It was early 2000 and Mumbai took me by surprise, for it was nothing like Delhi. I am a Delhi-ite to the core. I am used to loud voices, bling, colourful words, dal makhani, butter chicken, samosas and tikkis. And I was travelling to Mumbai for the first time. In fact, I was flying for the first time. It was a working trip. I was a clueless bird, trying to learn about conferences and seminars and lost in the world of pros. But the idea of seeing Mumbai was an unmissable one.
Dreamland, fantasy world, financial capital and glamour land—for every Delhi-ite Mumbai is a curious case of a cat basking in the sun or should I say a beach. It doesn’t gloat and bloat like Delhi. It doesn’t scream like Delhi but it works to create assets.
Mumbai stands for discipline and money. Mumbai stands for Bollywood and you expect to see the stars walking on the road with their Gucchis and Chanels. I can’t say I was disappointed for the discipline was surely there. But Mumbai is not an ostentatious city. It does not boast of the finance. It does not have lavish endless bungalows. It does not carry the phone numbers of ministers in its pocket (smartphones were yet to invade our lives the way they do now).
The drive from the airport to the conference venue took me past a grand building which the driver told me was ITC Maratha Mumbai. The luxury hotel’s décor has been inspired by the Maratha dynasty and I did get a history lesson. So I asked the driver to take a quick stop to see the lobby. But I was pressed for time. However, I promised myself a quick tour on the way back to the airport. I was going to another interesting city—Hyderabad, I was going to catch a Mumbai to Hyderabad flight later in the week.
But I had two days in Mumbai aka Bombay. Among the many things that surprised me about Mumbai was the fact that I could take public transport in the middle of the night. In those days, Delhi didn’t stay awake at night. Now, of course, jams and horns break the silence of the night. I liked the malls in Mumbai, Delhi was yet to grow here too. I watched the sun set, sitting on the rocks outside Taj Land’s End.
Mumbai has sand and water; Delhi has greens and flowers. I walked around in Bandra, enjoying the anonymity and I hoped to catch a glimpse of the stars for I hadn’t entered the world of lifestyle journalism then. Mumbai has movies, Delhi has politics.
I met people who used the local train, despite earning a few lakhs a month. They didn’t bother about cars, while Delhi thrives on automobiles. I met taxi and rickshaw drivers who returned INR 1 as well! I had dinner at a beach restaurant where the sand and the lights took my breath away. I enjoyed a vada -pav, but didn’t like the smell of this famous street snack. I did miss the Delhi tikki.
I went to the SiddhiVinayak and Mahalakshmi temples and I did not find the push and shove situation here. I went to the Haji Ali and walked around the Gateway of India. I did see the poverty and the apathy. And I didn’t like the air quality; Delhi wasn’t that smoggy then. Between conferences, observations and explorations, two days had passed. It was time to take the flight to the city of Nawabs—Hyderabad. Was it culturally closer to its ostentatious cousin Delhi? But that merits another post.