India Chronicles 5 – "Slum dogs" and Millionaires

 

The wealthiest and most populous city of India straddles 7 islands on the west coast of India. From its humble beginnings as fishing colonies Mumbai represents both the past and future of India, if not perhaps the world. More than 20 million bodies call this home.

 

Arriving in Mumbai is like setting foot onto a film set. A real life Bollywood-classic with all the extras.

 

 

The sounds are persistent; Honking taxi’s, screeching trains, barking dogs, amplified temple chants, cawing crows, blaring Hindi hits and around the clock traffic.

 

The sites are endearing; wedding processions, beach picnics, ancient temples, glorious Raj architecture, homeless families, towering skyscrapers, flash malls and the Untouchables.

 

 

The smells are overwhelming; spices, toxic air pollution, fragrant incense, fetid sewers, bubbling street food stalls, exotic flowers and heaps of trash. This city stinks to high heavens.

 

A good orientation point is the Gateway of India, the grand entrance to Maharashtra state. The iconic Taj Mahal hotel, Royal Bombay Yacht Club and the magnificent Victoria Terminus lie at the heart of India’s commercial capital city. Some of the richest neighbourhoods in India are located here. Real estate prices in South Mumbai are comparable to those in Manhattan. Most of Mumbai’s museums, art galleries, bars, luxury retailers and magnificent buildings from the British Raj are generously represented.

 

 

A visit to Dharavi should not be missed. This is Asia’s largest slum and dates back to the 1880’s. More than 1 million people live together on 200 hectares of what was formerly a mangrove swamp. There is only one toilet per 1,000 residents. Outbreaks of typhoid, cholera, leprosy, amoebiasis and polio are common.

 

Yet Dharavi slum is a place of life and of hope and of prosperity. A thriving informal economy churns out US$665 million worth of business. The business focus is on recycling, leather production and manufacturing – exporting to the rest of India and abroad.

 

It may seem shambolic – this labyrinth of narrow alleyways, dusty quart yards, stack-of-card type of homes, open sewers and children having number 2’s in public. However it is actually an ordered and friendly society and functioning neighbourhood.

 

 

Mumbai is bustling, exciting and well worth spending a few days to explore. It is a city changing at a remarkable speed as it tries to catch-up with neighbouring Abu Dhabi and Dubai. It is a city that has embraced Western consumerism and Middle Eastern bling.

 

As slums are been bulldozed and making way for glam skyscrapers. The young and gorgeous are to be seen on Marine Drive Promenade, branded from shades to footwear. I-pod’s loaded with the latest Bollywood hits.
In the shade a Beetle nut Tree, a Chia Whalla strains boiled tea into an aluminium teakettle. He performs an offering to the ancient Vedic God Agni, Lord of Fire, before pouring tea for his young customers.