Prologue: Until we meet again
March 22, 2019
$100. That is what I had to pay for an extra bag that had all the Indian food and snacks I was taking on my way to New York. Well, Newark, New Jersey if I’m being honest.
So, I drop my bags (and the extra $20 bag that has another $20 worth of food), get my boarding pass, and walk towards security check.
Now, I am one of those people who is on time for everything. Well, that’s not true. I’m actually early for everything. But that’s because I calculate for everything bad that could happen and I include that in my travel time. I don’t understand why other Mumbaikars doesn’t do this. For a city that is constantly running, everyone is late all the time.
And so, because of this habit, I found myself at the boarding gate with 2 hours to spare.
As I settle down for the long haul, I think of all the decisions I’d made in the last few years that got me here at the airport, leaving my family, my country, my city, a city where everyone is lost all the time, a city that I’ve loved with all my heart and soul.
But how did I get here? A lot of people have done this before me and a lot more will do it in the near future (provided we get over this pandemic soon). Below is a rough, somewhat accurate timelines of events that brought me to that airport.
The Start of a Journey
Sometime in 2015
“There’s no way I can live in any other city than Mumbai. I like other cities and I’ve stayed in Pune for 3 years. But Mumbai is different. You must agree that there’s something about Mumbai that brings millions of people every year to this city. It’s not a city. It’s an emotion”, I said being overly dramatic and filmy.
She raises an eye to the last line.
“I understand that it is a cliché. Yes, there are a lot of problems with this city. It is congested, it is dirtier than what it used to be. It is the costliest city in the entire country. But even with all its problems it has a certain redeemable quality about itself. I love how it brings people together.
Maybe my mind is brainwashed by all the romanticization of the city. But believe it or not, it has had its impact on me. For better or worse, the city has shaped. So, no matter how much I crib when I don’t get an auto in the morning or when I’m stuck in the traffic for hours or when every year the city is always flooded. To me, this city is home”.
“Are you done?”
“No. There’s more. Hmm… okay, I’m done”.
“I do not disagree with whatever you’re saying. It may all be true. All I’m saying is, one needs to be open to the idea of change. It is this thing I’ve seen with most Mumbaikars. You guys will be knee deep in water, literally, and yet have a smile on your faces if you see a vada pav stall 30 feet from you. I’m not asking you to move to Hyderabad. I’m looking for roles in Mumbai. All I’m asking you to do is to be more open to change”, said Priya.
“Well, okay. But I’m just telling you this now, I’m never going to leave Mumbai”.
“Never say Never”.
Sometime in 2016
“Hey, I just got done with an interesting meeting”, said Priya.
“Is it. What was it about?”
“Nothing. Just work. You tell me. How was your day?”
“Same old. I’m still in office. I need to go for an edit now. Will get home late. You tell me. What was the meeting about? For an opportunity in Mumbai?”
“No. actually, they offered me a role in the US”?
“Oh. That’s nice. Did they offer it or is it just how they usually say, you should come here, and it’ll be great types”.
“Na Na. They’re quite serious about it. They’re looking to fill a position and they asked me if I’d be interested. I won’t even have to give an interview or anything. I just have to say Yes, and I’ll get it”.
“So. What did you say”?
“I don’t know what to tell them. I’ve told them I’m looking for roles in Mumbai. They know about you”.
“So, what are you thinking?”
“I don’t know. I know that it’ll be good for my career. You know how I’ve been waiting to move out of this team. But then, I don’t want to leave you and go. We’ve already been in a long-distance relationship for the past 2 years. Hyderabad – Mumbai itself has been a pain. I’m not sure what will happen if I move there”.
“Kya Hmm. Say something”.
“I think you should go. If you say it is a great opportunity for your career, then you should not think about anything else. See, you may decide to not go today, and you’ll probably be fine with it. But don’t hold back because of me. Because sooner or later, you’ll start thinking that things would have been different If you’d taken up that offer. You’ll start resenting me and we’ll eventually break-up because of it. I don’t want you resenting me for the rest our lives”.
“So, you want to break-up now?” she asked, exasperated.
“Arey. I’m not saying that. I’m saying, you should go and not think about me. The basis of our relationship has always been the fact that we’re 2 extremely ambitious people and we’ll put our careers first. Always”.
“I know that. But then, how will we make it work?”
“We’ve made this work until now. We’ll make it work going forward as well. I’ll do what I do best. Set up a routine and follow it. And I’m hoping you’ll be back soon”,
“Yeah. I don’t think I’m going to be there for more than a year. I just want to experience working there for a bit”.
“Great then. I’m good if I get to see you after a year. We’ll make it work. Don’t worry”. I said this to her, but it was more of a note to self.
A year goes by
Sometime in December 2017
“When is she moving back to India?” asked my Mother.
“I don’t know. At least another year for sure”, I responded. “She’s doing well there”, I added.
This was a question I had been dreading or probably avoiding. We were engaged a week ago and we still had not had the discussion. When was she moving back? Or whether she even wanted to move back.
She wanted me to consider moving with her to the US after marriage. All this while, I was always opposed to the idea of moving to the US. It was not actually the idea of moving there that I didn’t like, it was more to do with leaving Mumbai. I was not sure if I ever wanted to do that. Priya had told me very clearly that if at any point I say that I won’t make the move, she’ll move here without a second thought.
In the past one year, while we had mastered the art of a long-distance relationship, the need to be physically close to each other at the end of a tough day was quite overpowering. So, a long distance after marriage was not on the cards.
A part of my mind was contemplating moving, but another part of my mind (the responsible one) didn’t want to leave my parents and go. They were getting old and it certainly would be a difficult conversation.
While I was wrestling with all these thoughts, I heard my Dad say, “have you thought of moving there”?
“I don’t know. I’m not sure if I should”.
“I think you should go there. If she’s doing quite well like you’re saying, then you should not be the reason she should leave everything and move here. What kind of a Visa is she on?”
“If your question is if I can go and work there, then Yes. I can. I won’t have to be dependent financially on her. Though I’d be on a dependent Visa, but it allows me to work there”.
“Then what’s the issue? You can find a Job there. Go”.
“But what about you guys”?
“Your Mom and I aren’t as old as you think we are”, my Dad said looking at my Mom as a hint to join in.
“Yes. We’ll be fine. If it helps you, your career and her career and if you guys will be happy, then you should go there”, she said reluctantly.
“Yes. You should Go and return with a bunch of money in 4-5 years”, my Dad laughed.
“Yes. He’ll be back in 5 years”, my Mom reassured herself.
I had their blessings now, but I was still not sure or convinced.
The Final Decision
Sometime in January 2018
“Did you get a chance to think while I was in Kolkata?”
We’d had a wonderful evening and had returned to our beds in an OYO we’d booked to stay together for the last few days she was here in Mumbai. Now that we were engaged, it didn’t seem like sneaking around.
I gather my thoughts and answer, “Yes and No. I mean, I’ve thought about it, but I don’t know. I’m still very confused”.
“Let’s talk then. I can help you clear your confusion if you want. Are you worried that your parents would say No to this idea?”
“Actually, I’ve already discussed this with them and surprisingly, they were fine with this idea. In fact, If I’m being honest, I didn’t even bring it up to them. They themselves told me I should go”.
“Wow. That’s quite cool of them”.
“Isn’t it? I thought there’ll be a huge drama about it”.
“If they are on board, then what else are you thinking about”?
“Just. There are a lot of open questions in my mind, the answers to which I don’t really know”.
“Like, will I get job? Are my parents saying all these things only because they think I want to go there, or do they really want me to go? Should I leave Mumbai? Again? The OTT industry is on the verge of exploding. In fact, it already has exploded and I’m in the center of it. It is an exciting time to be here in India right now. But then, I also don’t want you to leave everything and come here just for me. And I miss you. A lot. I know that we want to spend our lives together. But where? This is the confusion”.
“I understand. See, if you are worried that if I return, then I’d be resenting you for the rest of our lives then that’s not the case. You were quite understanding the first-time round and I can’t hold this against you forever”.
“Yes. I get it. But you do understand my confusion right. You’re saying that you won’t resent, but it is obvious isn’t it?”
“In that case, I can use the same argument. You can also start resenting me If you have to come there”.
“You know that won’t happen. If I come, it’ll be my decision. Nothing you say, can influence my decision making. Except for the fact that that you’re there (or will be in 2 days) and I’m here”.
“What should we do? I can come back, but not for another year at least. I’ve just got a promotion and I think there’s a great opportunity to grow right now”.
And then, as if a switch went on inside my head, I said, “Fuck it. I’ll come”.
The Epilogue - Goodbye my love, my city
March 22, 2019
“We’ll now take Zone A, B and Business class passengers”, the voice of the flight crew brought me back from my thoughts. Not that I was in my thoughts for the past hour and a half. Of course, I drifted back and forth. I look at my Boarding Pass, curse at the fact that I’m too poor to buy a Business class ticket and the fact that I was in Zone E. I’m restless now. I wait for them to announce my Zone, which they did after excruciatingly long 15 minutes.
I got in the queue, showed my passport and boarding pass, and boarded the flight for a new chapter in my life. After takeoff, I took one last (customary) image of Mumbai city from my window seat to realize that it’s going to be a while when I see this city again.