During the time I lived in Mumbai – in 2006 and 2007 -- I looked everywhere for the famed Mumbai spirit. But the spirit was nowhere to be found. What I found, instead, were lessons in forbearance and reconciling to fate.
The arteries and veins of the city, the Mumbai local, can bruise you and make you bleed. No, really! Try getting off a train at its last destination during peak hours. If you are smart, you will jump out before the train stops, or stay inside the compartment and wait for the rush to subside before quietly stepping out.
It takes time to learn these skills. Meantime, you get your bones readjusted. Those looking to board the train have nothing but a seat in their sights, and do not think much about the collateral damage of their pursuit. A few bruises to the idiot trying to get out is par for the course.
It is not only about the seat. There was a news report of a fight in a local in which one man ended up dead. They were not fighting for family jewels, not even for a place to sit. Both of them wanted to stand at the door, where the air is freshest.
Fresh air, by the way, is at a premium in Mumbai because most of the city is a large dump. You should see the slums they used to romanticise in movies such as Sai Paranjpe’s Katha, until Aditya Chopra and Karan Johar sold our stories to the NRIs. You will feel sad for the people living in the slums and chawls. It’s a good thing the average Mumbaikar spends most of her day travelling, so that she has little time to spend at home.
Of course, many of them consider the local train as a second home. It is easy to see dinner preparations in full swing in a train compartment. Vegetables being chopped is a common site. It should not be seen as evidence of the Mumbai spirit, it is the Mumbai mujboori. Of late, even the stories of the city being safe for women have got diluted by reports of harassment.
Now imagine how the Mumbai way of life would translate into the world of business. Yes, the people are nice, and yes, the people are professional. But you cannot do too many meetings in person unless you have a cluster approach to your scheduling: Plan meetings in a short radius.
Secondly, until the BKC came up, there were limited locations to have your office and make it look respectable. It does not help that Mumbai does not have much room for expansion, unless you are willing to go to Dombivli, which not many are. And it does not get any better once the rains arrive in mid-June and Ganapati soon after.
No wonder Mumbai stopped being the first choice for companies setting up shop in India. Several start-ups have chosen to be elsewhere, some even shifting base after first setting it up in Mumbai.
Now think of Delhi, which has supplanted Mumbai as the country’s economic capital in a study by Oxford Economics. Once you get past the tropes –harsh weather, dirty air, rude people dragging mothers and sisters into street brawls – the city has space, roads, and the Metro. It also has Noida, Gurgaon, and Greater Noida. It is not perfect, but it has enough areas for people to buy houses that do not demand them to sell both their kidneys.
And Delhi has one more thing. It is the seat of the government, its blessing and its curse. But that is lure enough for companies to flock to the city. The truth is that despite the removal of shackles on businesses, and the freedom from licences, companies need the government more, not less.
Why? That is a story for another day.