Being a top tier ranker through school, the obvious expectation of everyone around me was that I would take Science post 10th. Opting against the generalization (not for the sake of being a rebel), I took up Commerce primarily because I wasn’t too inclined to what was taught in Science at school. Two years later when it was time to take another important decision that would eventually change the course of the last 10 years of my life, I chose Mumbai as the city of graduation against the wishes of my Mom. She had given me an option to go anywhere in the world but Mumbai, but here I am, defying all such restrictions and I have no clue why.
27 May 2007 is when I boarded the flight to Mumbai leaving behind almost 18 years of my life. Today, ten years later, these 10 years define me more than those 18 years could ever had. I am not really sure if any other city would have molded me the way Mumbai has done.
Back home, I was an introvert (probably I still am) and inspite of having several friends, there were limited open and frank conversations I may have had with any of them. Today, I am still friends with my school buddies, but I believe we are more like former school mates and not more than that. No, I don’t have a friend who knows me since junior KG nor do I have a childhood sweetheart. Just when I started to believe that all these are just bollywood created stories, I met these friends at a wedding – reality struck – they’re still best friends, I am the only odd one out. But then I am the only one who refused to go back home, while everyone is back there.
People may call Mumbai an emotion and some may call it a magnet. But honestly, I don’t even know if it deserves a name – it is like that bond which is more than friendship but less than a relationship – let’s make it simpler, let’s call it flirtationship for starters. Maybe just like my life evolved over the last decade, by the end of this post I would be able to identify what is that between the two of us.
When I first landed in this city, I was lost. Lost on how different, unorganised and chaotic the city is. Obviously like every other 18 year old, I had no clue what I was doing, why was I doing it and where do I see myself a few years down the line. Not that much has changed over the last 10 years, but now the realization has dawned that this is exactly how life is always going to be and you come to accepting this as the way of life. Who knew that years later I would fall in love with this mess and be a vitcim of reverse brain drain.
I came to Mumbai to pursue Chartered Accountancy as a qualification, now that is just a qualification for me and not what I pursue professionally.
The initial set of friends
The only saviour one has in a new city is how quickly one makes friends. I joined HR College for my graduation (though NM was my first choice, but I couldn’t get in) and JK Shah classes for CA entrance exams. Unfortunately due to the rigorous schedule of classes and articleship a CA student goes through, I did not make a lot of friends in college but made a lot of them at classes and my workplace.
My friends at classes eventually became my extended family with whom we have celebrated birthdays to bachelors to baby showers. These became my extended lifeline and still continue to be my best friends 10 years later.
Working with a Big 4 was a dream job, as I joined EY post my inter CA and spent the most amazing 2.5 years of my life. The learning experience I got from my workplace is unmatched. It taught me to be patient and diligent in my dealings. In my pre Mumbai days, I was super impatient and impulsive by nature. But I had to leave that at the door when I joined one of the largest accounting and consulting firms of the world.
And more importantly, I made some super amazing friends who helped me survive the grueling working hours. People who taught me about office politics and bitching about your seniors, the late night dinners and weekend excursions. For those years at EY, I believe I completely broke off with the external world. My world revolved around EY. I still remember I was at a training session at EY when my CA Final results were announced.
One of the most memorable memories of EY was the star tax program where we had a 10 day training session at Goa, my first trip outside Mumbai, missing the flight, meeting someone special and eventually losing her years later.
Immediately post qualifying, I had my GMCS training for 15 days with 40 new friends on board. Those 15 days were a welcome break from the rigorous routine of a CA students life and undoubtedly the best experience of being a student. I found some of my best friends here.
Like every aspiring CA Final student, I joined Professional Academy for coaching. That one year was one of the most interesting journeys when I made a lot of friends from different walks of life. I was still working with EY when I qualified as a CA in 2011. My friends from classes had written me off from qualifying in the first attempt given my long working hours and regular absentism from classes. But in my defence the lectures were at 7am and I have never been a morning person. However, qualifying int he first attempt with a rank, shut them all up for good 😛
Btw, I was a back bencher and a late comer as well. The class would halt for a brief 30 seconds as everyone would turn back to check who just entered. But who new it back then that I would eventually go on to work with the Academy a few years later.
Theek Kar Do
Somewhere the entrepreneurial bug hit me and we started a venture which eventually turned out to be the biggest failure of my life; yet the best turning point when I look back today. Back on 2013, it was my biggest regret but now my favourite mistake (for lack of a better word).
There have been times when I have grown tired of this city and wanted to run away. I wanted to do it when my first business failed. I had quit a high flying – well paying job to run that business. Back then I questioned that decision of mine. Was it too big a gamble I had taken with my life? Was it all worth it. I was lost. And in Mumbai, it is really easy to be passed by unnoticed. The city which is apparently always on the move. People will not have a second glance at you. But then, when my two wheeler skid and I was on the road seeking help with wide eyes; all the cars and pedestrians stopped, the time stopped, the movement stopped – I bought a part of Mumbai to a halt. Everyone rushed to pick me up and offer water. The city stopped for those 10 seconds. And as soon as I gulped the first sip of water and people ensured that I had no scratches or broken bones; the roads and pedestrians were again on the move; while I watched the quick transitions in front of my eyes in those few seconds – life was back to normal. That is Mumbai for you, the city that cares.
But thanks to Theek Kar Do, I got to be on several news pieces from CNBC Awaaz to Hindustan Times to Outlook Business. Also, got to be a part of Startup Leadership Program, Rodinhoods, Google Business Group, and other such communities.
One of the take backs from Theek Kar Do was Jagriti Yatra – a journey of 8000kms spanning 15 cities over 15 days with 500 odd Yatri’s on board. The trip changed a lot about me then and helped me look at the positive aspects of life and the real struggle and achievement of people. If anyone had told me earlier to ‘live’ on a train for 15 days, I would have laughed it off till the Yatra happened. The seats were our beds and the coaches our home for those days.
But more importantly it gave me another lifeline of friends across all cities in India available at a phone call. It gave me such amazing friends for life whom we lived with and bonded on the train. The trip did play a major role in making me a more open and positive person in life.
I did my first solo trip in 2015 to Germany. As my parents packed their bags and flew back home from Switzerland, I extended my trip by a week to be on my own. And the trip did start really well. Where I covered a 4 hour distance in 14 hours, reaching Munich well past mid night with no roof over my head. I was on the verge of tears, in a different city with no idea what I was doing and regretted the decision to do a solo trip without any bookings. But then the next 7 days turned out to be one of the best ever where I met people from different parts of the world just backpacking around. It made me realise that I could be happy being myself and did not need a validation from anyone else.
And then my travel diaries just began. Sometime later, I went to Hrishikesh for the mandatory Bunjee jump. Excited, I was the only one in the group who wanted to go for it, so I paid and waited for my turn. But when my turn came, I looked down and walked back. Somehow I mustered some courage and walked up again and jumped. It was a magical experience but I learnt that it is okay to take two steps back to leap frog ahead in life.
Mumbai – being the chain throughout
How much has the city changed over the last 10 years. Completely and nothing at the same time. Vada Pav is still the staple diet and getting into the train at Dadar is not less than qualifying for the Olympics, it still takes hours to cover a short distance by road and people living in SoBo don’t know where MaKaBo is and going to the airport is the only time they travel outside their geographical limits.
But what has changed is that that vada pao now costs Rs 15 and not Rs 5, the city has got its metro line and mono rail, traffic cameras have been up throughout the city – the Big Boss is watching you and we have got a swanky new airport which is one of the best in the world.
Mumbai lets out different shades of you. The transitions you make from living alone in this city where you become a maid one day and on another you’re fighting that creepy lizard in your room; where you bunk classes to catch up on a movie and where you work weekends to show your professionalism; where you stalk that crush of yours through social media and abuse that pervert in the local train; where you’re the favourite of your friends parents but still not the best for your own. Where you got everything and yet nothing.
During these years I have experimented with a lot of things from my profession to my hairstyle to the friends I keep to the person I think I would want to be. There have been roadblocks but then there have been times when I have been clear that this is exactly what I want to do. I have tried and failed but looking back I don’t regret any of those decisions. All these experiments have played a major role in shaping me.
For several people I have been a snob. It takes people a while to get to know me better and people have chosen to hate me in the first interaction. But that’s who I am and it has helped me filter out a lot of people. I may have a lot of friends today from various walks of life thanks to my extra curricular activities but like every other person I have a small circle of confidants. There are some friends whom I made in the first year of being in the city and have grown like family over the years and some I met just a few months ago. Many people we lost touch on the way but have played an important character at some chapter of my book – to them, we have lost touch but not forgotten.
Living on your own, setting up your house, walking into the empty 4 walls every night after work and eating that cold food, working that extra hour in office, saving that extra penny gradually made me realise life was so much easier back as a child with the only pressure being the school grades.
What stopped me from going back? My dreams and aspirations which I felt would be chained by society and circumstances in that foreign land. Not that I have not fought enough here. I know the struggles my Mom goes through every week trying to convince me to come back. But she forgets that I am her son, as stubborn as she is. She hasn’t stopped trying for once in 10 years, I have not relented yet.
Marriage is still not on the cards and I have not like had some amazing love life to talk about so it makes no presence in this post. Yes, some girls have played an instrumental role but lets stay out of it for privacy reasons. There was someone I thought I would settle with and chased for 2 longs years eventually to accept the fact that she is getting married to someone else. Maybe it’s for my own good. I am not really sure if she knows about it yet, so to not change our equations, shall let the status quo remain.
One person who has influenced me a lot over the last few years is Virat Kohli. My post would have been incomplete without a mention of him. Raw, young, angry, defiant Indian is how I also look at myself and he is nothing less than an inspiration for our generation. Giving more than your 100% and surviving all odds in a sport which is considered a religion in India demands a lot of your blood and sweat which he has already given.
Mumbai has been around when I was drenched in the rain trying to find a roof to protect my cell phone, when I missed that flight because it took me 60 minutes to cover those 5 kms, when my crush got married to someone else, when I got my first salary, when I stayed up all night to see the sun rise at Marine Drive, when I held hands and walked by Juhu beach as the sun set in the background, when I became a Chartered Accountant.
It’s been around when I felt lonely amongst 1.2 billion people, when India lifted that 2011 World Cup, when I got an all India rank, when my future plans were ruined, when I wanted someone to pull me back up, when I wanted everything and nothing at the same time.
There are some chapters which ended on a happy note and some had to be left unfinished. That’s what life is all about, those small moments in between all the milestones.
It clinged on to me when I had made up my mind to leave the city for good.
Who are you Mumbai?