They Came, They Saw, They Stayed: Mumbai From the Lens of New Settlers

People & Community

They Came, They Saw, They Stayed: Mumbai Through the Lens of Migrants

They come, for a new life and livelihood, with different perceptions of the same reality. Does Mumbai fulfil or leave its migrants wanting?

Ae dil hai mushkil jeena yahan, zara hatke zara bachke, ye hai Bombay meri jaan.” When the late Johnny Walker lip-synced these lines in a song from, C.I.D, little did he know he was singing his way to immortality. 65 years on the words still resonate for their accurate commentary on Mumbai. Bombay, Bambai or Mumbai—it’s the “meri jaan” that counts, and we’re not talking #hashtags.

While all this is old hat to us Mumbaikars, what does it mean to those who migrate to Mumbai—pack their bags, say goodbye and set course for a city whose reputation precedes reality—a place they call ‘city of dreams’. What’s their impression of Mumbai and Mumbaikars? Does the city exceed their expectation or burst the proverbial bubble? Does a new-comer’s Mumbai match the glossy depictions by Bollywood, the unpolished truth of a documentary or the half-truths of hearsay? Oh, well! Let’s just get on with it.

On behalf of, I had a freewheeling chat with friends who are current and former residents of Mumbai. They changed cities for different reasons but ended up becoming Mumbaikars. Like the millions before them, they too contribute to Mumbai, partake of its spirit and take away a piece of it on their journeys beyond.

Fellow Mumbaikars, prepare to thump your chest or palm your face—this ride will go both ways as our guests peel layers off the Mumbai they see and make delightful and damning observations on city life. And while at it, we’ll play a game to rate Mumbai vs other Indian cities based on our guests’ experiences to determine how Mumbai matches up (keep counting the scores as you read). Get acquainted with our naturalised Mumbaikars.

Mohammed Anees

Anees Mohammed
Event Manager, city-hopper, former Mumbaikar, originally from Udaipur. Mumbaikars from 1992 to 2007 and again in 2018. Previously lived in Tezpur and Dibrugarh (Assam), Bhilwara (Rajasthan), Dhanbad (formerly in Bihar, now in Jharkhand), Chennai and Ahmedabad. Now settled in Udaipur. Favourite place: Andheri.

Divya Arya

Divya Arya
IT Professional, inter-city battler from Alwar, Rajasthan. Migrant in Mumbai since 2019. Previously lived in Jaipur, Ajmer and Gurugram. Favourite place: Worli Sea Face, Prithvi Theatre.

Vinay Saroya

Vinay Saroya
Graphic Designer, satisfied Mumbaikar and loving it. Migrated to Mumbai with family and lives here since 2005. Previously lived in Visakhapatnam, Pune and Delhi. Favourite place: Mannat (Shahrukh Khan’s bungalow) and Bandra Bandstand.

Meghana Karandikar
Mobile App Developer, fierce professional cum friendly neighbourhood girl, born and brought up in Dhule, Maharashtra. Migrant in Mumbai since 2017. Previously lived in Nashik, Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Favourite place: Worli Sea Face.

Coming to Mumbai

I was always fascinated by Mumbai.

Anees: I first came to Mumbai long ago to visit my grandparents. It was my first experience of the Mumbai monsoon. We shifted in 1992 when my father was transferred from Dhanbad. Coming from Dhanbad to Mumbai was a huge change.

Divya: I was looking up jobs in Pune but got one in Mumbai. When I shared the news with my mom and she was like, “perfect!”. She was happy because we have relatives here. I decided to come to Mumbai with an open mind; without any negative thoughts or expectations.

Vinay: My family was in Mumbai till 1993. I was 5-6 when we left for Visakhapatnam, it was just after the ’93 blasts. I remember because our Maruti car was damaged in that. I spoke fluent Marathi at the time but lost touch with it in Vizag where I picked up Telugu.

After that my only connection to Mumbai was through movies and news. It is the ‘city of dreams’, right? I wanted to be an actor when growing up and that would only be possible in Mumbai. We came back in 2005 when my dad got transferred back from Visakhapatnam. He was desperate for a transfer to Mumbai because he wanted to spend the rest of his life here.

Meghana: I was always fascinated by Mumbai. I had been here on short trips and liked the life in Mumbai which is what made me move here. When I switched jobs, I didn’t consider other cities and I didn’t want to go to Pune.

(For being the ‘city of dreams’ and first choice for professionals, Mumbai 1-Opposition 1, because a handful of cities are providing equally good or better career options and pay.)

First impressions

I had never seen so many people and had no idea how they fitted in!

Anees: The crowd, man! I had never seen so many people together in my life! It was like waves of people. And it’s still crowded (giggles).

Divya: The humidity! It was killing me. Just out of the airport and I was already sweating… I figured the weather won’t suit me at all.

That apart I was very happy that no one was looking at me. (Why, you wearing a scary mask?) I’m afraid of travelling or being alone in public, and here I was, all alone in a new place, towing heavy luggage and all, but no one harassed or bothered me. I was pleased and relieved. (Full marks, Mumbai, for not harassing an akeli ladki fresh off the boat, Mumbai 1-Opposition 0, you can do better for single female travellers.)

The cabbie quoted 500 to my destination and I had never paid more than 50 for a cab so I checked online and learnt I wasn’t being ripped off. (For your honesty to newcomers, Mumbai-1 Opposition-0; unfortunately, not all Indian cities treat new arrivals like Mumbai where they’ll fit like a glove.)

Vinay: I had never seen so many people and had no idea how they fitted in. (Yeah, Vinay, all these years in Mumbai and we still wonder how they do!) I realised that a million people lived within a radius of 2kms, and the whole of Visakhapatnam had maybe a million people! Back then, there was no Big Bazaar in Vizag, and here people were going to malls that had Big Bazaars!

I used to read ‘The Hindu’ (newspaper) in Vizag where it was 16-18 pages. In Mumbai, I was reading ‘The Times of India’ which came with the Mumbai Mirror. I was reading a paper with 40 pages and full-page ads! (So much more raddi to sell, na. Mumbai surprises in unexpected ways.) Everything was so different. I was overwhelmed in good ways and in other terms.

Meghana: I arrived with my dad at Dadar Station and we drove to Worli where I was to live. I was not amazed, rather shocked. I didn’t expect what I saw around me… Mumbai was supposed to be posh and all. (Yeah, yeah. Not all of Mumbai looks like CST Station, Juhu beach, Chowpatty or Queen’s Necklace. It’s all part of the package.)

Perceptions | Before

You get to see movie stars on the streets

Anees: It was limited to what I had read or seen in movies and magazines. I personally thought Bombay (which it was then) had only beaches. (You sure you didn’t confuse Manutius for Mumbai, bro? Good confusion, though.) And you get to see movie stars on streets! (Yes, if those streets happen to be in Bandra or Juhu. You were right after all!)

Divya: I never dreamt of coming here because I only knew of it as a crowded city. (If the crowds don’t get you, the space crunch will, Mumbai 0-Opposition 1; for cities with better planning.)

Vinay: Surprisingly, I had no perceptions. I came with a clean slate. I wanted to know what the city is. I still don’t have any perception of a Mumbaikar. Now Mumbai has spread so far. People from different places react differently. Someone who is from Ulhasnagar but commutes to Mumbai is also a Mumbaikar. Places like Panvel and Ulwe where I have a house are spacious and their colonies are so structurally definitive. A person from such a place would not understand the troubles of someone stuck in traffic in Andheri going to work at 9am. Everyone has troubles, whether you’re from SoBo (South Bombay. If they make it SoMo for South Mumbai… sounds like a kid’s nickname.) or a suburb of far-flung place.

Everybody is a Mumbaikar. The whole problem with this city is every day there’s a new problem, every day you’re a new Mumbaikar.

You adjust to the city depending on your mood. You’re a different Mumbaikar on a Sunday, on a Monday and on a Friday!

(You mean like Ayushmann Khurranain in films, Rahul Dravid in cricket or Sharad Pawar in politics! Truth is you got to wear a different skin every day to survive in this city.)

Meghana: I was aware it’s an expensive place but other than that I had no specific perceptions, frankly. I took it as a challenge to move here and explore.

Perceptions | After

Shahrukh said in a movie, “One day I’ll own the city,” now the city owns him.

Anees: Oh man! (Sound of glass shattering… Nah! I made that up.) When I was in Kendriya Vidyalaya school (Powai), my perception was limited to my colony in Kanjurmarg (If you don’t know where that is… never mind, it’s here.) and its residents, but when I started working, I saw people were always in a hurry. It’s a very fast life.

My perception of Mumbai changed when I returned in 2018. It’s very expensive now, and over the years it’s become more chaotic, so it might be a difficult place for middle-aged people. It’s still a great place for young people who want to achieve something and continue here. (For being unjustifiably expensive, Mumbai 0-Opposition 1; for providing decent quality of life for less.)

Divya: As I looked out the mirror on my first cab ride in Mumbai, it appeared less crowded and some of the streets, buildings and people reminded me of Jaipur where I lived and worked previously, so that was comforting. I had imagined an overcrowded place with blaring horns, smoke and pollution, but everything was so shiny.

Vinay: Mumbai never matches up to you—you have to match up to it! I could not be, say a gangster or a Shahrukh who said in a movie dialogue, “One day I’ll own the city,” now the city owns him.

It’s completely bizarre, it’s completely amazing. It’s very different from any other city.

I can tell you today that I’m not fast enough for this city. It’s completely bizarre, it’s completely amazing. It’s very different from any other city. I’ve lived in Pune and Delhi (two months each). I’ve seen places, but there’s nothing like this city. It’s 15 years since I came in 2005 and I still haven’t seen the whole city! (Neither have we. That way you won’t run out of places to explore. BTW, anyone been to Banganga or Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum? Nahi. Thought so.)

It’s so weird… every time you go out it’s a new experience. On a weekend you’re sitting at home, content about not going out, thinking this is the life—I can chill on a Saturday or Sunday. But when Monday strikes, it’s totally different. You have to go out into the grind, but you get used to the grind.

I hate grocery shopping and the first thought is I don’t want to go out grocery shopping but eventually you have to do it and there’s still fun in that. There is no other option. You have to have fun in this city and if you’re not—it might sound absurd—then you’re into depression if you’re not having fun in doing anything. (Next time you feel low, step out, explore the city and have fun. Don’t forget to wear a mask.)

Meghana: My perception of Mumbai changed with experience. I lived in a crowded area like Worli. The locality, PG accommodation, roommates… I had a tough time. When I explored other localities, I saw other sides of Mumbai. It was shocking in the beginning, but I got used to it eventually.

Being from Maharashtra, I had already heard a great deal about how helpful Mumbaikars are. That perception and my own expectation has not changed. (Well done, Mumbaikars. Keep it that way.)

My definition of a Mumbaikar—helpful, never misguides, makes friends easily, party person.

Being in Mumbai you do so much in a day, you adjust so much. So Mumbaikars can adjust anywhere. (For your qualities of adaptability and acceptance, no matter how tough your own life is, Mumbai 1-Opposition 0; tell us if you know of a breed apart like Mumbaikars.)

Another thing I’d like to add is I feel safe here. I can and I have stayed out late… like returning home with friends at 3 am in the morning or walking home from work at 11.30 pm.

Best of Mumbai

A city’s stray animals are a reflection of its humans.

Anees: Till I moved out in 2006, I always considered Mumbai a good place for those who want to grow professionally. ‘The’ place for people in their prime. Now cities like Gurugram and Noida are doing that.

I said to myself, “Kya shehar hai! Mujhe bada achcha lag raha hai.”

Divya: The first best thing about Mumbai is the animals! (Yes, yes. We have a nice zoo.) I know it sounds weird. Most places I’ve lived so far, I’ve only seen aggressive stray dogs. (Ahh. Sorry for the misunderstanding.) I can’t walk down a street without being barked and growled at by dogs in Alwar. I live in Prabhadevi and it took me a while to notice the large presence of cats. I’ve never seen so many stray cats or seen them move so freely. And if cats were to symbolise women, then women rule my neighbourhood (‘Catwoman in Prabhadevi’; awesome headline!). I see more women with kids, and pets and cats, and fewer men at night. I said to myself, “Kya shehar hai! Mujhe bada achcha lag raha hai.”

(For affording women and their feline counterparts, the safety to take a peaceful nightly stroll, Mumbai 1-Opposition 0; catch up, rest of India. Mumbai’s ladies are always out and about, day or night.)

I can’t tell you how happy I was. Let me explain. I believe through personal experience that a city’s stray animals are like its humans, as good or bad as people in that city. (I told this this would be fun.) If the humans don’t get you the strays will. Like one time in Gurugram, I witnessed the pillion rider on a bike kick a dog in a pack of strays and speed off. I happened to be there and the dogs came straight at me. They snarled and threatened me for many minutes. I was petrified and called out for help. Passers by saw, people even watched from their homes, but no one came to my rescue.

You won’t need to run more than half a kilometre to find help when in trouble.

The second thing is every 500 mts. you see a police car. You won’t need to run more than half a kilometre to find help when in trouble (laughs heartily). I feel very secure. I also appreciate that cabbies reject me all the time, but they don’t misbehave or stare through the rear-view mirror.  

Lastly, I love the rain.

Vinay: Vada Pav. Hot and fresh out of the kadhai… nothing beats it! (A Mumbai original without equal. Need we say more? Mumbai 1-Opposition 0.)

Worst of Mumbai

Mumbai doesn’t stop for anybody. It stops for the rain.

Anees: The best and worst of Mumbai is the rain. Mumbai doesn’t stop for anybody. It stops for the rain.

Divya: The constant rejection by cab drivers (for that you have our empathy and sympathy). I can’t imagine even guys rejecting me so many times. All that rejection has prepared me well to face real rejection (laughs). Also, the humidity. Take out rejective drivers, the dust and humidity, and Mumbai is the best city.

Doesn’t matter what time I step into a local, I could do with 10 less people.

Vinay: Crowded local trains. Doesn’t matter what time I step into a local, I could do with 10 less people. (You don’t like a free massage?) If I get that space for me and my bag, why not?

People leaning out from a Mumbai local train.
Mumbai’s lifeline is the epitome of overcrowding. Credit: Simon Steinberger from Pixabay

Meghana: Mumbai can do way better in terms of cleanliness. People’s behaviour regarding this is not acceptable. (Mumbai needs a ‘Jhaadu Party’—branches everywhere.) We need to focus on improving cleanliness, which will make the city more welcoming. No other major complaint. I haven’t yet seen the bad side of Mumbai. (For your poor record in cleanliness, civic authorities and Mumbaikars, Mumbai 0-Opposition-1; because India has cleaner, civically better-managed cities.)

How Mumbai compares with other cities

No other city is like Mumbai.

Divya: I’ve had bad experiences with both, people and animals in other cities. In Alwar, I never venture out on foot. I feel safer going out on my two-wheeler. In Jaipur, two men on a bike attempted to snatch my cousin sister’s mobile when we were walking together, but I helped avoid the incident. I can’t even tell you the more serious issues I have faced in some cities. Touch wood, I am in Mumbai more than a year and never been in a bad situation.

Vinay: Places where I lived have their fun zones. If you are in Delhi and want to check out the happening crowd or go clubbing, you go to South Delhi. If you want to rock hard in Pune, you to go Koregaon Park which has the best pubs. In Mumbai, you do not have to go out of your locality (Chembur, in Vinay’s case) to have fun. It’s very different like that. (For the city where every zone is fun zone, Mumbai 1-Oppostion).

In Mumbai, you do not have to go out of your locality to have fun.

Meghana: I’ve been in Delhi for a bit but it does not compare with Mumbai. My first preference for a city is safety. Dubai can be compared with Mumbai… they are 90% similar. But you don’t get the feeling of acceptance or being happily overwhelmed in Dubai like you do in Mumbai. Dubai is awesome for a month, then it appears mechanical. I don’t feel that in Mumbai. I can visit the sea face every day and still find the same calm and happiness. I haven’t experienced that in any other city. No other city is like Mumbai.

Change you would like to see

It’s the only city where I mustered the courage to go alone to a theatre and I don’t want that to change.

Anees: The population and the drainage system. When I was here in 2018, Mumbai was still overcrowded and the traffic was still bad despite the addition of Metro and Monorail. You can’t do anything about the population and the overcrowding, but basic infrastructure like roads and drainage need to improve. (For allowing the city to drown every time it pours, even after decades of trying, Mumbai 0-Opposition 1, for every city developing basic infrastructure better than Mumbai does.)

Basic infrastructure like roads and drainage need to improve.

Divya: If you change anything about Mumbai, it won’t be Mumbai. If you take away the things that make Mumbai what it is, it will be like any other city. It’s the only city where I mustered the courage to go alone to a theatre and I don’t want that to change. (For being safe and reassuring to women, Mumbai 1-Opposition 0, women need to feel the same.)

I don’t think the city needs to change. If at all, people need to change, because people make the city.

Vinay: I don’t think the city needs to change. If at all, people need to change, because people make the city. ( said so too.) I hear and experience that people don’t have time for others. That needs to change. When you do not have time for your people, you’re not compassionate. People need to be more compassionate. If I take out 5 minutes for you or you take out 5 minutes for me, it means a lot to me. (‘Mumbai ka naya naara, ek doosre ko do paanch minute tumhara’. Translation not available). I have seen compassion in other cities.

Daily wagers in Mumbai taking a nap.
Mumbai needs compassion and Mumbaikars need to make more time for each other.

If I get into a fight with a stranger on the street, I will be angry for 10 minutes but then I have to calm down for myself, and so does he. Otherwise, it gets worse. (For the city that calms down, moves on, no matter what, Mumbai 1-Opposition 0; try getting into a fight in certain Indian cities and you’ll be reading this from a hospital bed.)

Meghana: I want to see the betterment of Mumbai, and the main problem is cleanliness.

Want to be a Mumbaikar forever?

I would love to.

Anees: Given a choice, I’d prefer Gurugram. (As other cities catch up, Mumbai needs to stay ahead of the curve if it is to attract and retain the best talent and creativity India has to offer. Mumbai 0-Opposition 1.)

Divya: Yes. (To settling down here for life.)

Vinay: I would. The way my career is progressing, it might take me places. Otherwise, I would stay back. I have even bought a house in Mumbai.

But if I had to, I’d go to Chandigarh. It reminds me of my childhood in Visakhapatnam… it’s open, clean and just as simple. The primary reason for going to Chandigarh would be it’s very clean, Mumbai is not. I might also want to return to Vizag but I’m scared of being disappointed with the changes. Rather than hoarding that disappointment, I’d prefer going to a new place that I’ve seen and appreciated.

Meghana: I would love to. (She said before I could complete the question.)

There’s more to Mumbai, much more

Did you keep track of how Mumbai fared against the opposition, or did you nod off? (I know it was a long read, okay.) And the final score is… Mumbai 8—Opposition 6. Close! And you thought Mumbai was going to whip… never mind. The game was purely for fun. Mumbai, don’t get too excited. Rest of India, you’re getting better as Mumbaikars discovered in this story.

As much as the words of these fellow Mumbaikars are an advertisement for all that is good and great about Mumbai, many issues, some critical, remain unaddressed. The scores reveal how well Mumbai does on some aspects when compared with some cities. They also reveal it needs to do better on civic parameters and infrastructure that will make Mumbai sabki jaan.

Numbers That Matter
  • Temp58°C / Humidity66%
  • AQI107 Air Quality Index
  • US$0.00 Exchange Rate
  • Mumbai COVID-19 Dashboard
  • 7,55,480 Total Cases
    16,229 Total Deaths
  • 27,89,713 Total Tested
    7,31,749 Total Recovered
  • Last updated on October 28th at 8:43am