This parting is a bitter-sweet one. This is the third time I'm bidding adieu to this city without knowing if I will be back. As a young adult of 22, Mumbai had appeared forebodingly huge to comprehend. But a career as a journalist that took me across the length and breadth of the city set me off on the love-hate relationship. In the span of a year, I had moved from a bare apartment to a small one-room tenement within that span. In hindsight, cunning house-brokers, heartless landlords and how a trainee's salary stretched so much and no more were the biggest takeaways of this time. Food was mostly rasta takeaway- dosas, sandwiches and hot hot oily Indian Chinese and fruit plates - the dishes might not appeal to my palate anymore, but then the pleasure of paying for it with the few rupees that was my honest sweat provide that extra zingggg and taste to the memories. A year and a half later, I left happy - sure in my cocky head that Mumbai is not for me, such big cities were not for small lives.
You never know how much a city has ingratiated itself into you till you leave it. And then, every little chink, every irritation appears minor - trivial even. The chaos of the traffic is forgotten when the memories turn mellow with longing, the ravages of rain and the pocket handkerchief apartments are forgiven. All that remains in the memory is vignettes of the city that allows everyone to claim a piece of it as their own!
I returned in 2005 - no longer cocky, a bit broken- needing a haven to heal. That's when I realised how fortuitous big city living is when all you need is a bit of obscurity, some space from prying souls and time to contemplate and regroup. Big cities let lost souls slip into their cracks and keep them safe and anonymous.
The next time I packed my bags and bid adieu to Mumbai was in 2009. UK was calling and I was once again back on the student mode. I left a happier soul, not worried about where life was taking me. There was a world to conquer out there..sights to be seen, beaches to leave footprints behind on.. I came back to Mumbai this time realising that I was truly in love with the city.
I'd lived for over a year in an amazing beach town of England, but the hustle and bustle of an overcrowded, dirty metropolis lured me back. There were practical considerations but the emotional connect was unmistakeable. I still hate the pocket handkerchief existence..But this city still smells freedom, independence and dignity to me.
I'm forsaking my beloved city again - will the third time perhaps be the final time?? Somewhere the heart sinks...I have cribbed about it, wished to move away where I can stretch my arms and legs and not have to bump into walls or furniture, swore till I was blue when I was stuck in a traffic jam waiting for Ganpatis to walk their way into the sea...I want to believe I will find my way back, time and again to reminisce about the lovely days spent here - just the way you never forget your deep love.
To date, I'm yet to find the city where my heart has set down anchor. I wonder if the vagabond that I am will ever find a place to call home for the rest of my life. But Mumbai - you are under my skin. I shall return..that's a promise!