Another big year

By any account 2007 was an action packed year, probably the biggest in my life till then. I changed career tracks to consulting, bought my first home, got married, and bought my first car. Phew!

2015 promises to put it to shame, and for very similar reasons. No. I am not getting married again.

But we did buy our second home, I am again changing career tracks, and moving back home to Hyderabad after years. There are several other changes too, which we will talk about in the future. What I want to talk about today is about the move back home.

A few years ago, we moved from Hyderabad to London. And when the time came to move back to India, we had an open mind, sort of. We were open to other cities as well, as long as they were either Bangalore or Pune. So it was only natural that in a few months down the road, we found ourselves in Mumbai – a city I had never ever wanted to even visit and had never gone beyond its filthy, smelly, mismanaged airport.

Mumbai doesn’t make a good first impression.

As the plane touches down, all you see is a sea of blue – not the Arabian Sea, but the plastic sheets on the roofs of the sprawling slum just adjoining the airport. As the final glass door in the airport parts, you feel the waft of hot, moisture laden, stale air, and you think “Uh oh! What the heck have I gotten myself into?”

The ride home does nothing to calm you either. And what’s with these weird concrete tiles in the roads? You realize the slums near the airport are not an oddity and very soon lose count of their numbers. The filth overwhelms you. Almost all the buildings seem to have been built 20 years ago judging by the discoloured paint. The signs are mostly in Marathi and Hindi. You soon realize that for breakfast your options are either poha or vada pav. And that it was futile to attempt to talk to the call-center executives in English, even after you “press 1 for English”. Housing in Mumbai leaves you fuming. You are dependant on real-estate brokers to who you pay a fat fee when you find a good apartment. But it doesn’t end there. Every year when you renew your rental agreement you pay your broker again. This is like the obstetrician who delivered you showing up on your birthday every year demanding to be paid for the service rendered years ago. I could forget about every buying an apartment too. They do have matchbox apartments (Area: 350 sft. No really!) in a decent budget (that would get you a 2BHK in any other city). Then one day you spot an ad 2BHK apartments for 65 lacs only. And the area isn’t too bad, only at the outer fringe of the outer suburb. Look for the fine print, and there it is – “65 lacs down payment, balance on possession”.

No sir. Mumbai does not make a good first impression.

Whether your opinion on the city changes for better largely depends on your answer to a key question. “How much do you love the rains?”

For a monsoon worshipper like me, the first rains of monsoon washed away all the disgust and contempt I had for the city…most of it anyway. I had never seen such torrential, non-stop,  mindbogglinglybeautiful rain. The Mumbai monsoons are a sight.

In the month that follow you tend to think that the waterfall outside is a permanent feature of this world. There is a huge clap of thunder, frightening yet beautiful lightning in the hills at the horizon, and suddenly as you are watching TV, the lights go out. It is at that moment you realize that this was the first time you are experiencing a powercut in all these months, and before the thought sinks in, the lights are back. Not bad! Not bad at all.

Eventually someone turns off the shower and you decide to venture out. Except that your front gate seems to have turned into a portal to Narnia or someplace. The brown hills at the horizon? They are wearing a fresh bright coat of green, and is that a waterfall you spot? No! It’s several waterfalls. In the next few months, you make the most of the bounty of rainfall and visit as many of the hundreds (literally) of weekend getaways around the city. ( For a guy from Hyderabad, this is especially overwhelming.)

Over the past couple of years I have found, and grown accustomed to so many things that are unique to Mumbai and that I will miss in Hyderabad. The abundance of yummy street food, the night life (which I hardly ever too advantage of), the thriving theatre scene, malls with all the brands you can think of, good schoools. But most of all what I love most about Mumbai is that it lets you be ‘you’. If you are a vegan gujju, come right in, we have tonnes of you. Pan chewing UP bhaiya, join your kin (hide when MNS goons come around though), urban working couples? Feel right at home. Hot-likes-to-wear-tinyshorts-girl? Sure, nobody’s going to stare (other than that dude who probably came from Hy.. some other city.

So why are we moving back you ask? Well, sure Mumbai let’s me be me. But what I am, is a Hyderabadi. So home beckons.