Why I left Mumbai

After being born and brought up in Mumbai, I left it in 1997. Over the years, many people have asked me about why I shifted from Mumbai to Pune. It is time I wrote about it.

For me, life in Mumbai was all about traveling through the suburban local trains. The first time I started traveling alone on the local trains was when I was 10 years old. I travelled from Ghatkopar to Charni Road to attend Yoga Classes during the summer vacation. I remember even as a child, instead of sitting on seats inside the women’s compartment, I used to stand in the door. I remember some elder women scolding me for doing that as I was just a small kid.

After growing up a bit, next set of memories are of travelling through the local train in the early morning at 4:30am to attend “Agarwal Classes” during the 11th/12th grade. By then, I had a “First Class” “season pass”. Even at 4:30am in the morning, there was no place to sit, so I travelled standing in the door. Life continued as the years flew past.

By this time, after travelling so much by standing in the door, I knew every pillar and obstacle that came too close to the door as the train passes it. There was a story associated with each pillar and obstacle – how a friend’s friend had his head smashed by it, and so on. I could never travel “inside”, as I needed fresh air, so always traveled standing in the door.

A strong memory comes from college days, when I was the youngest member of an amateur Astronomical Group, ‘Khagol Mandal’ in Sion. We used to travel to Vangani for full-night sky observations. In order to carry our huge telescopes, we needed to board a Karjat train at Victoria Terminus (VT). Imagine doing that, when each seat in the train is booked using a handkerchief well before it comes to a stop on its way in, 10 minutes before it starts on it’s way back.

After that, came the working years. Travelling to VT every day for work. 9:51 was my regular fast train from Ghatkopar to VT. Avoiding watching people from hutments defecating alongside the train tracks was a regular routine to which I was very well accustomed to by then.

By this time, I was a proud “Mumbaiker”. After the 1993 blasts, I remember getting goose-pimples and swelling in pride the next day when going to work, seeing billboards that proclaimed in huge letters: “Friday: Bomb blasts. Saturday: 93% attendance in Offices”.

Then, something happened. I was once traveling in a train standing in the first door behind the driver’s end. I liked to watch the surroundings go by from that “first person” point of view. Between Sion and Chembur, a girl, screaming, tried to jump in front of the train. Someone pulled her back at the last instant. It is a memory I will never forget.

On a different day, some years later, I tried to board a fast train from Dadar for Ghatkopar. I could not get in, even in the “First Class”. I became desperate, and decided to be adventurous. I climbed the window, with my fingers on the rain channel at the top of the carriage. Yes, I travelled from Dadar to Ghatkopar, for about 30 minutes, holding on to dear life, while my fingers and hands were in excruciating pain, while the train was hurtling along at 85 kmph. An unforgettable experience.

And then on a usual day to work, I was waiting for my daily 9:51 at Ghatkopar. The train could be seen in the distance, approaching the station, when it suddenly stopped. Someone suicidal jumped ahead of it and was killed. So the train was delayed. Does anyone think about the life of Mumbai’s local train drivers? They face such situations all the time. And whenever it happens, they’re not able to sleep at night.

My response? Like the innumerable number of other passengers waiting for the train, my response was of irritation and anger at getting delayed for work. I was not concerned about the loss of human life, my only concern was about getting delayed to work. My dehumanization was complete. When I later thought about it, I decided that I needed to leave Mumbai. I did and have never regretted it. I am a human again, and value human life the way I wasn’t able to, when I lived in Mumbai.

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  • Abhijit kadle

    Well said, I have shared some of the experiences you describe, and wouldnt move back to Mumbai for a billion bucks… Pune city has its fair share of craziness, but I can deal with and remain human, and humane…

  • Poonam

    Reminds me of tales of Indian women in Southhall throwing themselves in front of subway trains. There was so much written about it – sad thing is we got to read a lot about those but never heard much in Mumbai. I can very much understand what you mean – we get so caught up in work and life that we fail to catch humane realities of life.

    • Thanks. Starting from a complete dehumanization, I’m back to being human again after shifting to Pune. Life is so much better.

  • I know this story. I have to deal with my own demons.

    • I couldn’t deal with them by staying in Mumbai. I had to get out.

      • My comment is incomplete in many senses. Cannot do justice to this in a comment. A post is required. 

  • I can empathize. I left Mumbai (then Bombay) in 1986 when I was 13 as my dad got transferred to Bangalore. I have since spent more years in Bangalore than in Mumbai. The super-fast and uncontrolled growth that Bangalore has experienced over the last 15 years has had its dehumanizing effect on us here as well. However, over time I have come to realize that it is entirely up to us. We can choose to care or not about things – even in the midst of a chaotic urban jungle.

    • True. It is all up to us. And how we choose our environment and how we deal with it is also up to us. I just couldn’t deal with it, staying in Mumbai. Find it much easier living in a small town.

  • Vidyesh

    tl:dr
    Life was fast, hectic but amazing in Mumbai. At a stage in life i felt, Mumbai sucked out my character and the basic human values and  in me and it was time to move on and rehabilitate.

    My Comment :
    Thats a bit harsh to say about life in Mumbai.
    There are some times in life when you just can’t do anything, you can’t control everything. Some times life moves faster than you can imagine. Instead of slowing down we need sync our pace. Thats what you did i guess.

    You can’t feel sorry for all the hurtful occurrences in life and you just need to let go to live on.
    You can’t feel sorry for people who suicide or do actions which are deemed insane.

    Anyways, but i don’t think that’s not what Mumbai taught you, rather Mumbai taught you to be a strong & a disciplined person.
    Don’t get me wrong, am not saying ‘humanity’ is a bad, its just that sometimes you need to choose to pick yourself up first or first help others get up.

    • There are many truths in what you say. Ultimately, it all boils down to how one person deals with choices in life. “Mumbai sucked out my character” and “It was time to move on and rehabilitate” are perfect expressions! That’s exactly what I did.

      No, I am not being harsh on Mumbai, it has given me great joy and as you say, has instilled strength and discipline in me. I will always be grateful for that.

      Thank you for your wonderful comment. Adds much more perspective to the way I used to think about these things. Very grateful.

    • There are many truths in what you say. Ultimately, it all boils down to how one person deals with choices in life. “Mumbai sucked out my character” and “It was time to move on and rehabilitate” are perfect expressions! That’s exactly what I did.

      No, I am not being harsh on Mumbai, it has given me great joy and as you say, has instilled strength and discipline in me. I will always be grateful for that.

      Thank you for your wonderful comment. Adds much more perspective to the way I used to think about these things. Very grateful.

  • Uprooting self from home city and making another place home is not very easy. Not everyone one has guts to do it, especially for a reason like this. Very inspiring. Reiterates my belief that we don’t have to walk the path because everyone does. We can stop, refuse to walk and make another path for ourselves if that is what we really want.

    • Very well-said. What can I say more?

    • Very well-said. What can I say more?

  • Yogini

    I can empathize with you. I didn’t have to travel by train regularly until my parents moved to Thane in early 90s. I have clear memories of March 12, 1993. It was a Friday and I had recently started traveling by train. The trains were abuzz with news of the blasts. I couldn’t wait to come home & make sure my family was okay. Came home to the news of two dear friends being injured in the blast. I was on a train next morning at 7.00 am, the earliest I could leave home to go meet my friends at Jaslok Hospital. One of them died on Saturday afternoon. Another friend & I started our return journey to home at about 8.00 pm from Byculla. The trains were unusually empty. We both got scared and started crying. The events of past 48 hours finally hitting our young 18 yr old minds. We were in ladies 1st class compartment- the one which gets converted to open to all after 8.00 PM. At Dadar station a few people got in…most stared at our tear stained faces..at me trying to console my friend. A a few minutes later a man came and started cajoling, enquiring about our misery. By the time we reached Mulund people were offering food and water to us. One of them made sure we got rickshaw from the station to home. 

    I don’t disagree with your viewpoint that Mumbaikar’s are dehumanized to a large extent..but then there also these moments where people do help. 

    • Thank you for sharing that personal episode – I am very sorry to hear about your loss.

      Yes, there are great anecdotes of acts of kindness during times of crises. These, however, are the exceptions in extraordinary situations. Normal, daily routine life is where people trample over each other to board a train or a bus, break traffic rules in rash road rage, and so on.

      When the 1993 riots started, I and my professor were stuck in college at Matunga. She stayed at Bandra and didn’t have any transport. So on my motorbike, I took her to Bandra, from where I returned back to Ghatkopar alone. We drove through burning buses, and rioting mobs. I was scared like never before. Life in Mumbai was always eventful, whatever the season!

  • Yogini

    I can empathize with you. I didn’t have to travel by train regularly until my parents moved to Thane in early 90s. I have clear memories of March 12, 1993. It was a Friday and I had recently started traveling by train. The trains were abuzz with news of the blasts. I couldn’t wait to come home & make sure my family was okay. Came home to the news of two dear friends being injured in the blast. I was on a train next morning at 7.00 am, the earliest I could leave home to go meet my friends at Jaslok Hospital. One of them died on Saturday afternoon. Another friend & I started our return journey to home at about 8.00 pm from Byculla. The trains were unusually empty. We both got scared and started crying. The events of past 48 hours finally hitting our young 18 yr old minds. We were in ladies 1st class compartment- the one which gets converted to open to all after 8.00 PM. At Dadar station a few people got in…most stared at our tear stained faces..at me trying to console my friend. A a few minutes later a man came and started cajoling, enquiring about our misery. By the time we reached Mulund people were offering food and water to us. One of them made sure we got rickshaw from the station to home. 

    I don’t disagree with your viewpoint that Mumbaikar’s are dehumanized to a large extent..but then there also these moments where people do help. 

  • Anonymous

    I have lived in seven cities in my life, and will probably live it many more. Which might also be the reason i do not feel anything at all for any particular place/city. I love every place for its own idiosyncrasies and character, but I do not miss any, nor would I feel lost/out of place in a completely new one.

    I have seen many deaths, and will probably see many more. But none have affected me much. I think I have become immunized to suffering around me in an absolute way. I derive my happiness from my own efforts and relationships, and have insulated myself from others actions to as much a degree as is possible in today’s world. (I had flippantly commented on this in a post http://samudranb.com/2011/03/28/where-were-you-when/). I guess on some level, I have accepted what is beyond my control, and to borrow Covey’s words, stopped worrying about what is outside of my “Sphere of Influence”.

    In response to your post, I would like to know why does one’s soul become plugged in to that of its surroundings? Is it not possible to keep yourself insulated? Is it possible to fight one’s surroundings, to “upload” yourself into the “surrounding environment” and make it more in one’s image, rather than “download” from it and let it overwrite your self? If it is possible, isnt it a fight worth fighting?

    • My point was that I *did* become insulated and immunized. And I don’t want to live like that. I do know that in some spiritual philosophies, this detachment is upheld as nirvana, but that’s not my cup of tea.

      My choice was to be passive and become insulated from what was outside my sphere of influence, or be proactive and do what was within my sphere of influence – choose to leave Mumbai! My surroundings are my reality and I don’t wish to insulate myself from it, rather I immerse myself in it and enjoy it, rather than fight.

    • Simple_person_india

      I will tell you why… I have followed all the rules like driving responsibly, even if it means that I miss a turn, I will go ahead and take a u-turn and come back for my original turn instead of cutting sharply through someone’s path and endangering their path. I follow traffic light rules. I cross the road at proper zebra crossings instead of crossing anywhere I feel like. I wait for the green walk sign to turn on before I cross instead of putting drivers at risk… after all the vehicle drivers do stop at red lights, can’t pedestrians wait a bit for their walk sign to turn gree? I don’t throw trash on the road… keep chocalate wrappers in my pocket until I find a dustbin to dispose it.
       
      I have done all of the above, wondering why others wouldn’t follow these practices… when they are common sense. Instead all my relatives (elders too when I was growing up) and friends laughed at me. Told me that no matter what I thought, we Indians will never improve or do common sense stuff collectively. They said we are too big a country with too many people to get all to follow these simple, common sense rules. I felt totally out of place amongst all such people and became dehumanized too in Mumbai.
       
      And then I went to another country, travelled through varioius cities and towns… it was almost 4 times bigger than India and with a decent population size. But there it was completely inverse. Everyone followed these common sense rules and the few who didn’t felt so out of place that they would be shamed into doing the right thing. It was like validation of all my lifetime of principles and morals.
       
      I am sure you would have found various good things and bad things in all cities you lived in. But there are some things that needn’t be so bad… the dirt, grime, traffic, chaos, train travel conditions, etc. in Mumbai. But majority refuse to follow some common sense rules and create such a mess. After seeing that other country, one feels that all this could be avoided in Mumbai. But it will not be. That’s the frustration… humans have already discovered a better way of living, right here on earth, but we in Mumbai will not accept it.
       
      That’s why all the frustration and eventually wanting to move out rather than see unnecessary dehumanization every single day.

  • Mandar Kulkarni

    Great post! Hats off to you and your courage to be very true to your heart.

  • Awesome post. I had experiences chicken ramming in Bombay locals and had resolved that come what may , I will never live in Bombay.