For the past two weeks, I’ve been in India.
This marked my first trip back since I returned to NYC early last year.
It felt momentous.
I spent the majority of this trip in Pune, my hubby’s birthplace and home to his family. We went to celebrate the tail-end of India’s holiday season, ringing in Diwali (think of it as Indian Christmas and New Year’s) with ritual pujas and firecrackers.
It’s a beautiful time to be in India with all the festival lights, family-bonding and holiday cheer.
And though it was lovely to be in Pune and spend time with my in-laws, that’s only one version of India to me.
When I think of my India, I think of Mumbai.
After all, the “maximum city,” as it’s known, was my home for nearly three years.
After almost two years away from my life in Mumbai, returning was nothing less than surreal. Just like when I first moved there in 2010, I didn’t quite know what to expect from this visit.
I only had a few brief days in Mumbai, but in the little time I had, this well of emotion bloomed in the center of my chest as we drove through familiar places and explored old haunts.
One late night — the only free night we had while in town — while walking the streets of our old neighborhood, me and my hubby couldn’t help but look around in quiet amazement, only breaking the silence to say that our Mumbai chapter feels like it was another life.
It’s still hard to accurately describe the experience I had while living in Mumbai. I hope that one day, I’ll be able to tell that story well. All I can say now is that it was just as colorful, complex and unexpected as the city itself.
The life I lead there is foreign to me; it couldn’t be more different than how I now live in NYC, my forever home.
It’s like like snippets of a dream I can’t quite recall in specific detail. Only certain details are crystal-clear, so sharp that they could’ve happened yesterday.
That’s why the emotion I felt while there this time caught me by surprise.
Seeing Mumbai, especially during Diwali-time and at night (when I think every nook and cranny of the city is at its most beautiful), was like running into an old friend.
A friend who’s a great storyteller and always showing me secret, colorful life in ways and shapes I couldn’t otherwise imagine.
That’s the thing about Mumbai: it awakens your imagination, turning you onto so much beauty and so much ugliness that live side-by-side.
I believe that every person has a different version of Mumbai they live in, but everyone, without exception, has a love-hate (in equal, strong measure) relationship with the city.
That’s how the city inspires and pushes you.
And once it gets under your skin, Mumbai stays there permanently, like a once vibrant tattoo that gives you a deep hit of nostalgia every time you catch a glimpse of it.
Even if you never go back, you can’t ever shake it off.