India: Lost and Found in Mumbai


By Arti Agarwal

I was an oilfield engineer; the kind who wear muddy, greasy coveralls, work with hefty tools in the sun and the rain, have big degrees from an IIT (Indian Institute of Technology), work on five computers all at the same time, monitor data from the earth in their sleep, live on a drill-ship, attend meetings with clients, get regular firings from their bosses and clients, and are wondering why they do all this at the end of every day.

I lived in Mumbai, in a manner of speaking – since I was in Mumbai for only a few days in the whole year. I used to suffer from migraines, which became more and more frequent as the number of colleagues and trainees working with me on the drill ships became fewer and fewer, until a day saw me lying numb in my bunk bed from ceaseless pain, with a completely new trainee popping into my room every hour asking me what needs to be done.

I was not a worker. I was a creative human being, who yearned for a meaning to life. I was a qualified architect and a skilled photographer, and every bone in my body screamed to be released from the bondages of the insensitive management of my oilfield services company.

Queen's Necklace, Marine Drive, MumbaiAs the chopper was taking off from the drill ship, I looked at the waves in the sea, at the steel equipment, at the people walking, working, smoking on the rig. I saw the endless deep blue of the sea surging up in front of me as the chopper gained altitude. “I am not coming back”, I whispered to myself. I didn’t tell it to anyone else just yet, I didn’t want to jinx it.

The flight landed in Mumbai as I woke up with a start. I had not slept well for days. One chopper and two flights, and from being lost somewhere on a ship in the Bay of Bengal, I was now standing in the pleasantly cool breeze of Mumbai, already feeling more and more sure about my decision.

I was standing in front of the Express Towers on the Marine Drive, in my running shoes, headband and running shorts, iPod pinned on. The sounds of the waves of the sea crashing on the rocks were not very different from the mix of emotions rising and falling inside me. I was now running on the waterfront, skilfully avoiding running into people on evening walks; young and old, happy and sad, singles and couples, corporates and the jobless, in party clothes and in strict formals. In one run, I encountered a sizeable cross section of the human society.

At the end of the run, I felt as alive as the blood circulating in my veins. As I sat down after running 3 km, gasping for breath, ears stinging from the strong winds hitting them, I knew I wanted this – this freedom to run, to think about the things I love, to do what I wanted. I turned around, and saw the “Queen’s necklace”, the skyscrapers along the sea front on the Marine Drive, sparkling with the night lights, inviting people to have a good time.

Flights of Freedom, at Gateway of India (Taj Mahal Hotel seen), MumbaiFour days later, I walked into the cubicle of a senior manager for my location, with the suppressed excitement of a child who is finally going on a summer holiday.
“Give it a little thought”, said my manager
“I have”
“What do you want, just let me know. Do you want a promotion? A transfer? A change of job role?”
“I want to quit”
My manager shrugged.
I walked out with a smile no one could wipe off my face, and I knew for a fact that many did want to do that.–

It was in the wee hours of the morning that can neither be called night, nor morning, when I reached the Gateway of India. The Gateway of India was the place from where the British left India, when their rule in India came to an end. And this is where I wanted to celebrate my freedom too, doing the two things I loved the most: experimenting with pictures, and exploring the city I lived in.

As the sun started to rise in the sky, a group of elderly people gathered in front of the Gateway, in a circle. And to my big surprise, they all started laughing. Laughing, non-stop. No one else around me seemed to be surprised. “It’s the laughter club of Mumbai”, explained someone.

It was infectious. I had a wide smile on my face, breaking into a laughter. I was now a freelance photographer and writer, out to explore the world, one city at a time, starting with Mumbai.

About the Author: Arti Agarwal is a creative professional. She is a freelance photographer, writer, artist and designer and the founder of –en-light-art-, her new venture. She finished her Bachelor of Architecture from IIT (Indian Institute of Technology) Roorkee, where she caught the creative bug to last a lifetime.


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