Reza's Travel Blog

Travels to Bombay and beyond...

February 16, 2014

Mumbai 2014: A Return After 4 Years

With Aliyah almost five years old and Zal two-and-a-half, Naghmeh and I decided it was time to go see our family and friends in Mumbai after being away four years. I was there for ten days; Naghmeh and the kids stayed for six weeks.

One would think that returning to our childhood home after four years, we would feel distant and disconnected. But no, I felt like we were picking up where we left off. Mumbai was familiar as ever, my mind making the switch easily, my body relaxing into the connectedness of my childhood past. This time, we got to see and experience Mumbai through our children's eyes. For anyone, Mumbai is an assault on the senses - the din, the stench, the crowds - of the most populous city in India (12 million for the city and over 20 million for the greater metropolitan area). But with that comes the the energy and excitement of a major city, India's commercial and entertainment capital, the wealthiest city in south Asia.

Aliyah is so social: she loved that she got to meet so many new people and connect with the warmth of family and friends. She did find the dirt and poverty hard to understand. "Why do they not use trash-cans? Why are there so many homeless people?" For Zal, he was excited that he did not have to sit in a car-seat. (With all the traffic, you average 20-30 mph.) But he asked often if he could go back home, mostly because it was all very unfamiliar the first couple weeks. I know that the trip has filled their minds with new experiences and ideas, like travel does for all of us. We will go back often so that they can continue to grow by seeing another culture.

For me, what has changed about Mumbai is both relative and stark. The traffic, the hub-bub, the chaos seems somewhat more that it was four years ago. But it was already bad and just feels relatively worse. It is like squeezing another sardine in a can full of them; it was already jam-packed, and now more so. What is more stark is the wealth and it overt evidence is the countless German luxury cars inching through traffic, gleaming brand-name boutiques and towering luxury skyscrapers sprouting around the city. Mumbai is one of the top ten financial centers in the world and as India's economy has grown, this hub of commerce has seen money pour in. Migrants from all over the country continue to stream in as well, each hoping to make a better life in this city of opportunities and dreams. A few do, but many do not. Most live in slums (making up over 60% of the population), many of these slums directly outside the towering skyscrapers.

But Mumbai was once my home - I was made there - and so I love going back. We stayed with my mom and dad while I was there, in the room where I grew up. My parents have visited us in Austin every year since Aliyah was born, but I know that having the kids in their own home was a treat. My dad watched as Zal and I played with cars and trains on the persian rugs, using the borders and designs as roads, just like I did when I was a child. Aliyah spent time in the kitchen with my mom making mandazi, one of my favorite childhood treats. We went to Mysore Cafe together, a regular Saturday routine for my parents, and had delicious south Indian food, much like our Saturday routine in Austin to visit Bombay Express. We went to Breach Candy, the swimming pool by the sea near my house, where I spent countless hours as a kid, first playing and then training when I began to compete. Aliyah and Zal's experience became woven up with my childhood recollections creating a new tapestry of memory.

I got to spend time with my brother Mimo and his wife Naz whom I had not seen in four years, the longest we have been apart. We went as a family to a new weekend home he has built in Alibag, across the bay from the southern tip of Mumbai. It is a beautifully architected house, built over a monsoon stream, raw concrete outside, smooth white stucco inside, polished stone floors, wood accents and teak furniture. The house's many portals open to different views of the stream and trees outside. Words don't do it justice, so pictures on the architect's website will give a better sense of its beauty. It is a welcome retreat from the bustle of the city, a place we hope to visit many more times in the future.

Naghmeh and the kids enjoyed the four additional weeks they stayed, getting to spend quality time with Naghmeh's mom, whom they stayed with after I left. She lives on the 8th floor of a building a few hundred meters from the sea. Naghmeh got to enjoy being near the sea, something that she misses most about being in Austin. She got to see many of her friends and even celebrated her birthday while she was there. Aliyah called me the next day and asked, "Everyone was here; why did you not come from Austin for the party?" The kids got to spend time with their grandmother, aunty Laila and uncle Mehdi and play with their cousins, Darian and Keyan, building family bonds that we hope to nurture as the grow.

My ten days there were a whirlwind of visiting, catching up on the news of life that bind us as social beings. Even after four years, a few minutes is all it took to reconnect, the years shrinking with the warmth of conversation and laughter. There were also some moments of restful quiet, like the morning I was up early, jet-lagged, the children still asleep. I sat in the living room reading, with the loud ticking and chime of the antique clock, the sky lightening on the horizon out the window, the crows cawing the city awake, my mind at peace, surrounded by the love of my family in my childhood home.

Naghmeh and I hope to return again soon to create new memories and experiences for Aliyah and Zal, connect Mumbai, the city our birth, with Austin, our home and the city of their birth.

To see photos of our trip, click on the picture below:
Mumbai 2014