To me, home has always been Mumbai. While in college, I remember a friend of mine laughing at me because I had assumed that the Mumbai Central station falls within the Central Railway line. Pardon my ignorance for thinking that the word Central really means Central; it actually is a station along the Western Railway line. So what if I was not aware of some of the best restaurants along Masjid where the city’s best biryani was served? Mumbai is still home to me. Coming back here has always been accompanied with a sense of belonging. I could stay away for years and yet come back to the familiar hustle-bustle, the fast-paced no-time-for-anyone crowds, and the callous yet expected attitudes of the multitudes around me and settle right in. Sure, the first couple of weeks would be a jumble of complaints and never-ending criticisms, but then I would eventually ease into the familiar knowledge of how things work. Every city, every country has these know-hows. You just have to know how to work the ropes.
Over the years though, these city specific eccentricities have become a part and parcel of daily life. So much so, that there are things we take for granted, or things we have long stopped caring about. A recent conversation with three other fellow joinees at this new job of mine, opened up an interesting mine of observations. While waiting for our trainer, the four of us got into an ice-breaker conversation exchanging work histories and personal pleasantries. As it turned out, I and another guy, Umesh, were the only ones who had been in Mumbai for most of our lives. For Aditya, it was his first stint in Mumbai, having been in Gurgaon most of his life, except for a short four years at Mysore. For the other guy, Srinivas, Orissa had been home all these years. This is how the conversation goes once we get beyond introductions and other pleasantries.
Aditya: “This is my first week here and I have noticed that everyone is so unfriendly.”
Srinivas: “I swear man, I was always told Mumbai is this, Mumbai is that. All show-baazi and awesome friendly city and everything. City of dreams kind of thing. But this doesn’t seem to be anything of that sort.”
Me: Why? What makes you say that?
Srinivas: People are so busy here all the time. 24 x 7 they seem to be busy. No time even to smile at others.
Aditya: Yeah, I have been here for one week. Am still trying to settle down both from the personal and professional front. At work, I am trying to get access to the systems – no one wants to answer any questions or even entertain my questions. Everyone just keeps sending me from one person to the other. The only thing they say is ‘I’m busy right now. Come later’.
Srinivas (excitedly turns to Aditya): The other day I dropped my pen. Before I could pick it up, someone picked it up and handed it to me. I started to say ‘Thank You’. But by the time I got to ‘You’, the person had already gone. How come everyone’s always in a hurry?
Aditya: And I am trying to find a place that I can move to. A roommate arrangement kind of a thing. People at work just tell me – go post ads, do it online, your work site should have a bulletin board where you can post such ads. But people don’t want to interact face-to-face. I call the real estate agent – those guy talk to you for 30 seconds and put you on hold for 30 minutes. In that time, they will answer 30 other phone calls or their mobiles or other land lines. I can hear entire conversations. And they last for 10 seconds. No courtesy. No time for a hello either. Just bark into the phone, talk and slam the phones down.
Srinivas: You try to talk to someone, they have a train to catch. They need to get to the cab in time. They have some work they are running to. People back home are usually much slower. And they seem to be so much calmer and peaceful. And, they smile. Why is everyone always so impatient?
I have no answers.
And then, as I walk back from work to the railway station later that evening, I see people striding along. Some talking on their phones, some texting. A large majority with earphones swinging around their necks. Even as vehicles whoosh past them, none of them break their stride, they stare straight ahead and walk mum. And suddenly the conversation replays itself in my mind. I wonder what they are thinking, I wonder what the hurry is? If you aren’t originally a Mumbaiite but you’ve been to Mumbai, is this how you see Mumbai too?
What have your experiences in this city been like?
I remember taking a trip to Sikkim and coming back amazed at the way every auto-rickshaw driver, every vegetable seller, even people walking on the streets would smile at you or wave while you pass. It was a very different feeling, one that stayed with me for a long time. And then I see us, like automatons – performing a task like we’ve been forced to do it. I am equally as guilty. I love brisk walks and even as I walk from my house to the railway station or from the railway station to work, I try to maintain my pace and keep walking. I fret when I cannot balance work with reading, blogging, catching up with friends, emailing people, downloading and uploading pictures and a bunch of other household tasks. But I am no superhuman. And maybe it’s OK to slow down every once in a while. Stop and smell the roses. Well, not literally. There are no rose shrubs along my route, and construction sites don’t smell so good. But you get the point.
Life’s no fun if we don’t look around and soak it all in. There’s so much more to life than performing daily functions by rote. Breathe in. Breathe out. Take it slow. Pause. Smile. More.
I would love to hear your views!