Bambai Meri Jaan….
Mumbai , Bombay, Bambai all mean the
same – The metropolis. The city’s name might have changed to Mumbai but if you
hail a cabbie in Masjid, barely few hundred meters from V.T. Station, he is
likely to explain his refusal with ‘Nai. Mein Bambai jaa rahaa hun!….’
Touching the base at V.T. or C.S.T. or
Fountain, (Flora) is still Bambai for him.
I had the privilege of residing in
this city for over 15 years between 1972 and 1995. Each time when I left the
city, I thought it was for good, but the city pulled me back. When you get back
you seamlessly get back to its life and after a while and you even forget you
had ever left the city! Bombay grows on you and that’s it. You would curse its
shortcomings; but would never dare to leave.
The city is an amalgam of experience. Call it what you will; it can only be
experienced but cannot be explained. With multi cultures, multi languages,
multi cuisines all weaving a mosaic of million hopes, the city is really an El
Dorado for immigrants far and wide.
Girls from Kerala without knowing a
word of Hindi come here to take over Nursing in hospitals across the city and
become experts in Bombayya Hindi after only few months. Cooks from Bihar, Taxi
drivers from U.P. have all made Bombay their home adding their spicy dialect to
How does one understand the city? You will never really quite grasp it
completely. It will surprise you each time you try to paraphrase it. If you cut
it open to decipher, it will open into something else adding a surprise of its
It is often referred to as the city that never sleeps; it is certainly true of
most of its people. Either some are partying hard, most working harder to make ends meet, some rehearsing a new play or practicing a new
instrument, playing cards while traveling to work in the suburban train or traveling
from somewhere to somewhere else…
How does one travel in Mumbai? In as
many ways as possible - right from walking miles at a stretch along the
suburban rail lines as people do amidst gallons of water that is Monsoon rains to get to their
place of work; to zip across the city in double fast local trains hanging on to
the overhead strap on one hand and two more necks on the other; to take a
somewhat comfortable journey if you get a seat in the BEST bus otherwise stand
for long time with some heavy shoes crushing your big toe; drive your own car
cursing the traffic while sweating by buckets; to sit in the back of a sleek air-conditioned
Mercedes cruising at 10 kms per hour.
But all of them WILL reach their destination - office, factory, school, market
or whatever, do their work and get back more or less the same way! This happens
throughout the year come rain or shine. Rain will be in sheets of water and
shine will come with buckets of sweat, the only two climates of Bombay through
How does one attempt to get to know Mumbai? The contrasts alone will warrant a
document to note down, leave alone
# No city has made such elaborate
arrangements for homeless to study at night. There are well-lit parks with
toilets and water to drink where you can study, sleep, wakeup,
wash and go across the park for bun maska, kadak chai 24 X 7 and resume
studies; This, in a city where most have no place of their own and perforce
have to sleep in the open. The number of street children who have studied in
such parks and made to top positions and later started their own companies is
legion. Most of them come back to the place for thanks-giving and create more
facilities for new hopefuls. I have seen near Diamond Gardens in Chembur boys
studying late in the night under a lamppost with Municipality providing clean
drinking water from a tap.
# considering the city’s diversity right
from dress to religion, culture to food and what- have- you, it is presumptuous
even to assume there can be any unity at all. It is here Mumbai surprises the
rest of India! In smaller towns, even where a single religion reigns, people
divide themselves in to sub-sects like ant colonies to slug it out and pull
each other down a la frog- in- a- well.
In Mumbai this is unheard of as
most of them have no time for these little politics and games, as life itself
is one fast to-and -fro journey each day. You often get to hear ‘Marnekeliye
vakth nahin’ or ‘Shwas lene ke liye pursath nahin hain’ at
least three or four times a day and it
is indeed true! You are forever traveling, meeting someone and running off to meet a deadline somewhere, there is hardly time for small- time khit-phits.
People criss-cross the city after office hours traveling miles to meet at a
dingy space to practice for a new play for which availability of a place to
stage the play is still uncertain. On
their weekly day off some get up at the crack of dawn and travel to other end
of the city to teach slum children supplying books themselves. Old rich Parsi
ladies used to late night and kitty parties, will stay late night and brave the
December chill to distribute blankets to people sleeping on the footpaths
during shivering winter.
It’s another matter, film stars and high society kids mow down homeless,
sleeping on footpath on their swanky cars with their brashness fortified by few
pegs of Johnny Walker and ‘ Oh- I-know-the Police-Commissioner’ attitude. Or a
girl is raped in train in filmy style. Or a person is murdered during daytime in
the middle of a road by bhailog in
front of non-caring crowd. The city is a bundle of paradox.
Privacy is guarded zealously and there is an unwritten signboard on most
Mumbaikar’s faces that read ‘don’t disturb me!’ ‘ My Neighbor’s business is
none of my business’ is practiced so religiously neighbors living in a flat not
having met each other at all is not uncommon .Most people prefer it that way.
You have parks where apart from regular stone benches for a group or family,
you have single seat for a loner! Loners are a major component of this crowded cosmopolitan
city. Solitude and Mumbai are comrades in arms in a city where people live
cheek by jowl.
# Pickpockets strip you by the time you
take half a breath even as you have your
pocket fully covered; but total strangers
will walk you to safety when you are caught in a neck-deep monsoon rains
lashing the city for days at a stretch. Poorest of the poor and even the
friendly pickpocket ,will feed chai and biskut to an industrialist when his Mercedes breaks down in the
middle of a night as rain water enters
the carburetor. In New Orleans they left a busload of senior citizens to starve
That’s the difference between other
metropolis and Mumbai.
During the serial bombing in Mumbai
in 1992, the whole city was ravaged when concealed bombs ripped through the
city in an hour in half a dozen market places killing scores of people and
maiming many more. Even when the city was traumatized, by late evening so many
people were queuing up in hospitals to donate blood to the injured, the authorities
had to call off the appeal.
How is it for foodies in the city? Idly
and Dosa were basically South Indian
breakfast once, not anymore. For quite a few morning walkers, especially
Gujarathis, a visit to Anand Bhavan in Matunga is a must for delicacies like
Masala Dosa, Medu Vada and Idly with filter coffee after their fast walk in
Five Gardens in Matunga. The rush at Mama Kane by Non-Maharashtrians is seen to
be believed for the Maharastrian breakfast of Pohas and sabudana vadas
for breakfast. In the evenings as commuters walk their way to Churchgate or CST
to catch a local train, it is the Maharashtrian dish Vada Paav. South Indians take cookery classes to learn how to make
Gujarathi dishes like Khandvi, Khamand
If cricket is a religion in the country today, the ABC of cricket lessons start from Sharadashram school under Ramakanth
Achrekar and dozens of clubs in Shivaji
Park, Cross maidan and the various Gymkhanas along the Marine Drive. This is the home of Indian cricket with Bombay
winning record number of Ranji Trophy which can never be matched. This is the
home of all time great cricketer Sachin Tendulkar, and greats in their time
like Sunil Gavaskar, Dilip Vengsarkar and Ajit Wadekar.
Not many know ‘Sunny’ Gavaskar, during the Hindu-Muslim
riots in Mumbai in 1992, stood between a
frenzy blood thirsty mob and a Muslim family who had given up all hopes of
survival. Sunny’s brave and gutsy deed helped the lives of the family. It is a
deed far more menacing than facing some of the fastest bowlers ever and India’s
original ‘Little Master’ intervened without caring for his own life!
As you peel layers of Mumbai you will see little Gujarat, Bengal,Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Punjabs etc
doing their own thing in various layouts of the city. But they are all fiercely
Mumbaikars first due to what the city has done for them.
Gujrathis do their Navarathri,
Parsis their Pateti and Navroz, South Indians celebrate their Pongol and Sankranthi.
But they all become Mumbaikars and celebrate Ganesha at home in street corners,
in mitra mandali in parks and where have you. It is that festival which unites
a Mumbaikar like never before.
What drives a Mumbaikar day in day out, roughing out the long haul in crowded
trains and going through the grind with his uncomplaining attitude for years?
How do the dabbawallas manage to feed half the city carrying a home- cooked
food in a Tiffin carrier using a distribution system that has confounded the
management Gurus so much so they have started similar system in Boston?
When does a citizen turn in to a shock absorber and carry on as if nothing has
happened and carries on her duty without a care or fear that she could be the
next victim of a bomb in a train, market, near a bus stop and travel through
the very same places she has seen a bomb blowing up brains of her friends, relatives or fellow travelers?
This enduring spirit, this ability to look in to the eye of a disaster and
muster enough courage to go on with life is what differentiates a mumbaikar
It is this spirit which will defeat every design of a terrorist no matter how
many attempts he makes. The same spirit will once again defeat the Raj
Thackeray ‘Thamasha’ as it did once to defeat Bala Saheb’s cry to divide the
Sure Bombay like a mega city has mega ills – the filth, the underworld, the
unmanageable population. But these are the results of city fathers who failed
to foresee and plan for city’s growth. But the spirit of Mumbaikar to get on with the
job ‘come what may’ is typical and usually rubs on any newcomer to the city
That is why Mohammed Rafi and Johnny Walker sang ‘Yeh Bambai meri Jaan’ , O.P. Nayyar's song in CID, a picture
directed by Guru Dutt even as early as Fifties. Even today the same spirit
reverberates in the city.