20 October 2005

Homeless in Bombay

Like millions of others, I came to Bombay to find a place I could call my home. I wanted to work hard, make money, settle down. Unlike millions of others, I got lucky – to an extent. Work hard I did. Made money too – not a lot perhaps, but some. But, one thing I haven't done yet is settle down.

That’s because I still haven’t got used to Bombay’s dense overpopulated claustrophobic life, its disorderly growth, its noisy garbage-filled streets, and its dirty rundown slums that occupy at least half the city. Did you know that, of the 18 million people living in Bombay today, two-thirds live in slums or on the streets?

What happens to these people everyday when I’m too busy with my work or my social life… or sleeping cozily in my bed at night? Do I even care about them?

In a heart-warming story, Bombay: Turmoil and a Heart-Shaped Balloon, on
www.thingsasian.com Kenneth Champeon presented a 360-degree sort of view that had me thinking for several days. It went something like this:

“The Bombay homeless are not easily ignored. They sleep at doorsteps… crevices of unopened shops… Girls slept on the medians of thoroughfares; their mothers rocked cradles made from two sticks and a taut cloth.

The unchecked growth in population is a grave concern. One Indian colleague of mine cited it as the source of all of India's problems… Recent estimates of Bombay's population density reach the incomprehensible figure of 17,676 per square kilometer, compared to 1,200 of London (Seabrook, 49). The Times of India regularly reported transport vehicles backing or barreling over a lone child, or rows of sleeping citizens. Taxis plowed into tea-couriers, cows.”

According to a BBC News article, Bombay faces population boom, Bombay’s population will reach 28.5 million by the year 2020, and Bombay will replace Tokyo as the most populated city in the world.

Do I even care about what will happen then?


Lakshmi a.k.a. Lotus Eyes said...

I came across your blog from desipundit.
You have an interesting and thought-provoking buunch of posts there.
As a former Mumbaiite who now lives abroad, I can understand what you feel. I love the diversity of Mumbai, the liberalism, the freedom and security enjoyed by women, the ability to get almost everything one wants there (in the material sense), but looking at the pollution, the lack of fresh air and free space, the increasingly wretched conditions of our trains, buses and roads, the living conditions of the poor in slums and on the streets, I feel absolutely depressed.
Keep up the good work!

runawaysun said...

Glad you liked my posts.

Yes, Mumbai is a messy place, polluted. The poverty and hygiene are great concerns. The living conditions, sometimes downright annoying. Probably that’s why many of us escape to the cyberworld, with its freedom and its connectivity. Where, we can be heard in spite of the din of traffic. Where we don’t feel ‘homeless’ anymore.

Nayana Karia said...

Your post really struck home. Mumbai was my home for over twenty years and it is knitted into my being. Not a day goes by when I don't long to be back. Not a day goes by when I am glad to be away. How many of us have been desensitised to poverty and misery as we travel first class to work everyday or impatiently wave away beggars as we wait in our cars at the traffic lights. Does it take an outsider to tell us? And what can anyone spare - a thought, a rupee, a kind word? No it'll take more than that. But for the moment, do what you can and now. Else, find solace elsewhere like so many!

runawaysun said...


Hi. Thank you for visiting my blog and writing that touching comment on Mumbai.
Isn’t it an irony that you should leave Mumbai for another life, while I should make this city mine? Like you said, Mumbai can engender a complex set of yearnings in people who have been associated with it. You love it and hate it at the same time.

The poverty and misery in Mumbai are indeed mind-boggling, if one cares to give these a thought. And no, we don’t need outsiders to remind us of this! Earlier this year, while reading Daniel Mason’s ‘A Far Country’, I was reminded of immigrant stories about Mumbai and India.

A year ago, I visited Vidharba (in Maharashtra) where farmer suicides were, and still are, common – and was left disenchanted. I was thinking of working with a few friends to promote organic farming there (http://unsettledviews.blogspot.com/2007/09/crash-course-on-organic-farming.html), but I found the whole system riddled with politics and vested interests of various groups. So, nothing has come of it yet. However, I did meet a scientist who is doing a lot of good work in educating poor farmers through his NGO. Perhaps your applications on learning and developing the human potential can be useful there.

I had visited your blog and enjoyed reading it.