Finding My Mumbai, Finding Myself

Mumbai

By Dimple Mukherjee

You know the scene. Successions of loud honks, dirty streets, raging hot sun, grazing livestock in the midst of bumper to bumper traffic, naked children playing off to the side, street food stalls, luxurious high rises contrasted against the slums-all a rush to my senses. You can never be alone in this city that never sleeps.

In March of this year, I made a rather impulsive decision to take a one-week trip to Mumbai-my birthplace. I applied for my visa on Monday, was approved on Tuesday and flew out on Friday. Excitement was an understatement. Once upon a time, I was able to visit Mumbai at least once a year if not twice a year and it had been almost 10 years since I had been back. That’s a very long time in my world. There is a depth of connection that I have with Mumbai that can’t be measured.  When I step off that plane, I feel I’m home.

I had zero expectations. I just wanted to sit back, and savour my very short time in Mumbai. There is something to be said about simmering while travelling. Although a small voice inside of me was nudging this planner to fill in the days, I made a conscious effort to silence it. This time, I was going to let the universe take the lead.

Let me fill you in on a little secret. When you ask the universe to deliver, be very specific and clear about what you want because trust me, she will deliver a 100 times over.

I found myself on another plane ride, literally less than 12 hours after I had landed in Mumbai, en route to Goa. Don’t ask. It was as spontaneous as I could ever be.  My three-day trip to Goa reminded me that the essence of life lies in its simplicity.  In Goa, I rediscovered the beauty that is India. Swarmed with tourists and at times, feeling pretty foreign, you can still find the rich culture in every single street crevice.

To be completely honest with you, my favourite parts of being in this beach town were the conversations I had with the local cab drivers (I’ll jump on any chance to speak Hindi), late night dirt cheap yet delicious meals, pit stops at the coconut stand for a drink, and shared sun sets with randoms. Goa leaves you yearning for more-for a life that is free from the everyday “to do” lists. I’ve stored that into my memory back and know that I will revisit this dream when the time is right.

Back in Mumbai, feeling like I had just arrived (again!), I was checked into a pretty sweet hotel. After I settled in, I gave myself permission to indulge. A decadent room with all amenities imaginable and linens so soft you could literally sink into them. The breakfast buffet overflowed with a selection of items fit for royalty (you’d think a king was coming for breaky). I made full use of the breathtaking roof top pool and took the time to catch up on some fiction reads while enjoying my long time habit of people-watching. The service providers ensured that I was treated like a diva -cool mini towels, bowls of freshly cut exotic fruits and ice-cold water were at my disposal.

I have to admit, it’s hard for me to relax sometimes in such settings because I don’t always receive luxury well. I feel guilty and compensate for it by being overly gracious, especially in a country like India where you can’t escape poverty. Keeping it real is important to me.

Which leads me to the highlight of my India trip. My in-person experience with Everyday Child, an organization dedicated to educating youth from marginalized communities in Mumbai via an e learning platform, was unequivocally the icing on my cake. Earlier this year, when I started donating my time towards educating these students, I noticed how much it fuelled me. The students were bright, curious, and enthusiastic and it was clear that they had a deep desire to learn. In return, they taught me so much and reminded me to tap into those parts of myself that lay dormant.

This is the beauty of service-so much to be gained on a personal level when you give back. So you can only imagine my excitement when I met and taught these vibrant beings in person. Talk about emotional overload and one of immense happiness. In that moment, I had a realization. My childhood trips to Mumbai were laced with memories of children on the streets who, despite being tattered and unkempt, had a glow about them that can only be described as sheer joy and positive vibes. I suppose in my shining moment of happiness with the students of Everyday Child, I had re-connected to my soul in a way that I hadn’t in years.

Connection. I always circle back to connection.  New friends, old friends, strangers-everything goes. Exploring creative spaces such as the Good Earth Café allowed me to not only surround myself with artistic beauty but it also provided me with perfect venues to journal in, and to be present and mindful. You can never go wrong with some “me time”.   When I had had enough of my own company, as fate would have it, I ran into a couple of familiar faces in the streets, cafes and rooftops of Mumbai-Canadian friends in India. Sweetness wrapped up in familiarity. There is something really special about hanging out with old friends from back home while travelling because you discover parts of them you never knew existed. I walked away knowing them- their dreams, desires and determinations- just a little bit more.

As I was preparing to leave Mumbai behind, feeling very full and rich with my experiences, I was presented with a delicious surprise en route to the airport. Mumbai being the hub of Bollywood and I being the ultimate fan of all things Bollywood, it couldn’t have gotten any better than this. I found myself in an award winning Bollywood actress’ home for some chai and chaklis! Shashikala used to freak me out as a child when I watched her movies because she typically played a vampy role but was she the sweetest lady ever. Not only has she dedicated many years of her life to Bollywood in leading roles, she also served as a volunteer with Mother Theresa’s organization for nine years performing the most remedial of tasks. I was in awe of this woman, now in her 80s, and all that she has accomplished in life personally and professionally. She reminded me of why I frequently attract strong women into my sphere – they inspire me to dream big.

Looking back, I noticed that surrendering to this travel opportunity to Mumbai, which initially felt like an impulsive act, was actually a tremendous blessing.

It took a lot of effort on my part to make it happen last minute and it wasn’t easy. I felt guilty that I was leaving my children behind with my ex on such short notice (bless him for accommodating me!). I felt stressed that I wouldn’t be able to meet all my work commitments by taking unscheduled time off.   Most of all, I was wondering whether this trip was going to be worth all this effort.

And I’m here to tell you that not only were my spontaneous Mumbai experience worth its weight in gold, but it was essential. Here’s why:

Acts of exploration and discovery excites the soul in a way that restores and renews all at the same time. Such moments encourage us to pick up where we left off but this time, leading with better versions of ourselves.

We all need a little Mumbai in our lives.  I hope you find it in your every day.

 


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