Landing at the airport of Mumbai is confusing because the basti or slums are so close to the runway that it feels as if the plane’s landing directly on top of them. The drive through the city is a feast for the nose, tough on the ears, and the visuals burn onto the soul like music onto a CD.
Staring at the magnificently tall neo-classical condo and business buildings, you can’t miss the basti which share the neighbourhood and stand defiantly at the feet of the high rises…it makes me dizzy just thinking about the contrast of not just high and low but poshness and poverty…later I hear it costs 15,000 rupees or $300 a month to rent a room in the basti without electricity, hot water or sewage. Yet to confirm the tale.
Mumbai is huge, noisy, sprawling, vibrant, smelly, amazingly friendly and lies by the sea, bordered by high hills or small mountains at the back…there are people everywhere occupying every inch of any space that’s left when all the spaces were taken a long time ago. This is a city where the Bollywood stars go out in stretch limos at night, gliding in their glittery by the Bangladeshi refugees huddled under the bridges, a hollow concrete pipe serving as a family bedroom, the pavement as their kitchen.
I’ve yet to return to peel more layers and find out more what makes this majestic looking city tick, its people so fascinating and the hundreds of contradictions so compelling.