Quick. Name me one global city where a hundred thousand taxi drivers, rickshawwalas and bus drivers are so happy they can’t stop honking 24×7! Where dare-devils joyously mobile video their death defying stunts hanging out of local trains! Where long avenues like Marine Drive and Palm Beach road are used for drag racing at midnight by riders whose teeth shine like beacons laughing like Batman’s Joker!
Forget Copenhagen and Melbourne which top lists of the world’s happiest cities. Mumbai beats them honks up on the happiness index. It’s all relative, isn’t it? This thing called happiness. What gets your rocks off may be diametrically opposed to mine but that’s precisely what makes Mumbai the most magical, megalo-maniacal, metropolis wrapped up in a rainbow of smiles.
The slums may trick newcomers into believing that the city may be enveloped by gloom. Nothing is further than the truth. Inside the zopadpattis live people who smile through life’s vicissitudes with grit and hope. Here all communities mostly live as one, a virtue not so easily possessed by those of us who live in high rise enclaves. Firangs like Karen Dorff (Aasha Foundation), Mathew Spacie ( Magic Bus) et al have found their happy groove by doing happy things for them. I found mine a decade ago, sponsoring the education of three young under privileged kids. That number grew to eleven and they in return helped me come out of my ivory tower. Today, nothing makes me happier than seeing how they speak perfectly enunciated English and studying in reputed colleges.
I love Mumbai for its hard working women. The so-called-weaker gender is anything but! What would Mumbai be without its inexhaustible work force of nurses, doctors, care-givers, maids, bhaji walis who wake up before dawn, fill buckets of water, cook for their families and then report for work looking as if they just walked in from air conditioned homes! Bravo!
I love Mumbai for its architecture. And say thanks for those visionaries who built magnificent monuments like the Gateway of India, Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus(Victoria Terminus), CSMVS (Prince of Wales Museum), David Sassoon Library, Haji Ali Dargah, Banganga tank, Swami Narayan Mandir, Iskcon temples at Juhu and Chowpatty, Fort Cathedral, Mount Mary Church.. just a few names in a universe of structures that celebrate our globalness and cement our secularity. I salute people like Tasneem Mehta who has restored the utterly delightful Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum against all odds.
I love Mumbai for its people. Like Shobhaa De who stands up for her convictions with. Like Gerson Da Cunha, Darryl D’Monte, Debi Goenka, Rishi Aggarwal, Bittu Saigal, Nana Chudasama and countless others who draw on inexhaustible reservoirs of energy to preserve nature. Yes mother nature still lives in Mumbai’s national parks and small gardens that are the pride and joy of every locality.
I love Mumbai for its festivals. From the eclectic Literature Live! ( thank you Anil Dharker), Kala Ghoda ( ditto Brinda Miller),Blues music (ditto Anand Mahindra), Elephanta classical music ( ditto MTDC) to the everyone-can-celebrate Ganesh Chaturthi and Bandra Feast, the city dances exuberantly in ways rarely seen anywhere else in the world.
More? Bollywood that offers hope to dreamers and fodder to goss columnists. Fashion weeks that encourage unknown designers and churn out a thousand copycats of the more celebrated ones. Art galleries that keep the keep on exhibiting colourful canvases in the face of a decade long depression. Night clubs that help the adrenaline fuelled youth to burn their parent’s money. Restaurants that now offer a smorgasbord of cuisines from chicken tikka pizza( thank you Chindians!) to global flavours (thank you pioneer Ananda Solomon, AD Singh, Henry Tham et fils, Gauri Devidayal, Rahul Akerkar, Vicky Ratnani and you unsung chefs).
Mumbai meri jaan. I am grateful I was born here.Now can you just stop that honking please.
(Vinod Advani is travel and food writer, spiritual chanter, dreamer,optimist and Trade Ambassador for South Australia)