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The Bombay Seduction

Pic: courtesy moviegoods.com

Two centuries ago, Mumbai (Bombay) was a small fishing village consisting of seven islands. Its natural harbour held an opportunity for investors, who realized that it could become an important trading center. The British era saw the creation of a bustling seaport that was used as a gateway to transport natural resources to Great Britain, an airport that was considered the best in this part of the world, the birth of trade and commerce in textiles with cotton and bullion dealings at the forefront. People soon migrated to this booming business center from all over India and various parts of the world… and eventually, the small village was transformed into the bustling metropolis that is Mumbai today.

..as described by Niranjan Hiranandani (Managing Director of Hiranandani Group) in an article where he addresses what is available for home buyers looking for a green and healthy lifestyle in (yes) Mumbai. The bustling metropolis boasts a population of 12 million which represents 1% of the Indian population. Approximately 6.5 million of Mumbai’s residents live in slums, according to the 2001 census. This is the shocking dichotomy called Mumbai. The city is the financial capital of India, has a per capita income which is almost three times the Indian average, contributes 25 per cent of industrial output and 70 per cent of capital transactions to India’s economy. For more amazing facts and figures, the Wikipedia entry on Mumbai will not disappoint.

The biggest selling point of Bombay are its people. You won’t find anyone arguing this point. It’s India’s most cosmopolitan city – by a wide margin. It is India’s New York City, its pride and joy, the cricket capital, the cultural capital (not just Bollywood), a populace with an undying spirit and indelible character. Wow! Wouldn’t you want to live in Bombay?

My 2-week India started and ended with Bombay – 2 1/2 days at the outset and two days after covering Gurgaon/Delhi and Bangalore. My flight reached Bombay at 11pm and it was past midnight by the time I got done with the immigration and customs formalities. I walked out to the usual throngs of Mumbaikars holding placards of people they are supposed to be picking up. Soon I spotted the happy face of my friend Dheeraj who had come to pick me up. I had last met Dheeraj three years ago but I’ve known him for 25 years (since my Xaviers Bokaro days). We drove to his flat in Powaii where he graciously hosted me during my Bombay stay. Dheeraj is the co-founder of FinEng (a financial software services startup) that has achieved a lot of success in a short period. He had adjusted his busy business travel schedule in order to accommodate my trip to India – what a friend!

The next two days were a bustle of excitement on the personal and interviewing front. The next morning we drove to Dheeraj’s office in Santa Cruz (East) – my first set of interviews were in the afternoon. As it coincidentally turned out, Dhananjay’s (another classmate from Xaviers Bokaro) office was right next to Dheeraj’s office so he stopped by. The next hour was spent catching up on our respective lives, reminiscing about Bokaro days, and planning a Xaviers Bokaro ‘get-together’. Dhananjay is a top economist honcho at Centrum and had recently moved back to Bombay (from Bangalore) after spending 3+ years at Infosys BPO. His explanation: “Bangalore was not as much fun as Bombay”. Spoken like a true Mumbaikar, my friend. The next evening, Dhananjay, Dheeraj, Saurabh (another Xaviers Bokaro classmate), and I got together at the Orchid – a nice little 5-star hotel alongside the domestic airport. Saurabh works for Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) and had recently moved to Bombay from Guwahati. It was a great evening of bonhomie with warm toasts welcoming another Bokaroite to Bombay – heck! I felt we were already moving here.

Meanwhile my interviews with the two Bombay startups had gone very well. One of them made an offer on the 2nd day itself. My meetings with the other startup were also very promising. I was impressed by all the folks I met at the two startups. Considering these were startups, the high energy I saw among the people was not surprising. What was surprising was the number of young people I saw – made me feel old (which I am – only chronologically of course).

I had spent a scant 60 hours in Bombay before I boarded a plane to Delhi but I was feeling that helpless sense of being seduced by Bombay. The warmth exuded by the Bokaro gang, Dheeraj’s hospitality, Dheeraj/my planning the hypothetical joint family vacation to Coorg, the offer from the startup, sights and sounds of Bombay, and Poonam were all adding up. Hitherto, Poonam had maintained a very neutral attitude towards Bombay (even thought she grew up and spent her first 23 years here). Now that Bombay had become a very credible and tangible possibility, she got all excited. “Oh! we’ll live in Bandra. I’ll show you the cool spots of the city, my favorite haunts” and so she gushed. Her excitement rubbed off on me – after all it doesn’t take much to get me excited.

Let’s see what the 3-day weekend in Delhi/Gurgaon has in store for us…

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