In Mumbai, with kind Nicki and Grant Elliot in their very comfortable apartment.
I just thought that over the last couple of days I/we have done three things in such total contrast. And that is what always seems so striking about India – the contrasts. On Monday Nicki took Billy & Rosie (also staying at the moment, they have been travelling since February) and me to the Breach Candy Club. It is a bit of a gem in this frenetic, dynamic city that never sleeps... a true old colonial swimming club with an indoor pool, and a vast outdoor one, right on the edge of the Arabian Sea. There are hand-painted loungers and the Ladies Wash Room (changing rooms, showers, loos, oodles of space) made me think of Kenya. Lunch was excellent on a wide first floor verandah overlooking the sea and then we swam in the enormous pool – Rosie and I quite sedately, Billy more acrobatic off the diving boards.
Then yesterday we did a walking tour through Dharavi, one of Mumbai’s ‘official’ slums. Official because it is recognised by the Government, there are streetlamps and schools and hospitals, a million people live here in a space measuring less than a square mile.
Once a mangrove swamp which dried out and became a vast dump - the town is literally built on rubbish. Some families have lived here for 3 or 4 generations, muslims and hindus together – not always happily.Tiny rooms with whole families living in them – sewing workshops by day, homes by night.
The appeal to residents is that it is slap in the middle of Mumbai, a prime inner city location and rents are cheap. Between two railway stations, the commute in to work is easy. (There are those who are keen to develop the site.. documentaries made, but will it ever happen?)
In truth it is a square mile of narrow lanes and paths, factories, shops and houses and open sewers. The water supply only comes on for 3 hours a day. Hygiene is marginal and disease is rife – there are 1500 residents per loo.
Many people work in Dhavala in the hundreds of single-room factories that are run by a mafia of businessmen. Turnover is said to be in excess of US$600million. Sewing machines make beautiful dresses, jeans and luggage, we saw wooden shrines made from cheap broken furniture. Some of it is pretty horrifying – not much health & safety – Dickens comes to India. There are stinking tanneries, and potteries with smoking kilns. We saw paint tins being cleaned, hammered back into shape to be sold back to the manufacturers; aluminium melted and turned into transportable bricks to sold to someone further down the line; and every conceivable sort of recycling. Bundles of cardboard cartons, recut and resold. Plastic – cups, bottles, toys, cartons - is chewed up in homemade shredding machines and made into little pellets to be manufactured into cheap toys. Blades spin, fans turn, sparks fly. Small children were carrying huge patched sacks of plastic and sorting through computer parts and broken food mixers. Nothing is wasted.
They are all so quick and busy and smiling – shouting ‘Hi, Good Morning, What’s your name?’ They are proud of their work. We all felt pretty gobsmacked, mincing our way through all the grime – flipflops, big mistake –and really feeling the heat. I heard myself singing Jim Reeves’ “I hear the sound of distant drums..” at one point – it must have been the hammering of the tin cans – and immediately dived into a shop for more water.
Then today I went up to the new part of town, Bandra Kurla Complex, where Trident have a huge and dazzling hotel. Many banks and corporates are abandoning the old southern part of town, and moving up to the open spaces of BKC, close to the airport. The Trident is a businessman’s hotel - everything he/she could possibly want is there, and it’s really modern and smart – and about 2km from Dharavi.