Friday, January 8, 2010

A Tale of Two Cities

Genre: Travel

Christmas holidays took me to the destination I was dying to visit – New York City and having lived for 22 years in Mumbai, the first thing that came to my mind on seeing New York was - “Wow! This city is so much like Mumbai!”. Apart from the geographical similarity of both megacities being on long narrow islands and having huge natural harbors, New York and Mumbai are like identical twin cities in many aspects.

As any Mumbaikar would testify, the best and the fastest way to travel across Mumbai is by the local trains, similarly the most convenient way to traverse across New York is the Subway. The gigantic network lets you travel virtually anywhere taking the ‘A’ train, ‘B’ train, ‘C’ train…all the way upto ‘W’ train and ‘1’ train, ‘2’ train right upto ‘7’ train. This can baffle first-timers, but not a Mumbaikar who has spent years deciphering A, B, Ba, Bo, Bl, Bs, By, C, D, G, etc on Mumbai’s suburban train network. Like Mumbai’s suburban stations, New York’s Subway stations are old, dirty, littered with trash; trains are crowded, hardly state-of-the-art but very frequent, dependable and run throughout the day, much like the Mumbai locals. Not just this, below Broadway in Manhattan run four tracks of Subway – two for Local services and two for Express, like Mumbai’s Slow and Fast lines.

Out of the Subway, the city of New York resembles Mumbai in many more ways. A drive on Broadway between Midtown Manhattan and Downtown Manhattan gives a feel of driving on Colaba Causeway with scores of shops selling everything from clothes to jewelry and the sidewalks filled with tourists exploring the area on foot. Enter Grand Central Terminal and it feels like Mumbai's equally grand VT station. Midtown Manhattan is even more Mumbai-like with street food sellers at every corner selling hot dogs to Falafels (a New York specialty) to Chicken Rice at (relatively) affordable rates and hawkers occupying walking space on footpaths selling ladies purses, tshirts, junk jewelry and accessories at throwaway prices. Reminds of Linking Road, ain’t it?

Just like how the townships of Mira Road, Thane or Navi Mumbai developed beyond the boundaries of Mumbai’s island city providing affordable housing to working classes, New York city extends far beyond the well-known island of Manhattan into the boroughs of Queens and Brooklyn and one look at the area reveals the similarity with Mumbai’s extended suburbs. Taking a ferry from the southern tip of Manhattan to Staten Island across the New York harbor offers spectacular view of Downtown Manhattan and I couldn’t help but relate it to similar experience back in Mumbai when one takes the ferry from Gateway of India to Elephanta Island.

Extending far beyond these physical similarities, is the similarity in the way of life in the two megecities – hectic, fast-paced, where everyone is always on the run and there is never a dull moment. Truly, these are the Cities That Never Sleep!

mum ny


  1. You have made some astute observations and have produced a crisp summarization of the similarities from a Mumbaikar's point of view. Even though the two cities have umpteen differences (historical, geographical,cultural amid many others), the parallelism that you have drawn indeed makes an interesting read. Perhaps, another point worth mentioning is that both of these cities are the respective financial capitals & consequently, serve as the hubs of business/economic activities. As for the differences, a quick one that comes to the mind is that, while Mumbai is the home to Bollywood (stereotypically considered to symbolize Indian cinema), NYC is not. It stands as the little sister of tinsel town, as a home for the performing arts, but certainly is worth mentioning for the asylum it provides for wannabe artists. Overall, a good read Karan.

  2. :) must say.. i m impressed dude!
    wonderful comparison...

  3. Arey, no borivali-andheri or what? :P
    new york people treat new jersey the way churchgate ('city side') treat us, the 'town side'.

  4. REally good comparison. YOu really have to travel a lot to come up with that stuff

  5. Yeah... even I have heard many people point similarities b/w Mumbai and New York. Yet to check it out by myself! :)
    BTW... nicely written!

  6. @KK

    Yes, New York may not be the hub of their film industry but nevertheless it does serve as a platform for budding artists - I am sure you must have heard of all the Broadway Musicals.

    Thank You :)

    Borivali-Andheri-Bhayander-Virar everything is there. Midtown Manhattan is the "happening area" but the moment you go to Bronx, Queens or Brooklyn, the resemblance with Mumbai's suburbs is pretty evident.

    Surprisingly this comparison hit me the moment I landed in New York. Didn't have to look too much in detail, the similarities are too striking to be ignored!

    I hope you get the chance to see it for yourself soon :)

  7. Well Studied Karan !


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