'This will ensure the safety of our trunks and bedrolls at night," I explained to Chandrakant, the ticket conductor, watching me with amusement. I passed a thick metal chain through the handles of my trunks, the bedroll, the wooden leg of the train seat and padlocked it. I had taken a new job in Bombay in 1955 and was travelling by the Frontier Mail from Delhi. As the train chugged into Bombay Central station, Chandrakant told me: "Welcome to Bombay, city of dreams!"
The first few months in this great metropolis were stunning, tantalising and sometimes frustrating. Bombay was a pretty city of seven fishing islands forged together in 1845 by stone and concrete. I was baffled by the broad clean roads, large black and yellow taxis, the vast expanse of sea and the salty breezes. The vexing part was that apartments were difficult to find and expensive to rent.
However, Bombay provided ample opportunities for personal and professional growth with exposures to a cosmopolitan, polyglot community.
Life is always exacting when you commence a career. Salaries are never enough and one practises frugality. We could not afford a car, so we travelled by trains, buses or trams. There was no refrigerator at home, so we scampered to buy ice to serve cold water to a guest. There was no gas so we used kerosene primus stoves.
However, living was joyful. On Sundays we strolled at Shivaji Park or Dadar beach or along Marine Drive admiring the glimmering yellow lights which formed the Queens's necklace.
In the 1950s, when my salary was a princely sum of Rs500 per month, we lived graciously and saved monthly. People were warmer and friendlier then. There were no television sets, laptops or iPads. Therefore, friends met to talk. Now people do not converse - they watch movies, TV or chat on computers. The pervasive use of these electronics prevents us from forging genuine human relationships.
Everyone was chasing a dream. Like Lala Omprakash, our neighbour who came from Muzzaffar Nagar in Uttar Pradesh and dreamt of becoming the leading sugar merchant. He did. Or like Prabhu, who hailed from a village in Maharashtra, mopped our floors, chewed tobacco incessantly and hungered to become a factory worker. He did, too. And Raja our driver who hailed from a village in Tamil Nadu state, lived in the sprawling Dharavi slum but aspired to own a private taxi. He did.
Many others found gigantic places in the sun. A fruit seller named Yusuf Khan rose to be the most respected and revered movie star in India, rechristened Dilip Kumar. Others like young Rajesh Khanna, Amitabh Bachchan and Shah Rukh Khan came to Bombay seeking some stardust, but became iconic movie stars. Artist MF Hussein walked the pavements of Bombay barefoot wooing customers for his paintings, until lucre chased him everywhere.
Industrial families like the Tatas, Godrejs, Mafatlals, and Ambanis discovered fame and fortune after seeding their first companies in the city. In Bombay, the size of your achievement depends entirely on the scale of your ambition.
Bombay has changed radically since I came here, 58 years ago. It was rechristened Mumbai in 1996. From 3.4 million citizens in 1955, the city now houses about 21 million. Density has burgeoned to over 20,000 people per square kilometre.
The city has become fetid. Mumbai is no longer safe. Crime and lawlessness are increasing. Violence against senior citizens, single girls and children is rising. According to state records, in 2011 Mumbai recorded 221 rape cases, 553 molestation cases, 162 sexual harassment cases and 191 immoral trafficking cases.
The city is becoming intolerant and impatient. Everyone is in a hurry to get somewhere. Road disciplines have been replaced by road rage.
The splendour of the city is gradually eroding due to traffic congestion, indiscriminate building of high-rise towers and the all-pervading slums and pavement dwellings.
Sure, Mumbai is still the wealthiest city in India and spawns stars and billionaires every year. Nevertheless, its infrastructure stands debilitated. Those who have grown affluent and triumphant in its bosom should bond to avert further debauchery.
Hopefully, ordinary citizens and NGOs will arrest Mumbai's decay. Then we can repeat to newcomers ticket conductor Chandrakant's greeting to me on January 8, 1955: "Welcome to Mumbai, the city of dreams!"
Hari Chand Aneja is a 91-year-old former corporate executive who now keeps busy with charity work