Nov 18, 2008

Maximum City vs. 'Just about enough'

I've been to Mumbai several times in the past, and had a very low opinion of the city - bordering on disdain. Before I'd ever been there, I'd heard monikers such as 'Maximum City', 'City of Dreams' etc., and everyone who'd been there for a bit, seemed to hold a firm belief that the city was 'unbeatable' within India. So, there was the weight of expectation - I expected to see fantastic things I'd never seen before, I expected not to see the problems I've seen elsewhere, and I expected to be awed.

What I saw disappointed me big-time! The quality of public goods and services was apalling. Getting from any one part of town to another usually took an hour at least. The alternative - the 'local' - wasn't particularly pleasant, and in fact, intimidating for newbies. Prices were high for anything remotely aspirational. There were way too many people, and I didn't understand why they were living in Mumbai, while they could live in much better condition in another city. Most of all, everybody was constantly in a rush, and I couldn't see the purpose. People - while somewhat helpful if asked - were in general very cold and detached. As an example, if I bumped into someone in any other city, reactions varied from unjustified anger to touchingly polite apologies.  In Mumbai, they didn't react at all. I bumped into someone on the Andheri Station overbridge, and turned to apologize. He was already gone. I didn't think it was a suitable environment for a social animal.

I visited Mumbai this past weekend. While this was one of my briefest stays in Mumbai, it changed my opinion of the city, thanks largely to 2 people I met and spent time with. It's reputation is well deserved, and at some level, I'd like to be there too!

To understand what makes Mumbai special, you have to look beneath the surface, and see the spirit. Mumbai is the jungle. It's not easy. The weak can't survive for long. But, the possibilities are limitless. Whatever your profession, your lifestyle preferences, your needs and wants - Mumbai offers you much more than any place else. It represents the zenith. It's the place you can realize dreams that you can't, anywhere else.

If you are into the arts - Mumbai is the film and fashion capital of India. If you are into commerce - Mumbai is the financial and business capital of India. If you are into science - well, you probably aren't the dreamy sorts, and your dreams have nothing to do with the city anyway. And it's important to understand that whatever your dreams, there's basically just one thing you need to achieve them - Money. And there is no other place in India that offers the same opportunities to earn money.

People who've been in Mumbai for sometime - understand and internalize all this. They might have a tough time dealing with the challenges early on - and challenges there are aplenty! But, they learn to handle the challenges, and toughen up. This helps immeasurably in every aspect of life. Then, they go in chase of their dreams. The environment forces them to identify what's really important, and focus all their energy and effort in that direction. This is why they reach farther than others, and also why they reach milestones quicker. This is also why terror attacks fail to shake them badly. 

Armed with money, clarity of purpose, mental toughness, and facing a paucity of time - they work harder than everyone else, and also party harder than everyone else. They live their lives to the fullest. Nowhere else can they do this. And this is why they can't leave. Ever.

Now, let me contrast this with the city I call home at this moment. Bangalore. (No, Bengaluru sounds retarded and regressive - and I refuse to accept it)

Bangalore is like a womb. It's a gigantic comfort zone. The work culture is 8-hours-5-days, with a liberal sprinkling of tea/coffee breaks. Fun at work is valued. Work-life balance is given importance. While all this sounds good, the fact is - you are not stretched to your limits. As a result, you don't achieve as much as you possibly could. You achieve 'just about enough'. You earn 'just about enough', and with the money you have, you can do 'just about enough' outside the office. The party scene is: all-shut by 1130, and no dancing permitted - 'just about enough'. Any 'good' club doesn't allow stag entry. So, if you want to meet new people (of the opposite sex), you don't have a lot of opportunities - 'just about enough'. There are 'just about enough' multiplexes, but you can't just get-up-and-go anytime, and expect tickets to be available. Almost everything is available, but only in 'just about enough' places - you have to go there and deal with crowds everywhere.

It's definitely a good place to live in, if your expectations and aspirations are limited - because you can get 'just about enough' of everything. Whether you want 'just about enough' of everything with relative comfort, or you want to realize impossible dreams and are prepared for life in the jungle - will determine which city is the best for you. 

I'd like to believe the cliche: if better is possible, good is not enough.

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