Few Observations from “The City”

The first thing I noticed about Bombay, on that first day, was the smell of the different air. I could smell it before I saw or heard anything of India, even as I walked along the umbilical corridor that connected the plane to the airport. I was excited and delighted by it, in that First Bombay minute, escaped from prison and new to the wide world, but I didn’t and couldn’t recognise it. I know now that it’s the sweet, sweating smell of hope, which is the opposite of hate; and it’s the sour, stifled smell of greed, which is the opposite of love. It’s the smell of gods, demons, empires, and civilisations in resurrection and decay. It’s the blue skin-smell of the sea, no matter where you are in the Island City, and the blood-metal smell of machines. It smells of the stir and sleep and waste of sixty million animals, more than half of them humans and rats. It smells of heartbreak, and the struggle to live, and of the crucial failures and loves that produce our courage. It smells of ten thousand restaurants, five thousand temples, shrines, churches, and mosques, and of a hundred bazaars devoted exclusively to perfumes, spices, incense, and freshly cut flowers. Karla once called it the worst good smell in the world, and she was right, of course, in that way she had of being right about things. But whenever I return to Bombay, now, it’s my first sense of the city-that smell, above all things-that welcomes me and tells me I’ve come home.*

  • The above is true.
  • Some of the best and closest friends live there and it’s as good as a second home. Even a loss in touch doesn’t dampen the enthusiasm or the chemistry. The now mandatory trip is totally worth it.
  • People show their wealth. Be it their dress sense, the way they walk  and talk, what they do, what they don’t do, they sure show a lot of wealth. And in a very nice aesthetic non-showoff-y way. And I believe it is a good thing. That is something the city of Madras is not so great in. There are loads and loads of wealthy people in Madras but they all like to be locked up somewhere.
  • And they sure know how to dress. And that is a something I would quite love in anyone.
  • How much ever wealth you might possess, Rs 250-450 for a movie ticket is not justified. Sathyam, I love you (whether this love has lifetime guarantee depends entirely on you).
  • Crazy couples still make out inside auto rickshaws. Any time of the day.
  • They know how to build malls. The malls in Bombay kick the ass of the ones I’ve been to in NJ or Raleigh. And what are we in Madras stuck with? Spencers and City Center? Have to visit that new Ampa Skywalk and see if anything has changed!
  • The kids that came up to between my knees and hips in 1999 go to college now. They talk about visiting Hard Rock Cafe, hookah and sex. And I tell people I am only 24? Bah!
  • Madras-avdhu, Bangalore-avdhu. Bombay is Bombay.

*That’s from Shantaram – Gregory David Roberts.


21 thoughts on “Few Observations from “The City”

  1. If Madras should learn something from Bombay, it is (a) traffic discipline (b) work ethic.

    Adi: Work ethic, I agree. And also the importance of service. But traffic am not so sure. The thing is, there are very few two wheelers over there. Thanks to the high number of four wheelers, the traffic looks uniform and less nasty. Whereas the traffic discipline is non-existent in Madras because of the large number of two wheelers.


    1. They had the courage to ban autos, TVS 50s, cycles and rikshaws from most roads. Here we are still sticking with fish carts because MGR drove it.

      All this aside, I think Bombay has a lot of good things and bad things. But is projected as a good place for the wrong reasons (like night club, discos etc). Mostly because people have a fascination for the west and so think ‘west is cool’ but it just gets my goat. There are other good things that are worth emulating.


  2. I saw more BMW’s there than I have seen else where in the world. Most of them 5 series and 7 series. I was very surprised.

    Adi: And these days lot of Audi Q7s too! Did you go there recently?


  3. I’m yet to discover the true spirit of Bombay. The defensive Chennaiite in me just hasn’t let that happen. That, and the fact that I’ve never really been in Bombay long enough or with the right company..

    Adi: Yep, company is all that matters to like or dislike a city!


  4. i love bombay. madras is home and all, but bombay is where i want to spend my 20s :D

    like! :)

    Adi: Enjoy pannu. Don’t be like your loosu elder sis and come back after just one year :P


    1. Havent been to Mumbai much..other than Essel World..which was I guess long time back!
      But would love to visit now..and see it!

      But nice post……I guess home is different for every person!



  5. I think every city has a character of its own and all of us are shaped by that.

    I have nothing against Bombay or for Bombay since I’ve never been there. Yes, heard a lot, read a lot.

    I will stand by Bangalore and Hyderabad simply coz I was born and brought up in one (no, I still dunno the world of M.G. Road and the pubs because that alone doesn’t make the city) and Hyd coz I studied and got my first job there :)

    Adi: Expected :)


  6. I moved to Mumbai 2 months back.

    So far, I find the city far too impersonal, crowded, stinking and just plain “has been”. Unlike Hyderabad or New Delhi, there is no positiveness about the future and unlike Bengaluru, the class and crass co-inhabit far too much.

    Adi: I believe the impression about a city depends completely on company.


    1. I have found it easier to get “company” [or simply get along] in Hyd, Delhi, Bengaluru and even Pune. In Mumbai, most people are too occupied in being themselves, their lives, daily living or something else … to be interested in you.


  7. Something about kids coming up to between your knees and hips reminded me of Roman Catholic priests. :|

    Adi: Damn, I didn’t see that coming!


  8. Dude…where ever we live our hometown is always special and it is incomparable imo.

    For Madras born people would always claim “Madras madiri varuma..”

    On a whole India Rocks :)

    Adi: Haha!


  9. It depends on what you look at it la? i’ve been to NY but i just dont think NY is even half aesthetic as SFO is – though i dont know the reason. May be all those who love Chennai even after a Bombay visit is like that !

    The fear of hating bombay and fear of hating chennai if bombay is impressive has kept me from visiting it !! I just hope to make it to Bombay one day !

    and on the wealth show off : i was talking to my mom the other day. She says, madras is predominantly built by the middle class mentality of Save for Future, no show off, be Humble and work as much as you can. And that prevented the one who wants to fearing the “Oh he shows off”.

    I think thats where Chennai brings itself being cautiously progressive.


  10. *pats self on back for recognizing the text is from the book*

    And yes… I agree with all your points on wealth, dressing sense, malls and in general, class.. I guess its something to do with these big cities – Bombay, Hong Kong, London, New York…
    (I can certify for Bombay and HK, and have heard similar stuff about the other two cities!)


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