21 October 2005

City of Crows

The demands of rising population are many, and Bombay faces its frenzy almost everyday. More and more people are joining the city’s already overcrowded streets, pushing the limits of socio-demographic parameters and throwing the city’s governing council into deeper trouble. But what can they do? At one level, it means providing housing, water, electricity, sanitation, healthcare and education for millions. At another, it’s a huge vote bank to rely upon during elections.

But, what about those millions who enter the city with hope? How are their lives affected by this migration… this force-fit situation? Some Bombay residents argue: How does it matter to them? It’s us who suffer from this invasion… this encroachment into our lives and our livelihoods. These immigrants come in and take away our jobs, our businesses and our incomes, robbing us of our own possessions. Some simply watch and accept this as life… or existence, leaving it to the government to deal with it.

Whatever be the argument, there’s no denying that this migration of people into Bombay is an old phenomenon. For years, people from various parts of the country have landed up in Bombay… nurturing their personal hopes and ambitions. What’s become of them? What are their stories? If you’d like to know, then there’s no better example than tracing Bombay’s own Dharavi slum to understand their predicament.

A great deal has been written about Dharavi and its problems, but I can introduce you to one that has captured my attention and has remained with me for sometime. It’s a photo-essay by Robert Appleby and is available in two parts: a story called City of Crows and a photo album that accompanies it. It’s not just representative of Dharavi, but Bombay as well… although from a foreigner’s point of view.

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