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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6 Responses to The Bombay Seduction

  1. callps December 3, 2008 at 10:53 am #

    Hi Vishy,
    Great and interesting blog!! I am a 26 yr old married woman staying in NJ from last 2 years. My hubby works with an investment bank. We two are also seriously thinking of moving back to India and we definitely belong to “should-we” group..:)I read all your posts, sequentially, right from the first one and really felt surprised how simila we ppl think in terms of living in US and when talked about going back to India. We also are in the process of deciding upon the city to which we want to move. And we hav also selected Delhi/NCR, Bangalore, Mumbai as our options. Both of us belong to UP.
    I have seen New York city and absolutely love its diverse and cosmopolitan crowd, the freedom in the air. And thats why I am more inclined to settle in Mumbai. When I was reading your post “The Bombay Seduction”, I felt its something special about Mumbai city that everybody who goes there falls in love with that..:)but later in your post found out that you are settled in Bangalore. Would you please tell me why you and Poonam made this decision? I understand its all the individual’s choice and the preferences but in the end of the post you showed your intent of living in Mumbai. Actually I am collecting all possible informations from my friends and different sources which can help us in making a right decision about the city, job etc while moving back to India. Your valuable experience might help us.
    Once again would like to say I really liked your blog. You have put your thoughts and experiences in a very interesting manner. Would love to hear from you,
    With Best Wishes,
    PS

  2. ulaar December 3, 2008 at 12:02 pm #

    Hi PS,
    So glad you are finding the blog interesting & useful. There are 3 posts that I never completed:
    Gurgaon Growling
    Bangalore Calling
    Why we chose Bangalore

    I have a fond hope that during the Christmas holidays I’ll complete them (your comment is inspiration enough). Meanwhile here’s the short version of our decision:
    1. Since we have 2 young kids, having sufficient “playing spaces” was a top criterion. This translated to “gated apartment communities” which were present in greater profusion (& affordability) in Bangalore than Mumbai.
    2. Had we been contemplating this move 10 (or even 6) yrs ago – an era sans kids, Bombay might have trumped Bangalore.
    3. New York is to Mumbai as Silcon Valley is to Bangalore. During our years in US, both Poonam & I longed to live in New York for a few years. The window of opportunity (we felt) was again in the pre-kids era so it passed.
    4. I’m not saying a family with kids cannot live in Mumbai – it’s just that for a family with kids returning from US, Bangalore is a softer landing than Mumbai. In your case (assuming you don’t have kids yet), Mumbai sounds like a great fit, especially if you consider the fact that your hubby is an investment banker (for financial folks, Mumbai trumps Bangalore big time).
    5. Finally, after spending 10 excellent yrs in Silicon Valley, the fact that Bangalore ethos was the closest to it clinched it for us. Will elaborate on this in the ‘Bangalore Calling’ post :)

    Wish you the best in your moving plans. Hey – maybe you should start your blog? And keep the questions/comments coming..

    Vishy

  3. callps December 3, 2008 at 1:18 pm #

    Hi Vishy,

    Thanks for your reply!! Many of the NRI people whom I have interacted with have chosen Bangalore to settle down while moving back to India. I wish to know the positive aspects about B’lore city- is it
    1. plenty of job options
    2. similar-to-US lifestyle
    3. Pleasant Weather

    However, I have heard from my age-group people that Bangalore has extremely high cost of living(high rents and real estate prices). And the road traffic is sickening and horrible over there.

    If possible, pls share your views and experience (till date) about Bangalore and Mumbai city. I will be looking for a job in an IT co., so would like to explore whether Mumbai would have enough IT job opportunities. Also as you have moved very recently there, is the IT job market bad in India too? Is hiring taking place?

    Looking forward to your next posts..:)
    Happy Christmas and a great new year 2009!!
    PS

    • ulaar December 14, 2008 at 8:25 am #

      PS,
      Yes to all three – plenty (read PLENTY) of job options – especially for techies, closest to SF Bay Area (& by corollary US) and best weather among all the leading metros. One cannot over-emphasize that aspect. There’s a reason Californians are happier than East-coasters (ok – I only have anecdotes as proof). I believe every Indian metro has one redeeming quality – in the case of Bangalore, #1 is the weather. For a techie, there’s also a strong #2 – abundance of job choices.

      Yes – traffic sucks big time. Then again, with the exception of Delhi/NCR, other metros are no great shakes either. Mumbai traffic is quite lousy, Hyderabad’s traffic might get better faster than Bangalore’s.

      Regarding IT jobs in Mumbai – sure there are a fair number of them but it doesn’t come close to Bangalore. If you are looking for a career in technology product development, Bangalore is a clear #1 (followed by Hyderabad, Chennai, and Gurgaon/Delhi – order depends on who you’d ask). If it’s IT in finance, Mumbai would be a really good bet.

      The IT job market in India is not yet bad. However the operative word may be ‘yet’. Technology product & service companies are still hiring in 2009 but everyone’s really cautious. In this global meltdown state, it’s hard not to get affected.

      Vishy

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