Bombay – crowd, people falling from narrow local train doors, sweat and sweat shops on Grant Road, the town-‘burb divide, bright lights, apartments. A city where one is strained to find green patches, but water is in abundance – rain, water logging, and sea… Mumbai is a city of contrasts, probably like every other Indian metropolitan. But what is unique here is that the culture changes from the station to the mall hardly 100 metres from the station, from the West to the East. A moment of peace, quiet, and time to oneself is difficult to find. And yet almost every other person staying here hundreds of miles away from home, is lonely. Every face in the crowd travelling to work every morning is struggling to find an existence, an identity, and yet they are happy. Everyone is. Every penny is difficult to earn amidst smart ass Gujjus and rude autorickshaw drivers. A city where almost everyone wants a pound of your flesh and is very, very honest about it. And in spite of the millions people make here, the struggle keeps them grounded. They might own a sea facing apartment in Bandra, but they will still have no qualms eating the rasta khaana at Bandstand. Bombay is a city of businessmen, business, and money. Almost everything one does in this city is an attempt to make those few extra bucks. By hook or by crook.
And then there is Delhi – where there is culture, there are good roads, and there are bad people. Ok, bad is an overstatement, I agree. But there’s something about them that drives me away. No, they are not rude. Far from it in fact. But the money in Delhi comes from years of political power games, huge inherited lands in nearby Punjab and Haryana, and generations of business at Chandani Chowk. So it’s easily available. There’s no struggle. So there is time and intent to show it off too. Yes, there is hardly any struggle and there are hardly any apartment blocks that mark the quintessential middle class existence. And there are students. Hordes of them. Probably the only people in Delhi that mark the existence of the huge middle class. There are markets. In every colony, every locality, every single road. Because Delhi might not “earn” so much on a monthly basis, but spend they do. And how! And Delhi is about clothes. The kinds and at costs one is hard pressed to find in most other cities in India. But if Bombay has the sea and the rains and the huge and happily surviving middle class (that I love by the way. I want to belong to this class for the rest of my life, for the sheer practicality of our existence.), Delhi has Chandani Chowk, where you see the rarest combination of oily aalu parathas and McDonald’s, a church, a temple, a mosque, and a gurudwaara, all surprisingly close to each other.
Yes, I like Delhi. But not enough to spend the rest of my life there. And I love Bombay. But not enough to accept the existential angst and struggle that’s such a part of life in Bombay. I honestly believe that Delhi, Bombay, and Calcutta (even though it finds no place in this post because of the number of years it’s been since I last went there) the only real cities in India. Because of the contrasts. Every other “city” I have lived in/ visited so far are lame, wannabe cousins of these 3. Yes, even Pune. In spite of all my love for it. But that said, I would still stick with a wannabe cousin than live in the quintessential big city. Because I am a small town person. Have always been. Will always be.