It didn't take long for the culture shock to set in after arriving in the Indian city of Mumbai (originally Bombay). The size of the city is incomprehensible (approx.21 million total population), it just seems to go and on wether that be the shackled looking slum areas or the high rise modern skyscrapers, it's all here. There is a constant buzz within the city, largely due to heavy traffic and the constant use of the automobile horn, which appears to be just as important to the vehicle as the wheels that support it!
We didn't wait long before diving into some touring, our volunteer guide Whitney brought us for a walk into the Mumbai slums. The largest slums in Asia and host to the award winning film "Slum Dog Millionaire". It was worth travelling all this way just to see what it had to offer. It was a drastic change coming from the main public roads to these bustling slum networks. The smell was the first thing to alarm, a mixture of rubbish and sewerage all mixed into one and the heat just didnt help either. By all means the stench was not unbearable, just memorable! Kids and animals (cows, goats, dogs) just wandered aimlessy across the streets, not a care in the world. The stalls on each side of the street were neatly packed into each other and space efficiently utilised for business productivity. People were busy and it was evident in the soundscape, which consisted of metal working, sugar cane crushing, rolling carriages, squawking chickens to the local languages of marathi and hindi. This was the "working" section of the slums, we also walked through the "domestic" area which consisted of tight alley ways (1m wide) leading you through blocks of cement/brick constructed rooms (few storeys high). These rooms were often no bigger than your average bathroom, providing shelter to 15 or more inhabitants. Almost every house had a had a tv (most important valuable, even before food!) and all rooms generally had some religious objects on display (from what I could see from trying to peer in anyway!).
What stood out to me distinctly from this visit was (a) how content and happy everyone was and (b) how we didn't get pestered for food or money. Apparently these slums are in a relative sense "not poor", they supply a lot of material products to outside businesses such as fabrics and pottery, so people actually have a consistent income and are attending to an external business demand. The Delhi slums for instance, would be far poorer and more densely populated. In terms of the disposition, the people appeared content in their work and with their social class, they seem to accept who they are and appear to hold no bitterness with anybody. They almost always give a smile upon greeting and have no problem with taking photographs of them, in fact they encourage it. Dont let this appearance fool you however, these guys would buy and sell you ten times over. I would say even better than our home-grown Irish travelling community!!!
A short video showing me walking through one of the main slum streets in Mumbai, India.
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