A city physically smaller than Toronto, absolutely heaving with its 18 million inhabitants. Thousands of millionaires live in urbane, tropical luxury while steps away, 9 million Mumbaikers live in street slums on $2 per day- life without housing, clean water or sanitation. A frenzied hot zone with endless racing commerce, ambition and organized crime, and a steady schedule of overloaded trains packed with Indian migrants from the countryside hoping to get lucky in this overheated metropolis.
Walking the streets I found overwhelming- being face to face with clashing opposite worlds every few blocks. Real estate more expensive than Manhattan's morphs into endless communities of beggars on streets and in medieval markets; swarms of black and yellow taxis play impossible games of chicken on potholed, broken roads without street lights or signs. Time warped Victorian architecture in lush colonial gardens circa 1880 looks out at tiny street urchins, 4 or 5 years old, begging on traffic medians and racing through deadly traffic to no one's concern. Air conditioned SUVs carry the new upper middle class as their private drivers deposit them along a daily circuit of luxurious stores and expensive restaurants and armed guards keep the unwanted out of their rarefied retail world.
The air pollution is crippling, while swirling dust, filth and trash are omnipresent. Yet, almost magically, Mumbaikers are usually immaculate; dressed in pristine, styled and pressed clothing, regardless of station. Rickshaw drivers and food vendors show more pride in their appearance than most of the North American middle class.
There is fierce ambition and creative energy in this city which houses the nation’s film industry, playboy millionaires and much of its aggressive business development, but the abandonment of half of its people to the worst penury in teeming slums make this place one of the strangest, most unsettling, and sometimes odious I have visited.
For more photos and thoughts on Mumbai, please check my flickr page.