Bombay Mera Hai — A Love Letter
In school, back home in Chennai, we had an extracurricular subject called western music where they’d teach us songs. There was this one song called Bombay mera hai by Uma Pocha. My introduction to Bombay started there in 5th grade when I enthusiastically sang “Our ladies are nice, they are full of spice, come to Bombay, come to Bombay, Bombay mera hai.” Little did I know what life had in store for me.
I moved to Bombay around 10 years ago. It was Hectic, chaotic, and loud in every way possible. Tall grand buildings, dabbawalas delivering their home-cooked meals to people, local trains always packed. Vada pav and sandwiches. Unpredictable, perpetual traffic. Madness. It was everything I wasn’t used to. It shook me out of my cozy bubble.
Every year, thousands of people come to this city with dreams in their eyes, hoping to make something of themselves. When I came here, I was only 16. I was so shaken from moving away from the only home I knew that I was adamant about not liking Bombay. I met all kinds of people. Welcoming and warm, arrogant and mean, the privileged, the underprivileged. People from all ethnicities and cultures.
I was lucky enough to find warm friends, who welcomed me into their lives and homes enthusiastically. My Bombay experience at times has been rose-tinted and easier because of them. In a city as big and loud as this, you sometimes just want to know you are not alone.
As stubborn and closed off as I was the first two years in the city, slowly but steadily, I fell in love. Maybe more than I would like to admit. This city isn’t just about its views and glamour, it isn’t just about its places. It’s about the experiences you have, the people you met, the spaces you claimed. Surprisingly the city that hurts your ears with its bustling sound is also the city where a lot of us found peace.
This is my last week in Bombay, by the time this article gets published, I’m assuming I would be flying out to my next beautiful thing. It’s not like I wouldn’t visit, I have both my biological family and my chosen family here, a part of my work is here. But I wouldn’t be living here anymore and that in all honesty is making me feel like the 16-year-old Varshini that moved away the first time all over again.
I can no longer just spontaneously go see sunsets at the marine drive and drown out all the noise in my head and around me. I would miss my early morning walks photographing the beautiful buildings in the fort. I will miss the glitzy pubs, the crowded Colaba lanes, the walks on Versova beach, the million cafés, and all the cats and dogs that find shelter in them. The feeling of taking a cab back home at 3 am — drunk as hell staring outside the window with the wind in your hair, wondering how beautiful this city is. Listening to music and having therapeutic conversations sitting in your car in carters or bandstand munching on something delicious. Looking up at the Antilia every time wondering how it must look from the inside. The monsoons and the cutting chai. The bhaiya that sells coffee boost at 2 am on his bicycle. I’m going to miss even the struggle that is to push through a local train at your stop and emerge in one piece with all your belongings. How every festival is celebrated larger than life. The million auto rides I have taken and the rickshaw bhaiyas that have gotten me home safe. The food, oh the food-both street and fancy restaurants. Above all, I’m gonna miss the people I’ve done all of these things with.
People often romanticize Bombay. Like most things in life, this city has its downfalls too. The exorbitant rent and cost of living, the traffic that sucks the life out of you, the toxic hustle culture, the heartbreaks, the rejections, the city is an infrastructural mess, the pollution, the overcrowding, people run, people fight, people struggle. But it teaches you life. It teaches you how to co-exist. It teaches you how to find your voice in a place that is drowning in noise. It teaches you how to be resilient, how to pull yourself out of rock bottom. That’s Bombay, naked, raw, sheer acceptance of reality. Just like the city that just picks itself moves on no matter what happens to it, the people do too.
Like I have said before, home is very transversal to me. While I know it’s time to move on and explore the next big thing in my life, Bombay will always be the city that taught me how to survive, how to live, how to empathize, how to learn, how to accept.
It taught me how to be human.
This is Varshini Raaj signing out.