9th August 2016, I moved to the city with two big bags and a camera. The first thing I did was report to work and complete initial documentation. Then I took the local train to go see one of my closest friends, who for so many weeks had been looking forward to my arrival in the city. I was waiting for her at Khar Road station, and when she spotted me on the bridge, she ran into my arms at lightning speed. In that moment, I knew I'd come to the right place.

We shared endless gossip over an intimate dinner in a nondescript cafe in Khar. At night, we walked along unfamiliar streets, arms entangled, without a care in the world. I couldn't have asked for a warmer welcome in this strange place.

And then, the next day, when I thought things couldn't get much better, I discovered rain, the way Habu discovers fire in my favourite middle school English chapter. Standing under an umbrella on the sidewalk across Flora Fountain, it was like love at first sight, except it wasn't the first time I was experiencing rain, or indeed love.

Everything felt distinctly new. It was different from anything I'd experienced before. I did not even try to rationalise. I was swept away by the deluge before I could understand what I had chanced upon.

The next few weeks went by in a daze. I was on top of the world. I walked along the streets, ate at the most charming cafes in Colaba and Fort, and enjoyed my coffee while the rain drops poured outside. I felt free, content, and not alone for a change. I knew I'd been latched on to this city for good, for I'd finally found a home for my heart.

It has been over 9 months now, and I remain as much in love as I was when I first saw rain. Bombay is so picturesque and romantic in the monsoon, it's like a dream. Some of the most magical pictures I've taken in these 9 months are also of the city drenched in rain. I just can't wait for the first drops to fall this year, so I could pick up my camera once again.

This August also marks one year to the start of this unusual love affair. Now I don't get this excited usually, but this occasion's close to my heart and I would really want to make it large. But, until then, here's to love - and to new beginnings on stranger tides.


Do you love Bombay rains as much as I do? Got a love story to share? I'd love to feature it under a new series I'm starting on my page. Would love to hear from you! :)

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Getaways from Bombay #1: Silvassa (Dadra & Nagar Haveli)

Silvassa is a dusty, sun-kissed town in the westernmost part of India. It is a small town with a permanent population of about a lakh, mostly comprising the indigenous tribes of the Konkan region, while another couple of lakh form its transient population - people who come in from neighbouring states to work and trade.

An industrial and commercial town, Silvassa is the capital of Dadra & Nagar Haveli - an erstwhile Portuguese settlement, now Union Territory of India. It is certainly not your typical tourist getaway, and indeed, is not found on most travellers' itineraries. Must be a rather boring place, eh, not to have been featured on travel guides and by many travel bloggers?


I'm here to tell you Silvassa is the perfect weekend getaway for every kind of traveller. 

A weekend picnic with family, a solo wildlife expedition, or just for a relaxing break from work life - this town will not disappoint. It is an especially easy getaway for people living in Bombay, its neighbouring areas, and anywhere in Gujarat and Rajasthan.
Let me show you the beauty of Silvassa from my camera's lens (and then I'll tell you how to plan).

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Chaos: The spirit of Bombay

“You live in a chawl.”
“No, it's a redevelopment project. It is built in place of a chawl, yes, but it is a housing society now.”
“The people who lived in great numbers in the erstwhile kholis now live by the hordes in tiny flats in your building. Where is the difference? It is still very much the same chawl.”
“Bombay people are accustomed to maximising returns on space, since there is so little living space and so many people vying for it. And my flat is not tiny! It is spread over 500 square feet.”
“And that's not tiny? Oh my poor darling. That's miniscule.”
“You're from Delhi. You won't understand how spacious and posh my apartment is considered in Bombay.”
“You’re from Delhi too. At least you used to be, before you turned into a Bombayite.”
That last part is supposed to be an insult, though I don't quite feel insulted by it. This is how a typical conversation between my mother and I goes over my living situation in Bombay. She insists I live in abject poverty. But I don't get it. I live in a brand new apartment in a decent housing society in a commercial hub of the city. Agreed, over two-fifths of my monthly income disappears in rent, and another one-fifth is spent on food. But I live what in my view is a good life – I eat good food, I enjoy my coffee, and I'm generally much happier than I was back home. And come on, my workplace is only half an hour away from my house. Now, how many Bombay residents can honestly boast of that?

 The quality of your life is judged by how well you're adjusted to your surroundings and how much you like it. I love my house and my location in the city, and I make sure every day I spend here counts for something.
But I understand where my mother's ideas about poverty come from. I've lived in Delhi all my life. I’m used to large open spaces, wide roads, and spacious rooms. And I'm not even speaking as a South Delhi snob – I lived for 20 years in a largely working-class Punjabi colony in a West Delhi suburb. My neighbourhood was populated by lower- and middle-income group families. Yet, there was a sense of spaciousness inherent in public spaces. The kind of narrow roads, rain-washed buildings and overcrowded, tiny spaces I've come to accept in Bombay would be out of place, in fact unimaginable, in Delhi. It takes at least some months of living in this city, along with an open mindset and accommodating nature, to understand and come to appreciate Bombay for all it is.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Setting up a house in Bombay

Having a house of one's own is a dream come true for most people. You have the freedom to set it up the way you want, to roam around in your torn pajamas, to sleep naked under those sheets, to have anyone over without having to answer for it, and to come home every day to something you built for yourself on your own. It is a priceless feeling I wish upon everyone, especially young professionals living away from home. It gives you a taste for independence with a touch of responsibility and discipline. And it teaches you a lot about life, yourself, and the world around you.

Living by yourself isn't all sugar, candies and sunshine though. Once the initial exhilaration of freedom wears off a little, you begin to realise living independently is much more work than you had ever imagined.

When I came to Bombay 5 months ago, I moved around a lot. For the first few days, I lived at the house of a friend, who shared it with his father, grandfather, and male help. They were very nice people: they taught me how to ride the local (that too, from the super-crazy Dadar station), gave me privacy whenever I needed it, fed me simple yet delicious home fare, and greatly eased my transition from a Delhi girl into a Bombay one.

Not wishing to impose on their hospitality for too long, I moved into a Colaba hotel after that with my mother, who was in Bombay for a week to help me find a house in the city (to no avail). By the time she left, I had decided to move in with a friend in Matunga whose roommate was looking for a better living situation. I slept on the sofa-cum-bed in their hall for several days, while the roommate searched for her ideal house in Bandra. It became a pipe-dream for her after some time, and as a result, for me too.

Around the time I was beginning to cry myself to sleep, wondering if I'll ever find a place to live in Bombay, my gabby young broker called one day and chimed, "Madam, I have found the perfect place for you. One look at it, and you'll never go looking for houses again. Trust me on this one!" And so I did. I set up a date with him, took the local to Elphinstone Road, and walked all the way to the busy intersection where he stood waiting for me. We walked to the building - a redevelopment project, no points for guessing - only to find out that the girl who had rented out the house and was looking for a flatmate wasn't home yet. The broker, with no other bright ideas, called her up and thrust the phone in my hands - and that night, I had my first chat with the person I was to share a life with in this city for who knows how many months to come.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Delhi Girl moves to Bombay

In the January of 2014, I first set foot in the city of Bombay. I was met by old rain-washed buildings, new buildings that forced you to squint at the sun, coconut palms lining the roads, and people who guided you with directions like 'woh baju mein jane ka, udhar se right maarne ka, udhari baju mein milega'. I cannot say I was delighted. I was with family, and fortunately, we were in town only for two nights before moving on to Goa. Taking up quarters at a guest house in Dadar East wasn't the best choice, I realise now. But none of us knew anything about Bombay back then, and we unanimously agreed that this city wasn't as good as everyone made it sound.

Fast forward a year: I'd just finished my civil services (main) exam in December and was looking for a break. I told my parents I wanted to take a solo trip to Bombay. Why Bombay? I don't know. I guess I wanted to give the city another chance. I had friends and relatives in the city whom I thought I'd also visit. But my parents would have none of it. They had recently heard some (dubious) stories of strangers breaking into women's hotel rooms in Bombay, and, coupled with their belief that I was still a child at 23, it made for a strict no. But before I could retreat into my corner and sulk, my mother came up with an idea she thought was brilliant - she would accompany me on my holiday to Bombay. (My mother loves to travel as much as I do) And so, we took the Rajdhani on 3rd January 2015 and landed in Bombay, two women a generation apart, each with her own expectations from this city.

During our time here, we took a bus tour of the city and saw the Prince of Wales Museum and the Science Centre. We tried restaurants and cafes around Colaba, relaxed at Girgaum Chowpatty and the Marine Drive, and shopped at the Causeway. We also took a ferry to the Elephanta Caves and spent the day walking in and out of 5th-century caves and watching monkeys and their antics.