In a city of over 20 million people, space is understandably at a premium in Mumbai. For the working class, daily life in Mumbai is commonly played out in what are called chawls -- multi-level tenements with single small rooms, which usually accommodate a whole family, often with a shared bathroom for each floor. There's little privacy but the benefits are a strong sense of camaraderie and support.
The burgeoning middle class live in mass-produced apartments of various shapes and sizes, ranging from around 450 square feet to 1,400 square feet. Most have one or two bedrooms, which again accommodate whole families including grandparents. It's not uncommon for family members to sleep in the lounge room or even the kitchen. Prices are ridiculously expensive, even more so than New York!
You'd think that living in such an environment would be very restrictive but it's surprisingly the opposite (once you get used to the lack of space!). Apartment complexes, especially the newer ones, are usually built with a great range of facilities including gyms, clubhouses, gardens, and playgrounds. Residents organize social occasions throughout the year and celebrate festivals together. The children have an almost endless array of playmates, and often get together for games of cricket or to ride their bikes.
The property market in Mumbai has just gone through a massive boom, and towering apartment complexes are popping up all through the suburbs. Below them, you'll find that life goes on as usual, with small shops and markets doing their day to day trade.
Morning Worship (Puja)
Performing puja (worship) is a big part of people's lives in Mumbai, and in fact everywhere in India.
Many Hindus get up at sunrise and do the Surya Puja. This very popular daily puja worships Lord Surya, the Sun God (also known as the god of the enlightened mind). An important part of the ritual is the offering of flowers to the god.
All around the city, you'll find small stalls selling flowers and garlands for puja. In addition, Mumbai has huge flower markets, such as phul galli (flower lane) outside Dadar railway station in central Mumbai. This area is awash with the eye-catching colors of flowers, which surround the rows of flower sellers on the pavement. It's a really pretty sight.
In the evenings as the sun sets, Hindus also commonly do another form of puja -- Lakshmi Puja. This puja invites Goddess Lakshmi (the goddess of wealth and prosperity) to enter the house. As the lights are turned on inside homes, incense is lit to welcome her.
Read More: 15 Religious Places to Visit in Mumbai
Commuting in Mumbai
Mumbai roads are shockingly congested and poorly maintained. In addition, the majority of residents don't own a car. As a result, the train is the most popular and quickest way of commuting in Mumbai. Mumbai's local railway transports an astonishing eight million commuters per day!
Unfortunately, everything you've heard about local trains in Mumbai is probably true. They are extremely overcrowded, the doors constantly have passengers hanging out of them and never close, and people even travel sitting on the train roof. Do injuries occur? All the time! It's a common occurrence for passengers to fall out of, or get pushed out of, trains in Mumbai.
The Mumbai local train network has three lines -- Western, Central, and Harbour -- which deposit commuters into the city. The trains themselves have separate carriages for women and disabled passengers. There are also first class carriages but they aren't any more luxurious than the other carriages. The higher price of tickets merely keeps the majority of travelers out, therefore providing more space.
Want to try riding the Mumbai local? If you travel during non-rush hours, it's not as bad as you'd expect. Plus you'll be guaranteed a fascinating glimpse into what makes Mumbai tick. This guide on how to ride the Mumbai local will help get you on your way.
A distinguishing feature of transport in Mumbai is that unlike most other cities in India, taxi and autorickshaw drivers generally do go by the meter.
Read More: Mumbai's Landmark Infrastructure
Work and Mumbai Offices
The offices of Mumbai's main business districts are located in and around Nariman Point and Cuffe Parade, in south Mumbai, and also Bandra (particularly the Bandra Kurla Complex), and Andheri. In addition, many call centers are based in the growing outer western suburb of Malad.
The working days and weeks are long and unenviable. Although many people don't arrive in the office until around 10 a.m., they also don't leave until well into the night. 12 hour working days are considered quite normal, as are six-day working weeks (although sometimes Saturday can be a half day). The concept of a weekend is quite foreign in Mumbai and India, with Sunday often being the only day off.
The sad reality is that there are so many people striving to get ahead and make ends meet, and so much competition for jobs, that if someone doesn't want to work such long hours, another person readily will.
Lunch Served by Mumbai Dabbawalas
A unique and fascinating fixture in the daily routine of Mumbai's office workers is the dabbawala.
Dabbawala, meaning a person who carries a container, is the term given to the thousands of men responsible for transporting and delivering around 200,000 containers of freshly cooked food to the city's office workers every day for lunch. Incredibly, most of these delivery men are illiterate.
Mumbai's dabbawalas first started delivering lunches to meet the needs of British rulers. However, the concept has continued on to service Indian businessmen who can't travel home for lunch, or don't want to eat in a cafe or restaurant every day. Their wives make their lunches and pack them in tiffins (metal containers), which they give to the dabbawalas for delivery. Alternatively, there are companies that supply home cooking in tiffins to the dabbawalas. After lunch, the dabbawalas return the exact tiffins back to their individual owners.
This incredible system can be witnessed in operation at Churchgate railway station from 11.30 a.m. to 12.30 p.m., as the dabbawalas unload the tiffins from the trains and get ready to take them to their customer's offices. You can join them on this Lunch Like a Local experience offered by The Four Seasons hotel. This is an indication of just how famous the humble Mumbai dabbawala has become!
Shopping at the Mall
Retail in India has undergone a dramatic transformation since the early 2000s and the shopping malls in Mumbai are among the best in the country. As well as this, Mumbai has huge hypermarkets, such as Hypercity next to InOrbit Mall in Malad, where the choice of goods all under one roof is mind-boggling. And then, there's the organized chaos of the discount department store known as the Big Bazaar.
Shopping in India has never been easier or more convenient, and for the people who can afford it, shopping malls are the place to hang out. In Mumbai, people head to the malls to check out the latest fashion, eat, relax, be entertained, and have fun -- as well as shop.
Most malls are open seven days a week from around 10 a.m. until 10 p.m. The busiest day is Sunday, when there's hardly room to move.
Buying Food from the Market
Although supermarkets are providing their share of competition, take a walk around most residential neighborhoods in Mumbai and you'll find a range of small traditional stores selling vegetables, groceries, and fresh live meat. Yes, choosing your chicken for tonight's dinner while it's still flapping its wings in a cage remains the preference in India. At least it's undeniably fresh!
Many of these small shops close in the afternoon for lunch and the nap that follows. They reopen in the evening when the housewives flock there to buy vegetables and other food items to prepare the evening meal.
Mumbai's local markets are definitely not the places to have a leisurely browse. They can get very crowded and lively, and to avoid confusion you'll want to know at least a bit of Hindi.
Eating Evening Snacks
The last meal of the day is eaten late in India, and particularly so in hectic Mumbai where dinner times of 10 p.m. onwards are common. Hence, people love to munch on snacks (referred to as chaat) in the evening.
As the sun sets, people pour out onto the streets and throng the snack stands. Vada pav (spicy fried mashed potato in a bread roll) is one of the most popular snacks in Mumbai. So are all the different types of puri -- bhel puri (made with puffed rice), pani puri (made with spicy water), and sev puri (made with spicy vermicelli). Another local favorite is pav bhaji (a vegetable curry with bread). Made freshly in front of you at the food stalls on Juhu Beach, it's very tasty.
Taking an Evening Walk
You'll often see people going for an evening walk in Mumbai, no doubt to burn off all the snacks they've eaten!
One of the best places to spend the evening is Marine Drive Chowpatty (beach), located at the northern end of the famous stretch that's affectionately referred to as the Queen's Necklace for its sparkling semi circle of lights.
The Chowpatty comes alive with a dazzling assortment of vendors peddling everything from snacks (of course) to strange children's toys. It's a fun place for children, with no shortage of amusement rides to entertain them, but also attracts plenty of love-struck couples in the mood for a romantic stroll. A quintessential Mumbai experience that's not to be missed!
Read More: 9 Iconic Mumbai Hangout Places
Seeing a Bollywood Movie
New Bollywood movies are shown every week in Mumbai, so a popular thing to do at night is to head to the cinema. Fridays are particularly busy because that's when the movies are released.
Plush modern cinemas can now be found all over the city but old favorites still remain, such as the Metro cinema near Churchgate railway station. It was recently renovated but was originally built for Metro Goldwyn Mayer in 1938.
Another cinema to open in 1938 was the Eros cinema, located directly opposite Churchgate railway station. Today, it's renowned for its wonderful Art Deco style.
Not to be overlooked is the Regal Cinema in Colaba. The first of Mumbai's Art Deco cinemas, it opened in 1933.
Nightlife in Mumbai
Mumbai is the most cosmopolitan city in India and also one of the safest for women. It's common to see progressive young females partying through the night, glammed up in skimpy western outfits.
Mumbai's diverse pubs, bars, and clubs play everything from live music to underground techno. Unfortunately, the city does have a 1.30 a.m. curfew. However, establishments at luxury hotels are allowed to stay open later, until around 3 a.m.
Mumbai is remarkable for having India's highest rooftop bar -- Asilo on the 38th floor of the Saint Regis Hotel. This hot new bar surpassed the fashionable Aer, on the 34 floor of the Four Seasons Hotel.