To those who have tasted the delights of both cities, New York is like the spiritual sister of Mumbai across the seven seas. Let me put this in another way: a Mumbaiite would feel at home more quickly in the Big Apple than in any other city in the world.
Of course, traffic is far more organised in New York (though nightmarish by American standards) than in Mumbai. There is a far deeper understanding and appreciation of culture too – classical, pop and contemporary.
However, the biggest difference, I feel, stems from the fact that New York is also a campus city.
Students from Columbia and NYU — to name the two biggest institutions — make a big difference in shaping New York’s lifestyle and ethos: as much as skyscrapers, big business, the United Nations, a heady multi-cultural mix et al with their energy, irreverence, curiosity and constant seeking.
Mumbai misses out on this substantially though colleges abound. This has not so much to do with geographical expanse of a campus (New York is desperately short on space too), rather of mind-set and culture. The richness of education that a city provides is hardly to be defined by what this costs, but what it delivers.
Having spent the past few days at the Showcase Event of the Columbia University Journalism School, and seen the rigour, passion and concern that goes into the making of a world class university — by students, faculty, authority — it is clear that Mumbai has some way to go.
Having said that, there is much that is common between the two cities. Within a few hours of getting into New York (or Mumbai), you get sucked into the pulsating, throbbing rhythm of the city. It is driven by ambition, power and money, true, but also by great creative zeal and acknowledgement of talent.
To become rich or famous – or indeed, just to be —requires as much imagination as hard work, and this is evident in the way the city breathes. Interestingly, like Mumbai, New York covets liberal values (albeit under duress every now and then in both cities) and allows others to be what they want to be.
To narrow down the comparison to commuting, Manhattan, like South Mumbai, runs linearly, the lifeline being the public transport systems: almost always under heavy strain, and given to frequent breakdowns. However, think of what life would be without this facility.
The one similarity between Mumbai and New York that has left me stupefied is in the matter of bed bugs. The pests seem to have over-run the pride of America and has —among other things — provoked a rash of articles over the past couple of years on the matter, as I discovered on surfing the net when told about it.
“This is the biggest problem everybody here faces,’’ said a student from Mumbai, now studying in Columbia. “It is so bad people would skip a party if they find a bed bug in their house – or be told not to come for fear of bringing the bug along!’’
Thankfully, the hotel where we stayed in Harlem (the first opened in 40 years in this once-notorious area which shows what effective law and order and governance can achieve) was bug-free. “If you find one in your room, one night’s stay free,’’ said the cheerful receptionist. However, there was no running away from the problem. When we hit a pub in Greenwich Village on Friday night, an insolent little creature crawled out of the woodwork, then seemingly winked and dived back to safety before anybody could react.