This is my third trip to Mumbai in as many months and each time I come here I am reaffirmed that the cruelty and despair depicted in Slumdog Millionaire is harsh reality and not the type of sensationalist drama that we often find from a Hollywood Blockbuster
When driving through the Dharavi slum — the biggest in India — barefoot children played with sticks and bits of rubbish, beside streams of black filth running between shacks improvised from salvaged doors and scrap metal. Few of the hovels looked big enough to park a my bicycles in, let alone raise a family. Rats crawled around in daylight and the stench was one that continually tested my gag reflexes.
It was one of the most depressing yet most life-affirming experiences. I saw more smiles and humanity than I ever have in neighborhoods of Chicago or Oakland. Bright fabrics hung from washing lines; every open door showed a room decorated with glossy religious pictures or Bollywood stars. People smiled whenever I caught their gaze. And, driving through one of the poorest places on earth, with the knowledge that with the $25 I had in my pocket I could probably change someones life.
Although I felt a deep sense of sadness I never felt afraid, something which I cant say about neighborhoods in my native Houston.
In Mumbai, over 3 million children live in slums or on the streets; child labour is rife and 400,000 children work in prostitution.
Living in the slum is only half the battle especially when considering that most people travel miles to scratch out a living, and that travelling around Mumbai is likened to running a Gauntlet.
Transportation is short of a nightmare where throngs of people bustle down crowded streets attempting not to be hit by a Tuk tuk, a car or a bus which all noisly honk there horns at every opportunity in a chorus of frustration.
I saw lots of Bicycles! Not the type of Bikes that you see on Sunday mornings with lyca clad cyclists like myself enjoying the countryside and breathing in good clean air, but cycles so heavily laden with wares and merchandise that even the strongest recreational rider would struggle to gain a few feet yet alone a ride in the park. I saw one blood strewn rider with a bent frame persevering a crash and the traffic pushing onwards to his destination.
Adding to the crowded roads where carriages pulled by sacred cows and many wheel barrow carrying everything from rocks to steel to chickens all of which would normally be reserved for the power of an 18 wheel truck.
Of course the "Bollywood set" in Bandra depicts a different tale, where there is an abundance of private helicopters for those who can afford it and hotels whose luxury agonisingly feels out of place.
Mother Theresa was touched by India and in her famous words one cant help but feel the plight of so many:
- If you can't feed a hundred people, then feed just one.
- Being unwanted, unloved, uncared for, forgotten by everybody, I think that is a much greater hunger, a much greater poverty than the person who has nothing to eat.