And just in case you need to get in the Bombay mood to read this, my favourite passage from Shantaram that so perfectly sums up the city for me:
The first thing I noticed about Bombay, on that first day, was the smell of the different air. I could smell it before I saw or heard anything of India, even as I walked along the umbilical corridor that connected the plane to the airport. ... I know now that it's the sweet, sweating smell of hope, which is the opposite of hate; and it's the sour, stifled smell of greed, which is the opposite of love. It's the smell of gods, demons, empires, and civilizations in resurrection and decay. It's the blue skin-smell of the sea, no matter where you are in the Island City, and the blood-metal smell of machines. It smells of the stir and sleep and waste of sixty million animals, more than half of them humans and rats. It smells of heartbreak, and the struggle to live, and of the crucial failures and loves that produce our courage. It smells of ten thousand restaurants, five thousand temples, shrines, churches, and mosques, and of a hundred bazaars devoted exclusively to perfumes, spices, incense, and freshly cut flowers. ... But whenever I return to Bombay, now, it's my first sense of the city - that smell, above all things - that welcomes me and tells me I've come home.
[thank you, Gregory David Roberts, for putting my memories into words]
and now, 30 reasons I love living in Bombay:
- being able to dress how I want to dress. it's such a freedom to be able to walk around in shorts or short skirts without getting stared at or told that you're dressed indecently. I for one cannot wear jeans when it's 30 / 85 degrees outside.
- being near the sea. it's so nice to live close to the water again. I grew up on the banks of the Mississippi, went to boarding school overlooking the Tennessee, and did my undergrad near the Mississippi again. last year I saw the Arkansas River on a daily basis and never before realized how much I crave living near water of some kind.
- re-connecting with old friends and meeting new ones. in the last few years a number of my friends have shifted to Bombay for one reason or another, which means that there is an awesome group of people to hang out with and to introduce me to other fun people. being such a big city, it's really nice to have a solid group of people who are looking out for me and who are always up for a drink or who offer a couch or bed while Saranya and I sort out a place to stay. in addition, I keep finding out that various friends-of-friends are here, and they are all also always up for wandering the city together.
- restaurants and pubs that stay open until 1am. no more last orders at 10.20pm for this girl.
- the auto drivers. they don't try to rip me off [even with the accent and horrible attempts at speaking Hindi], they will almost always agree to take me where I need to go [main exceptions are when traveling from west-to-east or vice versa], they're honest with the meter, and they never crib about giving change.
- the availability of autos at any time of day or night. 11.45pm and you need to get from Bandra to Andheri? no problem. and if they drop you by 11.59, they won't ask for extra fare.
- navigating the local trains. it can become a bit crazy if you're not careful, but generally it's a fun adventure and is super cheap. those 30km from Andheri to Churchgate? it'll cost you about rs.30. you can't beat that.
- being able to walk home from a club by myself at 1am [to be fair, it was about 500m from door-to-door, but it was such a feeling of freedom].
- the never-ending variety of restaurants and pubs to visit. I have to admit, going to the same 4 places over and over in Bangalore can be a bit mind-frying, and although I've already been to both Toto's and Woodside numerous times in the short time that I've been here, I've also been to a number of other places. there is no shortage of places to eat or drink in this city.
- the possibility of random celebrity sightings. I've not seen any major ones as yet, but last week we ran into a guy Kirti had worked with on Talaash. that was pretty cool.
- the variety of restaurants that will deliver any kind of cuisine right to your doorstep at any time of day or night. craving butter chicken at midnight? I know a guy who will get it to you in about half an hour, and you don't even have to set foot outside. it's amazing.
- in the same vein, the shops that will deliver everything from vegetables to bread and eggs to alcohol to cigarettes to whatever-your-heart-desires whenever you want it. while it encourages a bit of laziness, it's also nice to not have to go to eight different places to pick up all the things you need.
- board game night. I've not been able to go as yet, but it sounds super fun. and I generally just love that there are events like this constantly happening.
- learning my way around a new city. it's always a bit intimidating at first, especially with a city as spread out and as complicated as Bombay, but I'm slowly getting there. I have pretty much memorized the route from Andheri to Bandra, and my navigational skills will only improve once Saranya and I shift to our place in Lower Parel [this weekend, fingers crossed!].
- the influx of visitors. one of Norten's friends was here a few weeks ago, Sastri came to town last weekend, Manas was here over the week, Nithya is heading here this weekend, and Shonali is coming for an extended stay in Jan. on top of that, there's always the possibility Rob will head down here for a weekend at some point, my mum is coming in mid-Jan, and hopefully Alex will show his pretty face around the end of Jan. with all of these fun happenings, it's a wonder I get any work done. it seems like there's always someone in Bombay for something or the other, and thus far it's been super fun.
- movies, movies, everywhere. there's something about living in India's Film City - and hanging out with people who work for production companies, probably - that really makes you want to go to the cinema, and in Bombay, there's always one right around the corner. this is an awesome time of the year as well, as there are a ton of English and Hindi releases coming out in the next few weeks, so let's see how many I can fit in while I'm in the city.
- men who respect the ladies' cars on the local trains. it's so nice to not have to kick men out of designated ladies' seats. while I might feel nostalgic for it from time-to-time, I would much rather have it this way.
- becoming a regular in less than a month. the shopkeepers in Andheri recognize me, the watchmen at Kishor Darshan salute me and have full conversations with me [that I don't understand] whenever I'm coming and going, and the guys at Toto's already know my order. that kind of recognition always makes a new place feel that much more like home.
- double-decker bus sightings. when my brother and I were kids, we used to have competitions to see who could spot the most number of double-decker buses whenever we were traveling around the city [as you can imagine, there aren't a whole lot of double-deckers in Helena, AR]. the city has been phasing them out a bit over the years, so it's much more rare to see one today than it was 20 years ago, and I always get a little thrill whenever I manage to spot one on the road.
- vada pav. it's unlike anything you've ever tried before.
- being able to walk places. for being such a large, spread-out city, Bombay is surprisingly walkable. I know I've been lucky in that many of the places I've gone have been in close proximity to railway stations or to friends' houses, but it's still really nice to be able to walk from time-to-time and not being wholly reliant on autos to get me places. thank you, Google Maps, for helping me find my way around [no, I've not updated my OS on my phone. just heard Apple has gone back to Google Maps, so maybe I'll get around to doing that one of these days]
- getting to do things I'd never be able to do anywhere else. a few weeks ago, I was an extra at an ad shoot in town. it was kind of a pipe dream, and it definitely would not have happened anywhere else. and I'm sure there will be a few more random opportunities that crop up between now and February.
- finding affordable housing. everyone will tell you that Bombay is an expensive city to live in, and it's true. through sheer good luck, Saranya managed to find a place to stay in a nice area for a very reasonable price, and I am so thankful. housing was very likely going to be my greatest expense during my stay here, but I think I might be able to use that money for other ventures instead, which is awesome.
- getting to work with a new organization. so far I have helped Sujaya develop an evaluation test for their centers and have administered said test in one of the centers. we are also working on computerizing the test and will be administering it in another center next week. it's been really interesting getting to see how another organization is run, meeting all the people who work and volunteer with them, and working on a new project.
- playing tourist. Bombay's got a ton of interesting sights to visit, and I am looking forward to exploring as many of them as possible between now and mid-Feb.
- the overall safety of the city. after my two weeks in Delhi in October, I was feeling a bit hesitant about coming to Bombay, but the cities are worlds apart. I feel safer here than even in Bangalore at times, which is a really nice feeling.
- street food at 1 in the morning. it really is awesome.
- neighbours who don't complain - overly much - about noise. yes, we've gotten a few complaints about loud music, but it was warranted on those nights [and those neighbours are a bit obnoxious anyway]. for the most part we've had music on nearly every night without hearing a peep from the neighbours. when you're living practically on top of each other, it's nice to give each other a little space like that.
- the general atmosphere. I felt myself becoming very lazy in Bangalore; it's very easy to do so when you've lived in a place for a certain amount of time and start to feel like you've seen and done nearly everything. but in Bombay, there's always something happening, and knowing that I'm only here for a few months encourages me to get out and see and do as much as I can in the time that I have allotted. it's led to a number of sleepless nights, sure, but it's worth it to know that I'm living these months to the max.
- finally fulfilling a childhood dream. from the time I was a child, I have wanted to spend an extended amount of time in Bombay. that desire has only grown as I've gotten older, and for the past few years I've really been wanting to spend some time here as an adult, and finally I have made it happen and am literally living my dream.
It's a fantastic city, to be sure, and I hope everyone gets a chance to experience it at some point in their lives.