I have always maintained that Bombay is my real home and that my life is Hong Kong is only a hiatus. I was so desperate to come to Bombay for that reason, because I needed to be home.
But over the past few days there’s been a change.
I love Bombay and I always will but I don’t know whether I identify with it anymore. For one, I don’t know where anything is anymore – where the good restaurants are, how much the minimum taxi fare is, where the poles on the Western line are so I can lean out of the train and not have my brains bashed out. I can make my way around the city but only with a vague amount of confidence. Increasingly, I am becoming a stranger.
On Monday, I took the train back from the Taj. I dithered amid the crowd at Churchgate but proudly managed to get the most efficient train – an Andheri super fast local. However, the super fast was not as fast as I remembered and everything seemed more dusty and decrepit. There were throngs even in off-peak time and they were all salwar kameez clad and very middle class. It was as if the upper middle class no longer takes the train anymore. Everyone seemed to have a mobile though. When I alighted at Bandra, I made my way hesitantly through the crowds, wondering at the energy of people who do this every single day.
Bandra is a mess. The roads are being dug up and the dust is crazy. The Queen of the Suburbs is more like a jilted lover. Walking on the streets is like negotiating an obstacle course and I wonder what old people do. Do they never venture out?
I am also fast realising that living in Bombay is extremely expensive even if you’re converting currencies. The dollar depreciating doesn’t help of course, but it’s shocking to realise that a Rs1000 note does not go very far. Apparently, there are people in India with deep pockets but what they get is not always the best quality.
I have now concluded that to replicate the lifestyle I am used to in Hong Kong, I would have to be earning a very large sum of money that even the media boomtime may not afford me in Bombay. In addition, the media in India is increasinly corrupt with insiduous payments for editorial space becoming the norm. It’s impossible for the press to be completely immune to commercial pressures but it’s seeming to me that journalists in India, even in news, are being reduced to PR-agents-in disguise.
The politics in Bombay is also appalling. Right now, Sena activists are beating up so-called North Indians for simply existing in the city. It is too stupid to even talk about. But this is the reality that people must contend with every day. That and the possibility of a traffic cop hurling something at you so that you fall off your bike and are crushed to death by a tanker (the top story in DNA this morning).
Ironically, I find myself thinking more happily of my life in Hong Kong – my red couch, my flat with its verdant view, the way I can walk around in a miniskirt and get into a cab at 4 am, the 30-minutes-to-anywhere transport system.
Don’t get me wrong, I still love Bombay. But it’s now more about the people than the city itself. It is about my family and my wonderful friends and the people in my building who stop in amazement to chat and the pani puri guy who suddenly recognizes me and begins to reminisce about how he used to give me puri when I was on my way back from school.
Maybe the real outcome of this trip is that I will look at Hong Kong with fresh eyes and renewed affection and though I will always be little guilty about loving another place as much as Bombay, maybe it is time to move on.