Independence Day thoughts: How Mumbai set me ‘free’ to create my own story

Mumbai, the city of dreams holds both bitter and sweet experiences for migrants. But what it gives undeniably is the freedom to express oneself.

“My mother was a freedom fighter and so were her mother and her mother’s mother.” I read this quote by Aja Monet one day, and it made me wonder, “Do women ever achieve full freedom”?

I came to Mumbai from my home in Raipur, Chattisgarh, after COVID to do a course in Media at a women’s college. It was strange for me that not many people even knew about the existence of Raipur. During my early days in Mumbai I had to explain to people that Raipur is the capital of Chhattisgarh and it is not in Jharkhand.

A shift to Mumbai made a world of difference for a woman like me in my 20s. It was a place where the perspective of people around me was drastically different from what I used to see in my hometown. 

A look into a ladies compartment of a Mumbai Local. Pic: Stephin Thomas
A look into a ladies compartment of a Mumbai Local. Pic: Stephin Thomas

That ladies’ compartment

While managing to get a seat in a 7.30 pm Kalyan ladies’ compartment, I encountered a diverse crowd of women travellers. From the Mogra selling women to the corporate lady sitting next to me, all of us have experienced one thing in common — the freedom to create our own story in a strange city away from home. The majority of women that I came across daily are living and surviving on their own, they have bills to pay, they cook their food, they turn their flats and PGs into a comfortable home and they not only take responsibility for themselves but also their family.

Mumbai, unlike other metro cities, is assumed to be safer for women. But the feeling of being free and safe depends on a lot of aspects. One aspect being that it is a fast-moving metro city where people around you don’t have time to bother about what you are wearing, or which caste, culture or religion you belong to.

This changes the idea of ‘you’ inside you. I like how Mumbai lets one create a personality of our own. A personality that is created from scratch and is not limited by societal norms or surnames. 

Read More: Discussion: Ensuring women’s safety in Mumbai

The journey of spending more than two years in the city of dreams as a woman from a small town empowered me in many ways. Mumbai is the perfect combination of bitter and sweet that a woman can get. On one hand, it makes you tough and on the other hand, it allows you to live freely.

“Most women who come here to work don’t want to leave Mumbai”, said my college professor. Well, yes. For every woman who comes from a place where she cannot express herself freely, it is a privilege to go home after 6 pm, it is a privilege to get out of home to attend a party at 9 pm, it is a privilege to feel safe while travelling late.

She creates her own story while living in this city of dreams, she gets confident for sure but now she also knows how to take a stand for herself.

Creating my personal story

As a newcomer, when I was adjusting to the expensive matchbox house lifestyle, I also got to meet other women who were from small towns doing big things in Mumbai. Their journey inspired and resonated with me. There is not a single second when I get bored while travelling in the local train’s women’s compartment as there is always so much to observe. A woman talking to her boss, a woman complaining to other women about less space in the seat, a woman discussing family gossip with her friend on the phone, a woman eating homemade snacks, a woman watching a serial on her phone, a woman trying to take a nap because she knows that’s the only time she has got, as soon as she reaches home there will be other responsibilities.

Mumbai does feel strange when you are new here but that strangeness remains just for a few weeks. You don’t choose Mumbai, it chooses you and gives you the wings of freedom. No city is perfect and Mumbai is one of those unperfect cities. But I am sure it is still better for a majority women when compared to other cities. It is livable and ventilated for the soul of every woman.

Ask any woman who is not from Mumbai and they will say they feel the most free, the most expressive and the most unbounded only and only in Mumbai. “This independence day, let us hope that more women in other cities also are able to experience that kind of freedom”.

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