Mumbai is a city where extreme wealth collides with extreme poverty living amongst all of the other extreme-ness that is India, a country where there is no compromise, no neutral, no middle ground.
To be honest I did struggle with Mumbai and I am afraid that I will never be able to capture it for what it really is. On one hand you have sky scrapers, luxury and decadence and on the other there is slums, outdoor laundries and people on the streets just trying to make their way.
I left for my next destination feeling both disheveled and dazzled, a very confusing mix. I’m still trying to decipher Mumbai to decide how it made me feel. I normally try to peel back the layers of my experiences after I visit a new place to reveal the true impact however with Mumbai, it is more complex than that.
One of my favourite films is Slumdog Millionaire so Mumbai was marked on my bucket list as a city I had to experience every nitty gritty, nook and cranny. I thought I knew what I was up against, I had researched in the lead up to my visit and I had painted a vivid picture in my mind of what I thought I would experience. My first day in this giant city I booked a taxi to show me around for a few hours and marked out the things I wanted to see, including the slums, my driver also had some recommendations of his own. I learned yet again that locals know best as he showed me some sights I would not have found by doing my own research.
My taxi stopped at the first set of traffic lights (which is another distinct feature of this modern city) I am resting my chin on my folded arms out of the open window day dreaming. A middle aged man with one amputated arm taps me on my shoulder and starts speaking Hindi to me, holding out his cupped hand then putting it to his mouth signalling that he would like money for food. I have come across beggars before in my travels however this really caught me off guard. I pulled back into the cab, The light went green and we were off on our way again. My mood had changed from curious to shaken within a split second. I had several more dramatic mood adjustments throughout the day.
One of my drivers recommendations was to show me the home belonging to one of the wealthiest business tycoons in India. I get out of the cab and I am confused, I don’t see any mansions or large houses (how naive of me to think so humbly) then he points up to a 27 story building. At the gates there are guards in sharp looking uniforms with guns. Big guns. My driver starts rambling off some astonishing facts. The residence requires 600 staff that operate 24/7 to maintain the building and the most outstanding thing of all is that this home is for FIVE…yes five residents, Mukesh Ambani, his wife and three children. Oh what a world we live in. Some Indians love to show off the expensive architecture while others consider it to be shameful in a country that is home to some of Asia’s worst poverty.
Now it is my turn to choose a location and I ask to be taken to the Dharavi slums, I spend the cab ride preparing myself for the confronting sights I might see. As we near, a pungent smell fills the air, It is very strong. I apply tiger balm under my nose to mask the scent, this is my first introduction to the next half hour that I will spend walking through the area. I feel little rips in my heart with every new insight to this life I will never be able to comprehend.
With every tight corridor I walk through I am greeted by big warm smiles and big glistening eyes of children that couldn’t be older than 3 or 4. I give each one a small prayer as I walk by and envision a happy and successful future for them. They are yet to learn about the corruption that lies ahead and most will never receive an education as they are put to work at a young age. This is their reality. Another very real and confronting issue is the risk of disease due to sanitation issues. The population of the slum is unknown, it is cramped and over populated and has a unique economy of its own. Residents must do what they can to make money. Many people open small shops within the slum to offer goods and services or operate small factories where most of the textiles sold at markets all over India is manufactured.
Two worlds, very different, conflicting and confusing. So here I am trying to summarise what Mumbai made me feel and its too much to process, so my answer is numb, I feel numb. I cant put a word to it, I cannot describe it. I can only relay my experience in the form of a single blog post.
Please drop me a line if you have visited Mumbai and let me know what your experience is. Everyone views things with a different mind, a different heart and a different perspective and I would love a well rounded overview of your combined and mixed thoughts.
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