Thursday, 27 November 2008

Mumbai - My City of Dreams

It was only a couple of weeks ago that I sat in the office, across from the Oberoi hotel, beaming with excitement. It seemed to me that finally my wish of returning to Mumbai, my city of dreams, was going to be fulfilled. All organizational issues seemed to have been resolved and the paperwork was apparently nearly complete. I flew out of Mumbai with eager anticipation, to pack my bags and bid adieu to London, my city of bridges.

Today, I am at home in London sitting spellbound by the television coverage of the Mumbai terror attacks. I am feeling violated and vulnerable. It is as though my house has been broken into and ransacked in my absence, and I have to watch from afar as a mere passerby. The office has also informed me that my departure will now not be in the next ten days as I had expected, but is subject to security concerns being alleviated and the firm getting enough comfort that it is safe for me to return to my own city. While I appreciate the thoughtfulness, I am saddened that my watch from afar will probably be prolonged.

Truth be acknowledged, my presence in Mumbai is not going to have even an iota of impact on the current situation or the lives of the inhabitants. I am no anti terrorist expert, nor am I trained in combat and neither am I equipped to handle rescue operations. By the grace of God, my near and dear ones are all safe and sound. So why is the delay of just a few days becoming such an agony for me? Because it is my home that is burning and I want to be there. If not for anything else then to share the pain that the others are going through.

I moved to Mumbai as a teenager about sixteen years ago, having lived all over India and South East Asia. My experiences in each of the places we had lived in were unique, but Mumbai somehow was just different. It was in Mumbai that I first got in touch with my true values and keenest ambitions. The tryst with schooling here honed my leadership skills. My interest in theater developed in this city which is the hotbed of Indian theater. It was Mumbai that became the stepping stone for my career trajectory and lastly it is Mumbai where I found some of my best friends. Mumbai has never come forward to embrace me like a mother for a child. But it has always inspired me to go after what I believe in, and in my quest it has been a silent supporter.

The shores of Worli Seaface have provided me with long walks and a cool breeze, when I needed to clear my head and think clearly. The tea stalls at Churhgate were mid night thirst quenchers after a long and arduous day of play rehearsals. Juhu beach and Chowpatty highlighted the simple pleasures of life, ranging from a road side snack bite, a camel ride or the absolutely gorgeous sun set over the Arabian Sea. And I cannot forget the Mumbai roads – the institution that brought me closer to the street kids (the ones selling small wares and the ones forced into begging) who showed me how despite all odds one can still smile and persevere.

The Taj Mahal hotel is special to me for a number of reasons. Shamiana, the coffee shop was a treat spot for our family for a large part of my childhood. Amongst the most cherished memories I have of the hotel are of an evening a few days before I was to fly out to for my MBA. In front of the Taj, overlooking the sea, two of my closest friends stood by me and expressed their concern over my well being in a foreign land. To be honest, more than anything else, they were worried that I would fall for a Frenchman and be heart broken. So in all candidness they had selected the picturesque spot to lecture me, so that if nothing else, the view would draw me back to Mumbai. (Strangely enough, they are now both settled in the US for good!) It is unbelievable that the same architectural icon that I remember so vividly, and was at just a few days back, has been gutted by a terrorist attack. The burning images of the Taj seem to be movie trailers that I wish I had never seen.

My romance with Bombay and the stories of our rendezvous’ are endless. I can continue to narrate instances and experiences from dawn to dusk. Bombay holds all that is dear to me and it is for that reason that I want to head back and head back soon. In this hour I want to make sure that while the battle has been tough, the dreams that the city held still exist; and the city only perseveres harder to achieve its own dreams and destiny. I want to fly home, home where I belong and I want to fly now.

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