City of my heart

Chintan Girish Modi offers snippets of a Mumbai life

City of my heart
It is late evening. I am on the ground floor of Infiniti Mall in Malad, looking for granola bars in a store that is endless rows of shelves. My mind wanders off, and my feet follow.

After a good ten minutes or so, I end up in front of a shelf with stacks of ‘Yoga Bars’. I hadn’t known, until a little while ago, that such a thing existed. “No preservatives. No artificial flavours. No processed sugars,” I am told.

I pick up two of the many flavours. One of them contains dates, oats, honey, flax seeds, sunflower seeds, watermelon seeds, and pumpkin seeds. The other contains honey, cashew nut, orange rind, chia seeds, amaranth, and cocoa.

They are delicious. But I’m not eating out of hunger. I am trying to distract myself from the emptiness I have been feeling since afternoon. My closest friend in the world, someone I call my soul brother, flew out this morning after six beautiful days in Mumbai.


Have you ever seen the same city you have lived in for years taking on a new meaning when you have explored it with a person who means the world to you? He and I decided, early enough, that this trip would not be about ticking places off a checklist. We would take things one day at a time, focus on relishing our time together and deepening our bond instead of working towards a Facebook album with every Mumbai landmark in it.

Putting off the urge to plan might be the most difficult thing for Germans, he tells me. Oh yes, he is German by nationality. Sometimes, I forget that. It seems to be almost incidental. The stereotypical German, I am told, is quite like Monica from the American sitcom F.R.I.E.N.D.S. Perfection personified.

My friend made me realise how much of the city I take for granted

Guess where my friend and I ended up going? To the kindergarten where I learnt to make paper planes, wipe my nose with a handkerchief, and sing ‘Ringa Ringa Roses’. To the school where lunch breaks meant rushing out to buy samosas from the shop owned by the uncle whose daughter was our classmate’s girlfriend, and a teacher’s absence from school meant that a substitute would come and show us the film ‘The Lion King’ for the hundredth time. And to the college where ‘Personality and Human Values’ was a compulsory course, where people were sent home if they stepped on campus in shorts, and where going to the chapel could sometimes be a euphemism for making out.

So many friends from so many places have visited Mumbai but never has my sharing been so intensely personal. “Look, this is where I buy milk from, here is where I come when I want to sulk, that is where I wrote my M.Phil. thesis.” You get the drift. There is something gorgeous about sharing the simple and mundane.

We also landed up at neighbourhoods that were new to me, restaurants that I had never been to. And an amazing little Kali temple, where we met a Bengali priest who asked us everything from what we did for a living to what languages we spoke to what we had studied to what had brought us to the temple. He was apparently quite pleased with us, so he gifted us a calendar each. When we mentioned that neither of us could read Bengali, he said that it didn’t matter. He was gifting us the image of goddess Kali. I love her because she represents the naked truth, and the capacity to run wild and free.

My friend made me realise how much of the city I take for granted. I had led him to expect a place that would be dirty, crazy, hot, humid, and crowded. But he ended up loving it, and wanting to come back. “Is it because you took me to the best places?” he asked, just a few hours before leaving. I don’t think so. Perhaps it’s just the sea that washes away everything that’s unnecessary.

Chintan Girish Modi is a Mumbai-based writer. That he shares his last name with a Prime Minister is purely a matter of coincidence. He tweets at @chintan_connect