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The girl in Mumbai: How a young woman finds love, heartbreak and herself in an apartment of 325 sq ft

Mumbai has its own compulsions and quirks. It makes practical demands of you and grounds you even when you are at your most vulnerable.

, ET Bureau|
Updated: Mar 03, 2018, 11.44 PM IST
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Women
For, this is a big city that demands you make it big.
Having stayed away from my home in Lucknow for almost five years for higher studies, going to a new city for work was not a proposition that could rattle me. Except, this time, it was Mumbai. A name that has multiple rings to it — dreams and the constant hum of dreariness before you reach for and realise those dreams. For, Mumbai is a city that gives you a cape to fly but also gives you a crowd to fight in your flight.

Soon you realise, the beautiful city by the bay is defined by the few square feet of space that you occupy in it. For me, it was 325 sq ft carpet area in an apartment shared by two other girls — which gave me 108.33 sq ft. There dreams coexisted with dreariness.

The Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA) gave an affordable way of living to many millennials working in the posh Kamala Mills right across the road and other parts of South Bombay or SoBo. The SRA —which was basically built for slum dwellers by razing a slum and building an apartment in the area — came without any frills, but it gave us a roof over our heads. And freedom. We were the broke girls of Bombay — but the city commands celebration, and so we celebrated over chicken curry, port wine and ringlets of smoke. There were days, when you escaped the hundred square feet of home into the vast expanse of the city. Like we did on my 24th birthday. I cut cake on the Worli Seaface and shared it among the strangers on the promenade. It is the kind of celebration that is possible only in this city where women can breathe in the midnight air without worrying too much.

Even though Mumbai gives its women the superpower of freedom, there are moments when you realise how vulnerable you are as a single woman in the city. Men who flash at women. Men who harass women.

Mumbai watches over you as you make choices. I had to choose between an Uber ride home and a burger from McDonald’s to keep my monthly budget from going for a toss. It was the typical Mumbai life: I saw the glitz, I touched it, played footsie with it, and then rushed back to choosing between a cab and a happy meal.

Bombay Velvet

Sometimes you have to Bollywoodise, romanticise, gritty situations — to take you to the next stop in the local train, the next turn in your life. The ladies’ coach, for instance, was a moving feast of tales — and it kept me afloat in the big city of a million small stories. Mumbai is also about love and heartbreaks — not quite 70 mm, more 100 sq ft. I thought I was too cool to be someone’s girlfriend until love landed at my doorstep one day. The third roommate had left and the boy moved in. This would be unthinkable in Lucknow, but Mumbai makes space for that.

Even in its measliness about real estate, it allows you a non-judgmental space to love. To accommodate the expenses on alcohol and recreation that an intense peer pressure required me to indulge in, I delayed buying footwear and made multiple rounds to the cobbler. Vanity began to matter less to me in Mumbai than it did when I was a student in Delhi.

Mumbai has its own compulsions and quirks. It makes practical demands of you and grounds you even when you are at your most vulnerable. My boyfriend became my ex-boyfriend, but I needed him in the flat — not for reasons of the heart but just to share the rent.

And the city wouldn’t let you mope. It is quick to rebuke you if you take too much time over your grief. It is just not viable. Cigarettes, the accessory to nursing a broken heart, were coming at Rs 15 apiece. The metropolis shoves you to pick up after you, pick up the broken pieces of your self, put them together and make it look good. That’s when Mumbai still looks more Basu Chatterjee than Karan Johar.

You evolve in the city. It has an overpowering influence on your choices. I am finally moving out of the 325 sq ft SRA apartment to the suburbs. That’s a sign of growing up in Mumbai — where you are is a marker of who you are. I will again make friends with strangers. I will rearrange my emotions in a bigger apartment.

For, this is a big city that demands you make it big.


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