The Faces of Mumbai: Part One

Intense splashes of colour dance vividly around you, sweet smiling faces contrast with dark staring eyes. People are everywhere. It’s like being inside a crazy zoo of people. Groups of women walk the streets together, their sarees making a beautiful sea of colour, standing out from the dark and dirty colours of the street. You smell wafts of masala, turmeric, dhal, rich smells that make you want to chase the trail to find the source. But you restrain your desires, (last time you bought food off the street their was a hair in it and the guy used his grotty hands to prepare it). Oh yep, that’s a whiff of rubbish mixed with pee or something worse. Quick, hold your breath. Beep, beep beeepppp. Mumbai would not be Mumbai without the constant chorus of car horns.

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You feel a hesitant tap somewhere below your hip, you turn around and are greeted by a small little face, half the size of yours, with big brown eyes filled with such emotions its hard to look away. Their feet stand shoeless, coated with a thick layer of dirt. The layer of dirt isn’t restricted to their feet, it laces their whole body, even their face. Their small, once bright clothes, look far past there refresh date. Sometimes they have little gold nose piercings or earrings, or small marks tattooed on their thin little arms.

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The child is putting his hands towards his mouth, as if asking you for food. They’re never alone, once you’re seen engaging with one little person, another one comes. This one’s holding a small baby, barely old enough to walk. Money isn’t the answer, because who does it really go too? Who gives these children babies to walk around with all day to beg for money? But you can feed them, buy them clean clothes, and give them some water, at least you know that’s actually benefiting them. They seem to possess such sweetness, a strong sense of innocence and vulnerability escapes their big brown eyes.

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We encountered a boy who didn’t want food or money, he just wanted us to buy him a toy car. His pleading eyes begged us. He told us his little sister wanted a toy car, but really we knew he was just making a story up so we would buy him one. He was just a normal little boy who wanted someone to buy him a car. They’re children, children that are supposed to be playing and growing and being neutered by their parents. Instead they’re out here running around in the dirt, pleading for their next meal, learning to lie, making up stories to receive things that we take for granted. This is the reality in Mumbai.

The kids in the photos below ate the sandwiches we bought them in two seconds right in front of us. They were starving. We bought the boy a cool t-shirt with a picture of Nike shoes on it, and the girl a pretty dress. The boy was the older one, old enough to appreciate. His rich dark eyes screamed gratefulness.

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I’ll never forget the eyes of the many children I’ve encountered along this trip to Mumbai. The image of their cute little faces will haunt me forever. Reminding me of what they are forced to endure day in day out. Things that little children should never have to do.

Whenever you stop at a red light, you hear a little tap on your window and see poor little kids risking their lives, running through traffic to ask you for food and money. I have two little sisters, one fourteen and one ten, and it breaks my heart to think of them running through highways overflowing with crazy drivers and cars dashing in every direction. I couldn’t possibly imagine even driving in Mumbai, let alone running through the dangerous traffic with no shoes on, an empty belly and often balancing babies on one hip.

My friend told me of a certain experience that has left its mark of her mind forever. The last time she was in Mumbai, at the age of fifteen, she witnessed a little boy run through traffic, get hit by a car and die in front of her. A child’s life splashed on the side of the road. Wasted for the sake of a few cents.

Yesterday I had a little boy chase after our car down a busy street after we got in and drove away. He threw the coconut I gave to him and ran after my window, onto oncoming traffic. I screamed at him to get off the street, furious that he would be stupid enough to risk his young life for nothing. But he didn’t stop running. He chased after us in a futile attempt to reach the car, to continue asking me for money. In the hope that I would give him a few rupees he ran in the middle of a busy road, next to my window, with taxis and other cars coming straight on from the other direction. Crazy.

I have never witnessed poverty as I have in India. I thought Paris was bad. You see a homeless person at every street corner, freezing in the unforgiving Paris winter. But nothing compares to India. There is over a billion people and there simply isn’t enough for everyone. Last night when coming home from a restaurant, we saw a line of people sleeping on the side of the road, there were hundreds of people all lined up sleeping on mats on the cold hard concrete. The organisation of this long line of bodies caused me to realise that this is their home, their bed every night of the week.

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I think about the buffet brunch I had for lunch yesterday overlooking the pretty view at Marine Drive, a huge spread of rich Indian flavours with more food than you could imagine. I ate grilled fish, a masala dosa, dhal, delicious chicken in all different types of Indian flavouring, numerous salads, and fruit… Then later that night, I went out to a Mexican restaurant in Bandra, I wasn’t even that hungry but I still ordered three tacos. The amount of food I consumed yesterday, not to mention the other four girls I’m travelling with, could have been quartered and fed to many hungry mouths. I feel guilty.

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That’s what experiencing poverty like this does to you. It makes you feel a weird mixture of pain and guilt. Guilt for being lucky enough to have food, too much food, all the time. Pain at seeing little children experience a life like this. It’s one thing to see an adult in degradation and poverty, but there is something about seeing an innocent little child having to grow up like this, that breaks my heart more than anything else in this world. In the Dhravi slums I witnessed a little boy of about two years old, with no shoes on and no pants, walking on top of a pile of garbage as high as the first floor of a building. That’s where the kids search for things to play with. Amongst the rubbish in the slums.

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Reality is, I don’t know how to end this post. Am I supposed to communicate hope that the future of these children’s lives will be brighter? I can’t end this post properly because it’s not over, there is no conclusion. There are still millions of children suffering in India and all over the world. I am brutally aware that the millions of little children suffering in poverty worldwide will never get to have the same blessed and nurtured upbringing that I have had. And that breaks my heart.

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2 thoughts on “The Faces of Mumbai: Part One

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