I vividly remember asserting repeatedly when I lived in Baroda for two years after attending college in Pune that I’m a big city girl, and not a small town girl. More than professional and personal satisfaction, what I sought was the security that comes with living in a big city.
Ever since I was a child, I’ve been coming to Mumbai during summer vacations, over the weekends to attend interesting plays and events, and then later to meet friends from college who sought refuge in the big metropolis soon after.
Mumbai, for me, has always been the city that is constantly growing, constantly changing, and constantly challenging. And when you’re 23, challenges are attractive. To combat all the insecurity that developed over the two years spent living in Baroda, I decided to make the big move and arrived in Mumbai 5 months ago.
After having spent considerable amount of time here, I realised that I obsessed over the city. The skylines, the action, the opportunities, and the people. It’s unparalleled. And if you know me, you know how much a few things I hold dear mean to me. And also to what extent I would go to guard them.
That’s what I did for Mumbai too. Anyone who said Mumbai is filthy, cramped, polluted, I came at them with all my might. I defended it despite knowing that there was a lot of truth in what they said. My love saga with Mumbai started to fade when I picked up the book ‘Maximum City’ by Suketu Mehta. In it, he writes about the grandeur of the city 25 years back and even now, the only difference being that what we are now left with is a ruined metropolis.
I started relating to what people were saying about Mumbai more when I rewatched a popular Bollywood movie. Mumbai is one of the characters in the movie and the female lead said, “Mumbai jitni khoobsurat hai, utni sakht bhi hai.” (Mumbai is beautiful, but it is as harsh)
I realised that defending Mumbai didn’t make sense anymore. There’s too much to defend and as a result, Mumbai has very little left to boast about. A day in the life of an average Mumbaikar usually involves traveling for hours on over-packed local trains, battling insane traffic, living in cramped houses, traversing bad roads, dealing with water shortage and endless frustration.
On one such day in the monsoon, I waded through water, dirt, gunk, and smut to get to work in time. Hundreds of fellow samaritans did exactly the same. We pushed each other to get ahead in the line, screamed at each other when it got frustrating to walk through the crowd, and hit the cars and taxis with umbrellas when they blocked roads. It’s not that we don’t understand each other. We do. We do, more than anything. But what we don’t understand, as Mumbaikars, is the collective struggle. Blocked roads, filth everywhere, unimaginable traffic is something we all dread on a daily basis.
But that all of this exists till date is a testament to the fact that what we have mastered, is the struggle. Our tolerance levels match none, and we disguise that tolerance as the infamous “Mumbai spirit”, something that makes residents of Mumbai “Mumbaikars”.
As an outsider, I think the Mumbai spirit is nothing but the conscious ignorance of Mumbaikars. Ignorance of what they deserve, of what they need, and of what they are being given.
For the love of Mumbai and to work towards some change in a city that needs it the most, I now work with a movement called Free A Billion — that aims to bring about legislative changes in the BMC Act to make Mumbai a world-class city. Far be it for me to write this post as a publicity gimmick, I genuinely only want to make Mumbai prosperous.
Every problem that currently exists in Mumbai is a result of bad rules and worse implementation. The BMC Act that governs Mumbai is 130 years old and is a product of the 19th century British rule. Logically and conscientiously, this colonial, archaic act cannot rule the people in the 21st century. And hence, we need to get to the root of the problem to be able to solve it.
Rekindling the ignorance of Mumbaikars, too many people already know that the yearly BMC budget is Rs. 37,000 crore. This budget is higher than that of any other city corporation in Asia and there is no reason why Mumbai cannot become a world-class city. Ignorant minds also blame the regression on population in Mumbai, but little do they realise that population is a good thing – more working hands, more GDP.
What is worrisome is where Mumbai is headed. With the BMC elections right around the corner, this is the only time to come together as lovers of Mumbai to catalyse change. Free A Billion is anchoring the “Swatantra Vote Bank” to bring people together, to vote as one, and to put pressure on the political class to write a new BMC Act that is modern and efficient.
I see no other way to bring back the charm Mumbai had. It cannot be a city of dreams if the power to dream has been taken away from it. And that is what is happening. It has been ruined by politics, by dadagiri, by budgetary inefficiency, and by bad infrastructure. To Mumbaikars, I ask, till when will you continue to consciously ignore? Till when do you choose to suffer? And till when do you choose to live as filthy insects?
“Ae Dil Hai Mushkil Jeena Yahaan” has been glorified way too much. Why should it be? I’d rather be a proud Mumbaikar than a spirited one.
After all, Mumbai meri jaan.