The shades of Mumbai: The glamour and the gloom

Photo: Jaideep Kadam on Unsplash

By Rajyeshwari Ghosh 

If you have read my last piece, “Chennai’s Anna”, as I mentioned, I would be back in Mumbai on that following Monday. I was happy to be back in Mumbai. Mumbai’s life, just like life in New York City, can get overwhelming. It is in those times I often felt the need to leave the city. That’s why Chennai’s life was just right for me for some time. I did not know a lot of people there. I got the pause – the rest from my regular ‘on the go’ life. Being in Mumbai is like being in my second home.

I had been to Mumbai several years ago with my family. After I returned from the U.S., this was the place where I started my career in India. I still remember how excited I was. I came with a big suitcase, a laptop bag, and a big smile on my face. While I stayed at the company guest house, I started looking for a place for me. A colleague told me to speak to her friend. She was staying at a good working women’s hostel then. She believed since I was new in a way in India and also in Mumbai, I should start my life in Mumbai from there. I thought she was right. Eventually, that’s where I moved in.

My friends were happy that I was back in town. By then, I had my apartment. We would meet up for outings. A good-hearted friend from Kolkata, who was otherwise very status-conscious, had confessed to me that he was quite surprised that someone who is a U.S. returnee would take delight in seeing a sunset on the Ganges River. He thought I would be more interested in cocktail parties. It felt as if attending cocktails would make me look smarter and modern than enjoying Nature’s beauty!

Well, my answer was, “Why I have to choose one over the other? Why can’t I do both?”

Mumbai life gave me just that. I could escape from the busy city life to the Sahyadri Hills or could have a wonderful time visiting historic cafés like Leopold in Colaba Causeway or celebrate a charming evening with friends. Just like me, Mumbai refuses to be labeled. That’s right, I like to go beyond labels.

Mumbai is the place for cutting chai from chaiwallahs even if it means going out at midnight. It is the place for pav bhaji and vada pav. These sometimes became my dinner. It is also the place for Dabbawalas wearing white topis, dhoti-panjabi delivering tiffins in dabbas. The Dabbawalas were studied and documented as a Harvard Case Study as “The Dabbawala System: On-Time Delivery, Every Time”. There is emotion in the motion there.

Everyone comes to Mumbai ‘to make it.’ I do not know how many come there to find love or romance. I remember hearing the stories of struggling models who found lust instead of love in the arms of the wrong men. A foreign-educated Indian doctor told me he is in Mumbai to make it. He has relationships “with no strings attached” – something that I heard last in my NYC days. What I admired, he was at least honest about it.

The struggling model with whom I got acquainted told me she nibbles on food to maintain her size zero. Otherwise, she would find it difficult to get modeling assignments. The singer, who came to Mumbai from South India with big dreams, to get a break in Bollywood was struggling not only with her career but also to keep her marriage together. The long-distance relation was taking a toll on her health, but that’s when the dard (pathos) came out in her voice. And she got the breakthrough – as a playback singer! Remember the movie Rockstar? It seemed very real to me.

While in Delhi, people would ask me what car do I drive and how much it costs? In Mumbai, people do not have time or the interest to ask such questions. People in Mumbai, in that way, are grounded. Many of us took public transportation like trains, rickshaws (auto-rickshaws are called rickshaws in Mumbai), and A.C. buses for daily commutes. In early morning train rides from Andheri to Churchgate, I would see women chopping vegetables for their evening meals – that was their routine life. Such is the life in Mumbai!

Though it is the financial capital of India, yet it is not all about money. There are plenty of aspects of Mumbai life that celebrate the spirit of what money cannot buy. I would say Mumbai is the place to create wealth, where there is well-being in the earning. For instance, when I first moved there, a senior at my office was well aware that I was new in India’s corporate world. He made sure I had a smooth transition. He even told me not to go near the sea during Ganapati visarjan. He even sent me home during Christmas break because there would hardly be anyone around. It has been years now, but I still remember this fondly. I appreciated his genuine concern. This experience is also in Mumbai’s spirit.

Someone I knew from the advertising world gave three passes to my friends and me to attend a fashion show. It was the ‘talk of the town’. It was at the last moment that we got the invite. We could not find any cab. So we took an auto-rickshaw to the five-star hotel. Dressed in the latest fashion wear which we got from Lokhandwala Market, we got out half drenched because it was the monsoon season. No one looked at us strangely or asked us any questions. Such is the spirit of Mumbai – hota hai (‘you know it happens’).

If I were to personify Mumbai, I would describe her as both flamboyant and demure. She can show – the rawness of life in Dharavi, the fortitude to stand in the face of danger in the Taj Mahal Hotel, the ability in living with multi-faith in Mahalaxmi temple, Haji Ali, Mount Mary Church, and the tenderness of moments in the spirit of Mumbaikars – all at the same time.

When I am tired at the end of the day and would get the last cab parked in front of my office, it would take me almost ninety minutes to reach home. And during monsoons, it would take me even longer. At that time, I would listen to music and would also practice my singing. At times, this would get interrupted when Bhaiya – the cab driver – would start singing even louder than me. Eventually, my voice will get drowned, and I will stop and listen.

The auto-rickshaw driver while asking for chillar (loose change), would advise me to take some home-made remedies if I coughed and sneezed too many times during the auto ride. That’s also Mumbai.

More and more, I think of Mumbai, I feel we – those of us who make Mumbai our home – all contribute in our small ways to keep the spirit of Mumbai alive.

There is an understated sophistication in her spirit where you will not be judged based on the car you drive, the street you live in, the clothes you wear, titles you have on your visiting cards. Mumbaikars, somewhere, they know there is something more beyond these. And they come to the city for this very reason to chase their big dreams. Such is the spirit where everyone becomes sort of a shayar (poet) those who made Mumbai their home once.


I dedicate this piece to Mumbai and Mumbaikars.

Rajyeshwari Ghosh is the Founder of Quantum Holistic Advisory Services. It is a Quantum paradigm-based multidisciplinary leadership and management consultancy practice. She is a Certified Blockchain Practitioner and a contributing member of the Blockchain Chamber of Commerce. A former Wall Street and Big Four professional, she is a Trusted Advisor and a Management Consultant. She advocates holistic thinking, practices an interdisciplinary approach to organizational problem solving, and believes in the meaningful use of Technology for good of humanity. She is the author of Essence of my existence: Poems to acknowledge my truth. Do look up her LinkedIn profile here.


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