A Tale of Two Cities IV: Romance

My gentle readers must pardon the rather risque title, because this edition of the digital diarrhoea I call my blog has nothing to do with romance. Well, at least not in the conventional, mouldy sense our culture associates with it. There’ll be no material that’ll make disapproving aunts go “Aga baai kaay he!!”, and no teasing innuendo to elicit any chuckles. This will not be a guide to the dating scenes in the city, and neither will there be any descriptions that, if portrayed on-screen would require the use of two flowers gratuitously rubbing against each other. No, this is a reflection of how you fall in love…

…with the city. True story.

Mumbai. The City of Dreams. The place where all struggles begin and most end in despair. The city is chock full of people fighting to cast aside their past and chase a future that almost has always has every immediate family member shaking their heads. Seriously, you can’t throw a rock in Lower Parel without it hitting an aspiring singer, filmstar, model, or investment banker. Millions of souls, all busy brewing up their own little cauldron of hope within a few square kilometres. Not much of a crap is given about the lives of others, and very little judgment is spared for the masses. Because every day is their own battle to be fought, whether to deal with their casting couch, or the latest whims of their rubbish bosses, or the next 100-hour week that looms large, and there is just too much going on for anyone to focus on any life but their own. This seething pot of a million emotions makes Mumbai…well, Mumbai.

Ugly? You bet. There are times when I have looked at all this and loathed it. Don’t believe me? Stand on the bridge overlooking Lower Parel railway station at rush hour. You’ll see the beating heart of the organism called Mumbai, and it ain’t pretty. But, there are flashes. Just little sparks of brilliance that make you understand what the city’s about. It could be something as insignificant as a grubby, half-naked child on the footpath playing with an empty box of ice-cream, hitting it with his rolled-up shirt. A completely inane pursuit, but the sheer joy on the grimy face is a sight that’ll make you wonder. And when a suited-booted executive walks by on the same footpath, making way for the child’s game with a quiet, faraway smile… that’ll hit you.

Pune romances too, though in an entirely different way. A seat of education, culture and history, it’s the antithesis of Mumbai in almost every possible way. If Mumbai
is the battle, Pune is the bootcamp. Generations of students absorb knowledge in Pune (only to go ahead and forget it all on the job in Mumbai). Pune is more like a right of passage. Mumbai might force you to behave like an adult, but Pune convinces you to stop behaving like a child. And because the city teems with so many students from so many places, there’s just so much culture to absorb in addition to the local one. For every classical musician, there’s a metalhead. For every Marathi connoisseur, there’s a firm disciple of English. For every young and restless teenager there’s an old, wizened and cynical pensioner.

This mixture of old and new makes “Pune”. It’s not uncommon to see a bunch of second-year engineering students (which is like 80% of Pune’s population) sitting outside
an Amrut-tulya chai tapri with electric guitars and drums, trying to perfect the classical raag that they heard in the mehfil last night. But even more endearing will
be the 70-year old man who tells them off for being too loud, and then goes inside the teashop and quietly takes care of their bill with a smile.

Different overtones, same smiles. If that’s not going to make you fall in love with these cities, I don’t know what will.

P.S. Too deep, I know. Normal service will resume from the next post, and will involve appropriate amounts of crass humour. Nothing too serious.

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