A Year Later...
By Kamal Sunavala

My last article had been about how I was still adjusting to my new life in Bombay, India. I said I would answer later, perhaps even take sides. This is later. One year later.

All sorts of clichés come to mind. Fact: I am still trying to adjust in a lot of ways. Cliché: You never forget how to ride a bike. Myth: India is ‘the only’ place to be, these days. On some days I feel as if Butch and Sundance have left America and landed in Bolivia. And on some days I feel like Kerouac ‘On the road’ with exciting adventures ahead. Do I like it well enough to stay? Yes. Do I plan to be here forever? No. Do I miss Prague enough to come back? No. But on some days, the shiny summer leaves, the passive-aggressive Vltava and the music emanating from Národní divadlo mixed with the clanging of the trams reminds me of why Prague has been such a charming mistress to so many expatriates. And how fondly we all remember her. And how we return time and again to visit, reliving the same strolls along the same cobbled alleys, drinking our favourite beers and endless glasses of Beton, watching Don Giovanni for the hundredth time and spending the last of the cash on blue porcelain and Mucha posters before reserving a useless smile for the nasty immigration officials.

Bombay had a similar effect on me. I spent the first few months reacquainting myself with Bombay slang, street names and cafes which I used to love. Then came the people. Some the same, some friendlier, some nastier and some had left. And then came the noise. Of progress, of happiness, of riots, of music, of traffic. I blended in on some days; I stuck out like a sore thumb on others. I heard stupendous stories of success from men who had conquered their debilitating circumstances, I heard wails of defeat from women who had suffered injustice. In short, Bombay had everything that any big city had. It had everything that Prague had as well. How considerate of the city of my birth, I thought, to make me comfortable and not too nostalgic. The general ‘buzz’ and excitement- two words I hear constantly from expatriates and newly returned Bombayites like myself- keep the city awake and alive 24/7 and you won’t ever feel like there is nothing to do and nowhere to go at any hour. The astonishing wealth is only too evident as are the opportunities. In a city of 233 square miles, there breathe the souls of 16 million people by day and 13.2 million by night. That’s exactly twice the population of New York City and gargantuan compared to Prague’s 1.2 million people. Why am I rattling off all this? To give you a quick mental picture of what the streets must look like.
I can certainly see why people are attracted to this city. It’s the same reason people were attracted to Prague in the nineties. There was a distinct smell of opportunity, growth and curiosity. Bombay had never been forbidden like Prague but still, it had never held its own as an international city, the way it does now. I see a distinct parallel. I see how people from both cities have the same kind of seething against ‘those damn foreigners taking our jobs’ and the same kind of smarts to get ahead wherever and however they can. In fact, I think both cities should offer crash courses to each other considering each has what the other lacks. These are my suggestions:

  1. Bombay can teach Prague how to smile more
  2. Prague can teach Bombay how to run on time
  3. Bombay can teach Prague how to be more innovative and less conventional
  4. Prague can teach Bombay how to be less moral and more bohemian
  5. Bombay can teach Prague how to work more and depend less on social welfare
  6. Prague can teach Bombay how to develop better social schemes for pregnant women and old people
  7. Bombay can teach Prague how to speak relevant English
  8. Prague can teach Bombay how to save the environment with more greenery
  9. Bombay can teach Prague how to increase its population
  10. Prague can teach Bombay how to have sex without procreation

Oh and my answer? Still adjusting. But I sure do miss the peace of Vinohrady.