A Tale of Two Cities is what I have begun calling my last few days. Between London and Mumbai, the two cities have been hogging my brain span and getting most of my attention. As I sit with a cup of hot tea, staring at the rain pelting on the roof of the neighbouring building, I cannot help but think of how these two cities are so different and yet so similar.
Thanks to the British, Bombay is endowed with beautiful Victorian architecture. From The Gateway of India to Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus (erstwhile Victoria Terminus) to Opera House, there are so many dilapidated examples of brilliant English construction. If one ever visits The Pantry, a quaint café in the alleys of Kala Ghoda, immediately you are transported to London's Shepherd Market.
It had been a couple of years in London when I bumped in to Bing Master at Marks & Spencer. Having not met for a long time as neighbours in Bombay, the chance meeting in London was surreal and we decided to catch up. I do not remember if we went to Shepherd Market, or the now shut Indian restaurant at Piccadilly; but to go back to respective homes we walked to Green Park tube station. His train went north and mine south. As I turned right to go towards my platform he stopped me. He would not let me go till I sang. That was ragging a friend! He did not care. Either I complied or we would both be at the station. It was late and the last tubes would pass by in sometime. My options were limited but my anxiety knew no bounds. He is an accomplished singer, musician and painter. I would only make a fool of myself. But I had to get home, and so I sang an old Hemant Kumar favourite when the demand came for a ballad, and so I croaked out one. Surprisingly he liked the Hemant Kumar rendition and suggested that I learn music. That was then and ten years or more later he still remembers the songs.
I wonder what would have been the memory had the same thing played out in Mumbai. Instead of an empty tube station we would have probably reminisced about a sprawling and smelly platform spotted with people and red Paan spits marks. The comfort of a girl and a guy being seen together late at night would be replaced by miles of distance between us, to ensure no law enforcement agent could have any confusion at any point. In fact I don't think in Mumbai the scene would have played out at all, as the trains run until much later in Mumbai(London tubes are 24/7 only now), alternatively I would have hopped into the relatively more affordable cabs.
The two cosmopolitan giants are the centre of attention of the individual countries they grace. They lure individuals from far and away with dreams of treasures and success. Both can boast of a personality and character that can pale many other global cities. But while one is beheld for its acceptance the other is feared for its rigour. Where one provides opportunities a plenty the other tests every bit of perseverance. And where one invokes inspiration the other can shake an unprepared visitor.
I have lived and worked in both. They are both home to me. Each one of them has contributed to who I am in their own way and so it's only fair that they both get their own space in my thoughts. The tale of my short life so far would be incomplete without either of the two cities. And so a Tale of Two Cities it is - one shining under the skies most often and then other standing tall under grey skies. Only today they have interchanged their usual getups, and so the rain soaked Mumbai has taken me back to London.