Why Mumbai? You don't even know anyone there." Those were my editor's words when I informed him of my decision to move to Mumbai. I fumbled for a few names I could drop to impress him but he wasn't convinced.
My friends and family were no different. "Big cities are heartless places to live in where even neighbours refuse to recognise you," they cautioned.
So it was with mixed feelings that I stepped out of Mumbai airport. Unlike Lucknow, where it was impossible to be at the airport without spotting a familiar face, in Mumbai, I was on my own, lost in the melee. So when it was my turn to get into the cab, I almost jumped in, hoping that nobody had seen my tears.
The loneliness, however, proved momentary. It disappeared soon enough. The moment the old taxi driver announced, "I am from Pratapgarh, your des." His words were music to my ears. He could tell from my lehja (accent) that I was from Lucknow and had taken it upon him to help me settle in comfortably.
Thereafter, he chatted incessantly about UP politics, about Shiv Sena's threat to evict UP bhaiyas from Mumbai and then some more.
This was my first brush with the Mumbai brand of friendliness. I sampled a lot more of the same in the next few days. Taxi drivers whom I met day in and day out (as cabs were my most preferred mode of transport) were my guides to the city, unravelling its little secrets. Like the one from Barabanki, who insisted on showing me the houses where Shah Rukh Khan and other film stars in the suburbs lived and didn't even charge me a penny.
I had heard enough about Mumbai's famed space crunch and had been dreading the chaos and crowds. Little did I know that I would turn to the same crowd of strangers for comfort! Or that the large-heartedness of its people would put to rest all my apprehensions about the big, bad city. Helping hands have reached out whenever I have needed them. My maid, bai, in Mumbai parlance, has taken charge of my life, starting with Marathi lessons.
A poem written by one Abdul Ali Muhummad says, "Lonely is the traveller who travels all alone, Lonely is the traveller without a home, lonely is the traveller who has no one to care, Lonely is the traveller who has no one to share."
Clearly, Muhummad had not included Mumbai in his travel itinerary.
Email Sunita Aron: saron @hindustantimes.com