Finishing schools: New York City and Bombay.

I moved to Portland less than a year ago and I’ve never been more at peace with myself. But, while Portland has been that home I’ve never had, New York City and Bombay have been my finishing schools. I owe my entire personality, attitude and class to these absolutely ruthless, individualist, competitive yet fabulous cities.

I’ve often heard people talk in very broad terms about NYC and Bombay. Stuff like, one is almost like the other, or, you can either loose yourself or be found here, watch out for sweet talkers, keep away from pretty faces and most commonly heard, train schedules are more important than people.

But, I think you’ve got to spend the most impressionable years of your life in Bombay and New York City to be able to appreciate what these cities have to offer and even more, what you take from them.

Bombay (Not Mumbai)

I was born, raised and groomed in this city. Among the things life throws at you, I learned to follow the concepts of space and time here. To speak, when spoken to and to speak your mind, is the rule here. The clock is your master and  you’ve got to beat it. Keep up with the hands or lose.

Everything in this city is carefully designed (so it seems) to turn you in to this person you never imagined you would be. It’s as if it’s laying a foundation for you, for a more confident, stronger you. It teaches you to squeeze in to an over crowded ladies compartment and come out on the other side, without so much as a crease on your starched shirt. In the same way, it teaches you to hold up your breathing for up to four minutes to escape the nauseating stench as you make your way through the train. It also makes sure you get off the train with everything (purses, bags, jewelry) you boarded with.

Bombay teaches you to walk in to the very office where you’d spend an absolutely disastrous and embarrassing yesterday, with your head held high and a flashy smile. People forget, but rarely forgive.

Bump in to an ex, walk right past him, without so much as an iota of regret. Thats possible.

Walking on a crowded street, you feel a stranger pinch your butt, you turn back, hurl a few abuses at him. Move on. Bombay teaches you to speak for yourself. In a language that the freaks understand. Which doesn’t make you a weirdo. It makes you a brave person.

Street food, the lunches, the dinners, the cuisines and homemade food. It’s a complete package. No fuss, no worries. Packaged water is made in local factories, just outside the railway platforms. Unlike New York City, there is no food department to rate the eateries. Bombay helps you build your immune system. Resistance is better than cure.

Song and dance, Bollywood. It’s all a part of this grooming school. Shake a leg, move your body, let yourself go.

And when you’re ready to go to the next level, you experience that unfamiliar restlessness.  You know it’s time to move ahead. It’s time to pack your bags and enter the next level. New York City.

New York City:

This may well be called ‘the world’s best finishing school’. Because you’re going to come out looking like a diva here. It gives you everything that Bombay offers and more. Honestly, its turnes it up several notches. For instance, if you thought the women in the ladies compartment of the trains in Bombay were bitchy. Try riding a subway in New York City. Your first train ride will make you feel so naked. The subsequent ones get better. But you’re always naked.  With their Guccis and Pradas and their fancy ipad covers, scrolling through The Economist (with all due respect), barely reading it, they are glancing at you through their tiny designer glass frames, worn to impress.

You cannot walk on to the streets wearing rags. But rags are all you have.

This city makes you feel incomplete. It makes you feel like you’ll never make it. Like you’ll never be good enough. No amount of money spend can make you a size zero, or make you look like a ramp model.

It makes you try harder. And that is what it does. It makes you look at yourself everyday. Day in and day out and you hear the reflection saying, “you’re not good enough. but the good news is, you can do better”.

At work, like in Bombay, you have an awful day. Unlike in Bombay, people are not rude, they are sarcastic. That look they give you makes you feel like running to the restroom and locking yourself in there till after office hours, when you can quietly sneak out in the dark.

There’s food everywhere, street food (just like in Bombay), variety of cuisines (just like in Bombay), but everybody is eating their greens. Everybody wants to be a size zero. Reality is nobody is a size zero.

This is what I mean when I say New York City turns it up several notches.

Finally, you reach a stage where you don’t care anymore. You can walk in to the street with a size eight shirt on tucked halfway, with khaki shorts and a pair of flip flops. And you don’t care what they think. This is when you make your own style statement. You’ve understood that its not about what you wear. It never was. It’s been your sense of self all along.

They are not important anymore. You are. There. Right there, New York City has done it’s job. Mission accomplished.


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