Mumbai, the capital city of Maharashtra and the most populous city in India, is a place very close to my heart. It has become a “home” to me: after London , where I live, and Rome , where I was born, Mumbai is the city I long the most for. It’s where my husband grew up, where we got married and where in-laws live.
I have a love and hate relationship with Mumbai. It’s not an easy city to live in: it’s big, busy, loud and hot and I get increasingly frustrated whenever I am there. I struggle, I fight, I suffer. When I leave, I am relieved to go back to my comfortable life. But I always miss Mumbai, its way of life and how people are so connected with each other. Face to face relationships matter a lot as well as spending time with your family.
It’s been nearly three years since I was last in Mumbai for my wedding and in this time the city has undoubtedly changed a lot. I miss drinking sugar cane juice from street stalls and shopping with the sister-in-law. I miss fresh coconut water, kala khatta and walks on Juhu beach. I miss evening strolls on Marine Drive.
I miss wearing my salwar kameez and saree or getting around the city on a rickshaw. I miss buying sweets from farsan shops and I even miss taking the train from Santa Cruz to south Mumbai (but only the women-only carriage)! I miss walking in Colaba and the hanging gardens in Malabar Hill.
I even miss having henna on my skin, though I don’t miss spending hours still to get it done. I miss the sun, but I don’t miss the heat.
I miss my mum’s home-cooked meals and chai for breakfast. I miss the street food and my favourite vada pav from the stall outside Mithibai College and…
…the pav bhaji from Amar Juice Centre.
We have already booked flights to visit Mumbai for Diwali and new years (in November) and I am excited to go back after a long time. I would love to explore the city again, but I also know we will spend most of the time at home with my husband’s family and friends.
The truth is, while it takes me a couple of hours to go back to Rome, for my husband the journey back to his hometown is considerably longer. Whenever he is back in India, he obviously wants to spend most of the time with his family and re-connect to his roots.
I understand that because I know how hard it is to be away for long from the place you grew up in.
Family is the most important institution in India. The joint family unit goes beyond the parents-children relationship and it includes grandparents, brothers and sisters (as all cousins are referred to), aunts and uncles, in-laws and even close friends. Family is a strong and powerful element in the life of Indian people.
Naturally my husband is very close to his extended family and wants to stay in touch with them regularly. One way to maintain relationships with your family and community abroad is of course by social media, chats or emails. Facebook and Whatsapp are great ways of updating your friends on your life news and achievements. But to truly connect with people and share feelings you need to hear their voices. To be able to pick up the phone wherever you are and hear the voice of someone you love, it’s priceless.
Apps like Skype offer the possibility to call other users for free, but you need a reliable infrastructure to support fast Internet connections. In developing countries this infrastructure is more often than not lacking, so the option of connecting to a laptop or smartphone and make online calls is not often available. Lebara, which offer free SIM cards to make low cost international calls, is a great resource for people living in the UK who want to connect with family and friends all over the world.
I strongly believe in connecting back to your family and cultural roots whilst living and working in another country. It’s important to adapt to new customs to fit in a different society and not feel like an outcast. But don’t give up on your traditions because they made you the person you are today. It’s important to bring cultural diversity to the country you have chosen as your new home and to do so you need to remain attached to your community abroad.
For me being part of different communities brings value to my life and opens my mind to cultural diversity. I love having roots in Italy, UK and India and I am glad I live in a time and age where connections are easily maintained and fostered.
I hope you enjoyed reading my reflections about Mumbai and connecting to extended family and to your roots. All the photos in this post were taken during my last trip to Mumbai in November 2012. I have sneaked in a couple of photos from our post-wedding photoshoot, which we did one early morning in Colaba.
It was incredible to see the city waking up and slowly picking up its pace, so if you’re ever visiting Mumbai I recommend waking up before dawn one day to explore the city (maybe with a local guide)!
Disclaimer: this post was written in collaboration with Lebara. All opinions are my own.