A Love Letter to Mumbai
Words by Srushti Kamat, Illustrations by Dorothy Hoeft
A calming chaos. An oxymoron. A voice. A faded memory.
I have always been amazed at the ability of people to survive and thrive. I was born into a city of color, and then whisked away to a place where not everyone looked like me or spoke like me. I was born in the city of Mumbai. My parents decided to move to the burgeoning island nation of Singapore when I was five years old, leaving everything they knew behind. So I struggled to consider Mumbai my home. As a place that carried an unforgiving air to those who failed, it was daunting and distant. I resembled the people, but it did not feel familiar. I spoke the languages, but my voice was not heard. I rejected the core of the city, as I found myself joining in on complaints about traffic issues, education systems, and housemaids with extended relatives. Little did I realize, I had been raised with the mindset of Mumbai all my life. When your parents grow up in countries that are starkly different from yours, they try to compensate. To fill the void of your lived experience.
Imagine crowded roads, fierce mothers, and smells of an unfathomable kind. Old and new buildings surround a dense population of 18.4 million people. On the street, women wear bright colors. From red and yellow to blue and gold, the layers of the traditional outfits of Saris and Salwar Kameez, both traditional outfits along with with shiny jewelry pairings stand out as they adorn the streets, buses, and alleys. A place of dreamers, workers, and slackers, Mumbai has a captivating charm. It provides a lure into the deepest, darkest, and most interesting parts of a person. In a race to the top, everyone is determined to move forward and conquer new territory. There is nothing like the buzz that is created. A fighting spirit. To be the best. To succeed. To live a fruitful life. The southern shoreline is filled with friends, runners, and visitors who are ever so keen to take selfies and photos of the fading sunset. But Mumbai is not a stopover destination. For many, it is the only destination. It is made for those who know how to push their way to the front.
A cup of chai fixes all. At least that is what I grew up knowing, but perceptions of a place are always determined by immediate experiences. The people you meet, the memories you create, and the alleys through which you wander can make or break the images you conjure. I believe that a person’s memory of a city is determined by a moment in time that helps them associate sights, sounds, and smells. My defining moment occurred in a car ride to the airport. On the way back to Eugene, I was sitting in the back seat, watching a city that is filled with noise, movement, and a deep soul. Mumbai echoes the cries of dreams forgotten and communities interwoven.
Somewhere in the trajectory of that ride, I realized that my love for the city was a reflection of the love I feel for my parents. Walking in their shoes and living the moments they lived made me appreciate the trips down memory lane even more. This was the city that made the people I consider to be my entire world, who they are today. Concerned eyes watched as they grew from innocent children and flawed youth into compassionate adults. What I now know, is that decked with a skyline of growing construction, Mumbai is a metropolis on the rise filled with incredible people. I see a hope, a sparkle of positivity like no other place. In Mumbai, things go wrong. Plans may not be met as they are made. But the fabric of the society is made to last. The grit of the people is real.