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.

We walked a lot during that trip. On one such walk around Cuffe Parade, I had a realisation. As a tourist destination, Bombay was beautiful and had a lot to offer in terms of amusement and recreation. But wasn't it the vibrant culture and daily life here that everyone actually talked about? I had hardly seen any of that, cocooned as I was in the flashy southern part of the city where most tourists lived, out of touch with the ground realities of life in Bombay. Wouldn't it be great if I could live in the city for some time and experience its true character first-hand, I wondered. I could perhaps get an internship or a short paid assignment. For a few months, of course, not for the long haul. Just enough time to have an interesting experience and then return to the home planet up north. Because that's where I belong, I always have.

But little did I know such a tiny, fleeting thought would sow the seeds for life-altering decisions that would bring me all the way to Bombay in search of a fresh start and a new sense of belonging.


While appearing for the civil services exam, I had also, like all aspirants, filled out another government service exam for back-up. But the latter got postponed by a few months and I forgot all about it, because I had no plans to join a lesser service anyway. And then one day, in October 2014, while I was neck-deep in my books and notes, my mother called and said that that long-forgotten exam had been scheduled for the next day and I had to go. I refused point blank. I did not want to be distracted from my exam preparation. But no one has ever won an argument with a mother. And so, I was dragged the next morning to a godforsaken corner of Delhi to sit for an exam I did not even know the format or syllabus for.

As luck would have it, I cleared the first stage. But when the dates for the second stage came out in early 2015, I refused to go again, because I was hopeful of making it to the interview round in my main exam. But mother dearest stepped in yet again, and I found myself sitting on a primary school bench too small for my butt, writing an exam I was least inclined towards. It came as a minor surprise then, when the results were announced and I learned I had made it through that stage as well. This whole thing was clearly out of my hands. I had nothing to do with anything that was happening. So when the interview call came, I knew there was no point arguing, and I went up there and made a total fool of myself before a panel of five very learned people. I was sure I had screwed up big this time. But a few months later, an envelope came in the mail with my offer letter for an executive job with the Government of India. Where would I be working? Your guess is as good as mine was.

Jump to mid-2016: I was packing up my summer clothes, books and knick-knacks, ready to make a move to the city they called 'aamchi Mumbai'. I was moving away from home for the first time, having lived in hostels but never too far from home before. I did not know what to expect, what to look out for. I neither had fixed accommodation nor a confirmed office address in the new city. Everything was uncertain. Everything was exciting.

I landed in Bombay on the morning of 9th August, 2016, with two suitcases in tow and a camera bag across my shoulder. I moved into my friend's house, joined office, and learned to travel on the local train the same day. And thus began the journey of a Delhi Girl on the streets and tracks of Bombay, snaking through the city that never sleeps and never lets you sleep.

While I am not the first or even the last girl from Delhi to move to Bombay, I hope my stories will speak to an entire generation of people who live or have ever lived in the city. Bombay isn't a place, it is an affair - an experience beyond all ideas of beauty and peace, love and loss. It's a roller-coaster ride I've hopped on to, and I'm going to hold on for dear life and savour each day as it comes.

Keep watching this space as I take you along on my journey. Till then, keep living and keep loving!