Mumbai has been the 'go-to' city of my life ever since I can remember. As a kid,a Malayali kid to be exact, Mumbai was at first the stopover airport on our annual trips to visit dad ( in the Gulf of course!). Kochi, my hometown did not have an international airport in the first two decades of my life. So any trip by flight had to be routed through Mumbai. That's how the Mumbai airport became the first dot on my map of Mumbai. Perhaps its a legacy of the number of touchdowns on the tarmac of the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport that even today landing in Mumbai feels like homecoming (more than even the Kochi touchdown).
The second dot was perhaps the Juhu beach with its Pav Bhajiwallahs and the garish multicoloured gola stalls. However, the increasing number of dots denoting my increasing familiarity with the city was not the reason I ended up being a Mumbaikar.
Small town living naturally inspires dreamy minds to seek out the big bad city. A place where no one knows you and few care to find out. I guess it is an intrinsic need to see if you can live outside the protective cocoon of home - in a sense a declaration of independence or rather, adulthood. So when I first packed my bags for Pune to study, Mumbai became the natural progression for work. Somehow Delhi was the big, bad city in my mind - Mumbai was like the warm welcoming aunt who took you in and then let you be.
Personally, I think the Cs also were pretty favourable - Climate, Cuisine and Culture - vastly different but comfortingly similar. And Amma had, in that subtle and very practical tone of hers ingrained into me time and again that Delhi was too far - air tickets very expensive and train journeys home could take up the best part of any leave from work.
So there..Sometimes rebellions too become PG-rated. Moving out becomes your personal rebellion but the choice of city based on parents' approval becomes your deference to their wisdom.
In the first heady years, the thrill of living in Mumbai was increased thousand-fold by the new-found independence to stay out late or return home any time, without seeking prior permission. The money in the purse that smelt of hardwork and not dole and most importantly, being treated like an adult without a chaperone around.
That is how Mumbai became the canvas of my life - the heroine of a long-love story - jilted a couple of times, but ever-faithful, ever welcoming. I sought other cities time and again...but returned, sometimes to lick wounds, other times out of choice not desperation.