There are cities people talk about as if they have a soul – New York, New Orleans, Paris, Budapest – collections of stone and steel that set the heart to yearning when distanced for too long.

Dirty, crowded, crime-ridden, expensive – those who have bonded with the stone and the steel love the metrapole morning breath and all. They love it not just because it is home and all the folks of home live there, but because the city itself is a member of the family.

Mumbai, I think, is one of those cities.

A few years ago I read Gregory David Roberts’s novel Shantaram and my interest in Mumbai was piqued. Now I’m reading Vikram Chandra’s Sacred Games and I have a full-blown crush on Mumbai. In both novels, the city is as much a character as any of the people in the thousand pages of narrative.

Shantaram idealized the city and people, yet showed both warts and all. Sacred Games has a much less heavy hand. Roberts’s is trying to seduce us with Mumbai; Chandra is coy.  Still, both portray Mumbai as the raandi with the heart of gold.

Over the years, I’ve fallen deeply in love with places because of a book; places I’d never seen. Early on it was Cornwall and London; later St. Petersburg and Geneva. With those great cities, I fell in love with them as they were a century or two ago. This Mumbai  affair is for the Mumbai of now.

Of the cities I’ve mentioned, I did get to see London, but my time there was too short and the opportunities to explore too limited. I left astounded that I liked the modern city and not just the ancient one that lived in my head. I didn’t fall in love with New York until after I’d visited, but now I can read novels set in the city and they’re richer, fuller. 

I have a yearning to visit Mumbai – a city that will make my heart simultaneously soar and break.  I can’t foresee the when or the how of Mumbai and I meeting, but I can daydream in the vivid colors, scents and textures that are India in general, and Mumbai in particular.

4 thoughts on “MmmMumbai

  1. I wish I could write with such ease, set me right down in a pleasant receptive state of mind. Your observations, reflections mirror What Paul Bowles did for me, and my love for Northern Africa and no I haven’t been there…but I will.

  2. My first LOVE of a place came in the 5th grade when our teacher read Misty of Chincoteague to us. I vowed I would someday go to school there. I was living in a suburb of Buffalo, NY at the time, soon to move to Maine. Millions of miles (and a few years later) I graduated from high school in Ankara, Turkey, came back to the states for college, fully intending to return to Turkey to teach in the American school there… but fell in love with a Virginian, moved to the shore, and my first school……………..
    my first day of teaching…………
    was at Chincoteague High School. Who’d’a thunk it?
    Soooo, you just might end up in Mumbai! Who knows?

    • I just love how circular life is at times.

      When I was 16, I went to Morelia, Mexico and fell completely in love with Mexico – the people, the place, the food, the everything. Just the other day I was reading that Morelia is a peachy place for U.S. citizens to retire if they don’t expect to have much more than social security to live on.

      For years now I’ve said I expect to be a burden to society in my old age, but perhaps not – not if I can inflict myself on unsuspecting Mexicans in a charming Colonial town.

      The trick is to figure out how to afford to live here now.

      But I really do have a head of steam building up about Mumbai. I figured airfare would be the biggest expense, but it turns out hotels are more than I thought they would be.

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