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An Expat's Love Letter To Mumbai

An Expat's Love Letter To Mumbai

December 08, 2011

Mumbai's darling: why I belong more to the Maximum City than she belongs to me.

Mumbai meri jaan’ is a phrase Mumbaikars use to describe their affection towards the city. To me, the phrase implies a sort of belittling of Mumbai, an understatement of her swaying charm and destructive power, amounting her to a city like any other where people can go to make their lives.

My experience of Mumbai
is the opposite. Mumbai has created my every impression of her, and made an indelible impression on me.

I’m not alone: all of Mumbai’s people belong to her. She defines our lives in her space; she draws the parallels between beauty and ugliness that inspire and sadden us, bringing out our most selfless and selfish qualities. She will decide our experience of her, and not the other way around.

Mumbai and I are constantly accepting and rejecting of one another in a relationship that is tumultuous but ultimately loving. However, it is definitely Mumbai who wears the pants in our relationship. This idea has been written on by others, some who have likened living in Mumbai to living in an abusive relationship.

I wrote this letter to Mumbai over a year ago
after a long struggle with the visa officials who would choose whether I would come back to India or not. This is my letter of submission, of resignation, of resolve to love Mumbai even when I feel like she rejects me.

*

First off, I will not say 'Mumbai meri jaan,' because we both know that I am yours.

I have been away from you for too long!

You didn't notice when I left; you were preoccupied with other things. At the very moment that I swung my bag into the overhead compartment on a London-bound plane, there were teenage lovers of two different faiths kissing in Phoenix Mills. A man with thin legs and knobbed knees was feeding his peacock-coloured sparrows in Crawford market. In a crumbling colonial building on Marine Drive, a family had gathered to watch as a Brahmin baby took his first steps.

My leaving was no different from these happenings, or anything else happening at the time.

You didn't notice when I left, and you will not remark when I come back
. Anyways, someone is always coming or going from Bombay. How many come and go and stay every day?

You welcome everyone. You don't care what their last name is, how fair-skinned they are, or what scandals are in their family history. You don't care whether they come empty or full, or lost or found, thank goodness! If you discriminated like some places do, most of us would not be able to come at all.

I will come and live out a series of short stories stay in your spaces. Whatever I find to do won't make a mark on you, but you will more than mark me! You will define me. And now I come back to you again, to try my luck at life. Like so many have done and like so many will still do.

They come for money, for protection, for opportunity. An aspiring Bollywood actress will come for a name; a bar dancer for anonymity
. These aspirants and dreamers make no difference to you, but you give each what she or he comes for.

As quickly as they can receive, you give. In hope, in business success, in children, in a small home or an LG TV, in whatever else could be desired or expected or wished for. You, Mumba Devi, are the goddess. But you make us humans feel as though we could do anything! And this is what makes you so powerful. You do not offer equality or even respect, but you do offer hope and opportunity, unlimitedly.

You are so beautiful and give so freely, but, no other place has been known to demand so much.

How many slaps in the face have I taken from you
, from your officers, your people in charge! But I come back to it every time!

I’ve been turned down at the visa office, discouraged at the consulate, stuck at the airport. At times, every force seems to drive me away from you.

So able and fiercely independent, I have never been in a relationship as unfair as ours. And how funny it is that you so encourage and celebrate those qualities in me, and yet push me away so much!

But I am your devoted lover, and I feel that you don't mean it. So I will forgive your hurtful words:

The consular officer, when he said 'You have no option. We cannot grant you a visa on any basis.'

The university, when they said 'It will take a lot of time to gather the committee, maybe next month.'

The FRRO, when they said 'You will have to come back again.’ And again, and again...

I am dedicated to you, and you are passionless towards me.

I say “I love you” and you say “I don't care... but yes, you can stay here.”

You say take it or leave it, and we take it.

I have a lot of hope.

You, Bombay, are not created by your people! They are created by you
. And now that you have beaten everything out of me by not allowing me to come to you, I am an empty cup. And now that you will finally allow me to come to you, I am running towards you like a maniac to drink water.

I will forgive you, and every force that kept me from you. And I will run into your arms.

And this time I am confident that you will receive me, with as much love as I have for you, if even just for a moment... because I (and everyone else in any unfair relationship) live for that moment.

Because the dreams that you offer to me are worth more than any amount of time, money, anguish or difficulty that it takes to get me to you.

Yours faithfully, in love, Bronwyn

18 Comments

  • Writerzblock
    By
    Writerzblock
    15.12.11 07:12 PM
    @ Bronwyn,

    I love your very natural style of writing. This post clearly shows how much you are in love with this force called Mumbai.

    At the outset I will clarify that I am not a Mumbai-fan! I am a die-hard Chennai-ite (And by that I only mean I love the pace of life in Chennai) therefore, quite evidently, Mumbai was a big shock to me. I simply could not stand the rushed life, the crowds, the horrible rains, the eve-teasing on local trains!

    HOWEVER, in the couple of months that I did work there, I can tell you one thing.

    There is something that keeps the city so charged and so vibrant. I have no clue what it is. But it is there alright. It is like a strong magnet, it either attracts or repels, but nothing in-between!
  • vaibhav
    By
    vaibhav
    15.12.11 05:12 PM
    seriously loved it. Knew all that about Mumbai, but still feels good to read
  • Neelam Kamdar Bhamani
    By
    Neelam Kamdar Bhamani
    14.12.11 08:34 PM
    Lovely! It's so nice to read about another's relationship with the city that you are so passionate about. I absolutely loved your style, you bring the city alive. And, literally!!
  • nandini
    By
    nandini
    13.12.11 08:28 PM
    The link was lost - http://youtu.be/HlAOZrst6fQ
  • nandini
    By
    nandini
    13.12.11 08:27 PM
    Great post!

    The iconic song about Bombay "yeh hai Bombay meri jaan" is

  • Guru Prasad (@gurufrequent)
    By
    Guru Prasad (@gurufrequent)
    12.12.11 12:30 PM
    I say “I love you” and you say “I don’t care… but yes, you can stay here."....this line of yours touched my heart as i am true admirer of one-sided love :) :)
  • Richa
    By
    Richa
    12.12.11 10:24 AM
    Mumbai is indeed the city of dreams, but it has become increasingly dirty and filthy to say the least and the people increasingly uncivil. Hardcore Mumbaikars are only trying to cling on that dream gone awry of living in a great city. Do check out my recent blog on my ranting on this!
  • madhav mishra
    By
    madhav mishra
    11.12.11 11:38 PM
    hawwww, i wrote a similar piece about dilli :) same pinch
  • Rajasuya
    By
    Rajasuya
    10.12.11 09:50 PM
    I loved this post..Its totally a heartfelt stuff..Very often I like those stuff which is actually experienced by someone..Well said and written..
  • Jaai Vipra
    By
    Jaai Vipra
    10.12.11 12:09 PM
    This piece says everything I have never been able to articulate about Mumbai. I love how you can get lost here, and how everyone is too busy to bother you.
  • Bronwyn
    By
    Bronwyn
    10.12.11 09:38 AM
    Thank you all so much for your comments!

    @shashi: My feelings are definitely heartfelt :)

    @Shirish: the longer I stay in Mumbai, the less I understand about her. I think that's part of the reason I love the city.

    @Harry: I'm sorry you misunderstood the purpose of this piece. It's meant as a commentary, some of my musings and feelings about the city, and written in metaphors.
    Mumbai is a powerful and beautiful city. I refer to her as Devi because she is named after Mumbai Devi.

    @A Singh: the first place I ever visited in India was Kolkata. I love that city as well.

    @Tys: I agree. I think it takes a little time to become accustomed to Mumbai: she is overstimulating for all of the senses and it takes time to love that about her.

    @Sudhagee: thank you for your heartfelt comment. I am so glad that you were able to identify with this piece.

    @Rahul: thank you :)
  • rahul aggarwal
    By
    rahul aggarwal
    10.12.11 08:30 AM
    everytime i read your post about Mumbai it makes me feel more and more to come and stay there ..

    nicely written...

    regards
    rahul
  • Sudhagee
    By
    Sudhagee
    09.12.11 07:19 PM
    Bronwyn, I loved your article. In my opinion it has captured everything that Mumbai is and isn't. As a resident of Mumbai and someone who loves this city, but not necessarily likes it, I can identify with everything that you have said.
  • tys
    By
    tys
    08.12.11 10:06 PM
    bombay i think is like caviar...one developes a taste for it. the first time i went there, i hated it...the crowd, the noise, the claustrophobic feeling of being crowded by humanity...but the people! I felt a strange connection with its people...they were like the strangers u meet in a hostel who go on to become great friends...

    Theres a charm abt mumbai...but i think its the people, they make bombay what she is....

    But i guess its all perceptions and the angle of observation...
  • A Singh
    By
    A Singh
    08.12.11 09:41 PM
    I love Mumbai - as a visitor, don't live there. I'm an NRI with most family in Delhi and north India. Delhi is the place I can't stand!

    But my favourite city - Kolkata. Would love The NRI to publish an ode to Kolkata
  • HARRY
    By
    HARRY
    08.12.11 09:24 PM
    Dear Bronwyn

    What can I say, You sound like a beaten wife to me in an abusive relatinship on Jerry Spinger.
    She still pretend that she is loved by her man, and that's how love is. Yet you call this unfair relationship.

    Why in gods name mumbai ?. In your article you describe this as your love and a relationship. It's only a city like any other, truth be told I absolutly hate it with passion. I just don't like the place, it's over crouded filthy and it's hell on earth. How can you have love for place like this. I can't unedstand. Every time I come to India and this is my biggest dislike that I have to pass through this place.

    You describe this city as DEVI, Why ?
    there are many great places in India you could have named, and I would have agreed with you but this is not DEVI it's only a place. It is home to 20 million people, but I would never buy one here or live in one.

    I used to live in London and I didn't mind at the time, but I also hate it there as well now, because it's like jungle and I don't belong in it, yet I have my whole family living there too.

    Sorry to say this but, you are like a beaten wife who thinks her husband still loves her, but little she know that, this is not love. I can never understand women like this. why? But you, I am sure can do better any where in the world apart from that place.

    Don't get me wrong I love my country and people, but I hate the place mumbai.
    One thing I will say is, do what ever make you happy and have great life. :)

    HARRY
  • shirish patwa
    By
    shirish patwa
    08.12.11 07:58 PM
    Yes, for non Indian mumbai is a big puzzle.you try to find an answer.who knows whether it is right or wrong?and who bothers? the apathy towards a person is not unique to Mumbai. It is trade mark all over big cities in world.Nonetheless it is a good reading material
  • Shashi
    By
    Shashi
    08.12.11 08:35 AM
    I liked your style and the heartfelt feelings... in this letter to Mumbai... yes, it looks like Mumbai is your jaan... ;-)

    Shashi
    ? ??? ?????
    Om Namah Shivaya

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