7 Lessons for a lifetime from 100 days in Mumbai

Three days after our marriage, Kavitha and I moved to Mumbai. We lived there for about 100 days and then we moved on to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia (Damansara Jaya in Petaling Jaya to be very precise)

This was eighteen years ago and I still remember those days and how it shaped the rest of our lives.

Let me share some themes and lessons:

1. Minimalism

When Kavitha and I landed in Mumbai, we stayed in a company guest house in Malad for a day or two until we had our apartment “ready.” I will get to the “ready” part in a bit. The apartment was in Lokhandwala Complex in Kandivili. This was going to be our very first home, so both Kavitha and I were excited. The apartment was 1305 (5th house in the 13th floor) in Tower B. The building looked awesome from outside and there was a park that probably was bigger than many city parks. When we came to our home though, there was a surprise waiting. The person showed us everything that was there in the house – one hall, one bedroom, one kitchen, one bathroom and a toilet. So, what’s the problem, you might ask. The problem was that the person was showing everything standing outside the door. He didn’t have to step inside the house because there was no need – if you walked in four steps you would reach the bedroom. If you walked four steps inside the bedroom… well, you couldn’t – unless you wanted to fly out of the window.

The house was like a matchbox at best. Both of us didn’t say a word.¬†Believe it or not, we were able to manage to live a good life in that tiny apartment happily.

As in our case and the case of millions living in Mumbai, the size of our happiness was (and is) not based on the size of our homes. It was directly related to the size of our hearts.

2. Just-in-time Mentality:

When we moved into the house, there was no furniture and we didn’t have the money to buy anything either. Problem? No problem. We were not the only ones with this issue at hand. For a very small fee, the home was furnished entirely (it didn’t require a lot of furniture to furnish our tiny apartment) and we were all set. There were numerous occasions were we learned the value of just-in-time culture.

3. Co-ordination and Trust:

I still remember our first week in Mumbai. My friend Kuttaiah and I landed in Mumbai and we were supposed to get from Malad to Mahalakshmi. For those of you who don’t know Mumbai, Malad and Mahalakshmi both are on Western Railway. Kuttaiah and I reached to Malad station and wanted to take a train to the office. The train came and whoever could get on to the train got on to it, we could not. The next train came and the same story. It’s not like, we didn’t try but just that we could not succeed. After a few failed attempts, we just gave up and took a taxi. Next day, it was the same story. Taxi was the answer. The third day, taxi again. That day, someone in the office observed that we were coming into the office at an odd time. When he cornered us, we caved in and said that we were taking a taxi every single day. He laughed at us and said that we should better learn how to take a train or else we will be spending the entire salary on taxi rides.

For example, if you want to catch a running train, all you have to do is to keep running with it (please don’t try this) and extend your hand to a person who is standing at the door. If he manages to catch your hand, you can be guaranteed that he will pull you in. No, I am not talking about may be you will get on the train, I am saying that you can be GUARANTEED to get on that train.

4. Adapting FAST!

Mumbai trains taught us to adapt fast too. After several days of getting crushed the train doors, we realized that there is a way to get a seat in the train. The trick was this – you take a train back to the previous station – Borivili, which is the last stop for the train before it heads back and the whole train will be empty. Now, there is a good chance that you might get a seat there if you are quick enough. Because you lost some time going back, you ensure that you take a fast train towards Mahalaxmi. Unfortunately, the fast train does not stop in Mahalaxmi so what do you do? You go to the next stop (Bombay Central) and then take a slow train back to the previous station. Don’t forget that you had take an auto rickshaw or the bus from your home to the train station in Kandivili. When you get down in Mahalakshmi, the journey does not end there. There are shared taxis waiting at the station to take you to your final destination.

When our return you do everything in reverse. The entire journey takes about an hour and ten minutes if you are quick on your foot.

5. Need for Speed

We were in Mumbai only for 100 days but by the third week, we were comfortable with the rapid pace with which everything happens in Mumbai. It’s not like we were smart or something but if you could not adapt, you could not even survive in Mumbai.

The speed in Mumbai is so different that when we went back to Bangalore after that, we felt that the whole city was dead.

Over these years, we have lived in other “fast” cities like New York and Paris and when people say they are fast, we just smile. We just know that people who talk such things have never visited Mumbai.

6. Working without Whining

In Mumbai, the work stopped when the trains stopped that is between 2 AM and 6 AM. Until the trains were running, people were busy with their work. You could go into a restaurant at 1 AM and from inside, it would appear the same as it would appear at 1 PM in the afternoon.

I have never seen someone working in odd hours looking tired or whining. They would engage with you with a smile all the time.

7. Inspiration everywhere

Over the 100 days we were there, we met several people with inspiring stories about their life journey in Mumbai. Many of them came with nothing and learned to survive, then live and now they were thriving in Mumbai. It was a place where if you were committed over a long period of time, you could MAKE it.

You typically see rags-to-riches stories in novels and movies. We had a chance to listen to literally dozens of such stories from real people. They, in turn, were inspired by several rags-to-riches stories that kept them going.

In summary, if one was looking for inspiration in Mumbai, all they had to do was to knock on their neighbor’s door.

Photo courtesy: zadeus on Flickr