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15 June 2012

One year in Mumbai, this time

IT’S BEEN a year since I joined Globus Stores and moved back to Mumbai.  In fact, moving to India’s biggest city was one of the main reasons I accepted the new role in Globus.  This city was my welcome mat to Indian in 2005, the place of my happiest memories of adapting into a new, chaotic world and building lasting friendships.  When I moved to the sedate Kolkata in 2007, I didn’t realize how much I would miss Mumbai’s sense of self and camaraderie.

I also didn’t realize how much Mumbai changed—or didn’t change—in the four years since I left it. Some things remain: it’s still India’s richest, most populous city—the fourth most populous city in the world in fact, with the highest GDP of any city in this part of the world. But beneath all these commercial realities lies a new truth that has shaken me this past year: Mumbai no longer gives the pleasures of easy living.

Acquiring basics, from finding a flat to live in to paying bills offline, has become a struggle through bureaucratic process. Living standards have become costly—the most inexpensive, palatable lunch can cost five dollars.  I’ve stopped checking receipts when dining in restaurants, since I used to get frantic at the several rows of taxes at the bottom.  In fact, I’ve stopped going to fancy restaurants.  (If one thing hasn’t changed in Mumbai, its culinary scene is bland, anyway.)

Roads have not at all improved.  While New Delhi, Bengaluru, and even Kolkata pride themselves in showcasing brand-new flyovers, highways, and circumferential roads, Mumbai seems to pride itself in showcasing brand-new potholes and busier old roads.  I dread the onset of the monsoon season.  The days will again be filled with roller-coaster rides to the office.  And you think Kolkata has problems with drainage?  Watch Mumbai's western suburbs as it rains.

Mumbai’s citizens seem to have given up on all these.  I can see why.  For all of the city’s up-and-down movements toward madness, Mumbai remains the only city in India that knits its cosmopolitan communities together with positively grounded reality. The people—probably the most diverse mix in all of India—remain stubbornly friendly, helpful . . . and hopeful. 

That last bit—hope—drives the dreams, passions, and energies in Mumbai, and propels them forward through the frenzies of daily living. It might even be the reason why the country’s film and banking industries chose to stay here.  Hope lies at the the heart of Mumbai, hard to find anywhere else in this country.

Beyond the obvious need to work and serve humanity, maybe there’s a deeper reason I chose to return to this city, and maybe I haven’t found that reason yet.  In the meantime, I look forward to another year of madness and positive energy in Mumbai.  And roller-coaster rides to the office.

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