A city of contrasts.
A city filled to its brim, with barely any space left in it.
So full the sidewalks here are only partly for walking: they also serve as a place to eat warm samosas and panipuri, to buy paan and tobacco and bottled water and to drink piping hot chai next to cows and goats. They serve as a home for thousands upon thousands of people: a place to cook, to sleep, to beg, to play, to work, to shit, to bathe…
The city is huge, covering upwards of 600 square kilometers. Over 60% of the Mumbai population (11.9 million) lives in slums and other forms of informal housing, which—packed between complex infrastructure and towering skyscrapers owned by multibillionaires— cumulatively account for just 8% of the total city land area. The roads are chaos, but somehow you find a way of feeling safe as taxi drivers seem to be alert, or at least good at dodging, in case of someone running across the road at the last minute, or cows wandering into the middle of traffic, or children working between lanes selling flowers, or maybe just another taxi spontaneously decides to stop and make a u-turn while bringing the entire road to a halt. Everyone does as they please, so everyone is aware, mostly. Though I have noticed every single taxi I have seen in the past week has a large dent on right front side of it, as well as others. But a few little bumps are no big deal, here.
The city never sleeps, no matter what time of day or night you go out into the streets, you find people working, cars honking, food is being cooked and devoured. It never truly gets dark, the thick smog reflects the millions of lights back down onto the city.
People of all backgrounds, colours and casts live intertwined here. They live on the same streets, in the same buildings sometimes, their paths cross on a daily basis. There are enormous differences between the way people live, and the things people have, yet when you walk the streets and see these people living in such close proximity, it’s almost as if this clash wasn’t present and everyone must get on with their life. It can be hard to see and take in, but unfortunately it’s also too easy. I find myself accepting it too easily. This doesn’t mean one doesn’t see the problems that are present everywhere you go in Mumbai, but you learn to accept it and think of it as a part of life. Many things I see every time I leave the apartment hurt me and break my heart but I wish it would hurt me, and everyone else that is as privileged as I am, more. Because maybe if it did, we would all cooperate (more than we might be) to change the state of the world and the inequality that exists.
The beauty that is amongst the people here in Mumbai is breathtaking. The colours, the flavorful foods, the generosity, friendliness and the smiles you come across is incredible. Mumbai is overpopulated, with much of the population struggling to feed their families and put roofs over their heads, yet the city is safe. It is a place everyone is welcome, at any time of day, to come and enjoy what it has to offer; and someone will alway want to talk, share, smile and help.