|“You should be ready to move a few steps back to take the leap of faith“|
Mumbai… A city with millions of stories and journeys, of success, of failure, of happiness, of loss, of love, of heartbreaks, of reaching the top, and of hitting rock bottoms, Etcetera. This one is a short amalgamation of a few such experiences that one goes through when they just begin their journey in the city of dreams. Of course, it is completely from my very own perspective, that of a middle-class hustler who didn’t come here chasing his dreams but did so while being oblivious to the existence of his dreams altogether.
I first came to Mumbai in 2007, as a kid, and then once again in 2012 as a late teen. Was awestruck at the sight of this strange contemporary city where nothing seemed to stop and everything appeared to be so organised. Well, it was the opinion of a tourist… not often considered an apt assessment of anywhere. This was something I came to know of much later when I visited Mumbai again in 2014. This time I had not come as a tourist. I had come as… I technically do not know what. I was lost at that point in time. It had already been a year post my schooling and I had spent it in pursuit of what I wanted from life. I remember like it was yesterday, how I joined the prestigious St. Xavier’s College for my BSc. IT, but couldn’t go through with the course for more than a month. I then joined NIFT Mumbai too, and that didn’t work out for me as well. I stayed alone in Mumbai for a while after that. Not physically, but psychologically alone in my own mental space. I was not at a good spot in my life. Opportunities which others were struggling to procure, I had casually let go. I couldn’t see much of the city then.
So, I came back to my hometown to return to the majestic city the following year. It was 2016 and I had taken admission in a technical course at NMIMS. The sheer paradox of choices that appear to a common reader… well… I was definitely confused in life. Not about my passions or pursuits, but finding a balance amid the pragmatic and the utopian. College life began as usual on a high note. The one-year sabbatical had helped me work on my own mental health. I was now ready for the majesty of the city in its entirety. Commenced the beginner’s exploratory phase where I tried everything new (for me), from beach-walks to food, midnight Gedis to unplanned brunch, from walks at the marine drive to those at reclamation, from the tea at Powai to the one at Band Stand… and much more that the city had to offer. As soon as the honeymoon phase subsided began the observational phase. I realised that everyone in the city was always behind schedule… always in a hurry. It was an anomaly that bothered me for quite some time. Be it in a local train or on the western expressway, the expressions were always tensed, the foreheads sweaty and the kinetic energies high. Regardless of the time of the day, one could easily find an abundance of such extremely motivated individuals all around Mumbai. It was a very monotonous way of life. Or was it? Spending more money than I had imagined on a lifestyle much lesser than I desired, traversing to and fro each day, sleeplessly working on my freelance projects to make the extra buck and then scraping down on the little rest and sleep I could get to start the next day… I had soon become a part of that monotony.
At first, I couldn’t cope with it. The pace of the city was effortlessly defeating that of mine. I couldn’t keep up with my schedule while pursuing my passions and supplementary desires very easily. The ambiguity was getting on my nerves. I couldn’t at all strike the correct balance to manage them both well. I was losing my sleep, my health and my energy, and it felt like I couldn’t have carried that on forever. So, one fine day I just gave up… rather gave in. I weighed in on what I absolutely had to do at that moment for the preservation of my long-term mental peace. If at that moment, it was something part of my curriculum, then I continued… if it was something else then I completely halted whatever I was doing and did what I felt like. I ended up compromising on one thing each moment. It had to be done. A single human mind cannot carry multiple targets, milestones or expected outcomes every second. There has to be just the one thing or one would be clouded with restlessness. Then, whatever decision I was making was a conscious one and not made out of desperation. It was then that I could be exposed to the real Mumbai.
Came the third and last phase of illumination. I went back to the same places… the same local trains, the same beaches, the same roads… but this time I didn’t see any monotony. The people paced not to be somewhere or achieve something, but simply because they desired to make their compromises worth it. Many had left behind their ‘well-settled’ lives to pursue their dreams, whereas many had forsaken the best of opportunities due to their underlying circumstances. But the thing common amongst them all was their resolve to not let whatever they had left behind, whatever they had compromised go in vain. Everyone had their own ends, and own means towards that end, but the city had a place for all. It had a way for us all in its routine and accommodated all of our dreams, desires, purposes and ends within it. I had become one with the city. Seeming sleepless and desperate to the world but being content within.
Today it has been more than four years for me in Mumbai. I have been sleepless, I have overslept, I have laughed and cried and what not. I came here aimlessly but it reignited my passion for writing. I completed my first novel post coming to Mumbai and have published five so far. I have pursued my childhood hobby of music. I have wilfully absorbed my education and learnt a lot. Moreover, I have formed great bonds of friendships and have been fortunate enough to find love. I owe it all to the city for teaching me the significance of making a choice in life. For so long, I was chasing the balance which never existed. That chase had taken a toll on me. Coming here made me comprehend how it is neither possible nor desirable to have it all. The right balance is not about having finished everything that’s there in front of us, but about selectively choosing and doing whatsoever makes us truly happy.
To be one with the city of Mumbai is to know your truest desires, not the ones channelled by your circumstances or your urges. The city is both what makes us and what is made by us. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from… The city would treacherously test your resolve but also be the biggest bolster in your pursuits. It would accept all our dreams, and at the same time make us realise the harsh reality of how difficult it is to walk the path towards those dreams. To be one with the city of Mumbai is to be one with yourself.