It would take something incredible to distract from a plane load of passengers that were behaving as though this were a bus journey from one village to another. People milled about completely ignoring ‘fasten your seat belt’ signs whilst they fiddled with the contents of hand luggage of such size it would have been more suited to a merchant ship’s hold. I’m pretty sure there were also chickens in a basket – live ones, not the type in a dated British pub. If anything had gone wrong, I could forget getting anywhere near an emergency exit.
But the first sight of Mumbai made the madness in the cabin seem mundane… or the first sight of Mumbai’s slums did. You can read about Mumbai’s Dharavi slums being amongst the biggest in the world; you can note numbers of slum dwellers that exceed a million but it means absolutely nothing until you see it with your own eyes.
It’s size was truly staggering; a flat expansive, tumorous growth clinging to a modern city.
Witnessing abject poverty is sobering and humbling. Seeing abject poverty on such an epic scale is almost impossible to compute.
Thoughts of how people actually survive and thrive in what looks like hell on earth completely overshadows arriving in one of those love or hate cities where it feels as if someone has pinned your eyelids open, such is the ferocity of an unrelenting attack of what should be memorable scene after memorable scene. But the shock wears off and the image of the roofs on a million shanty huts is replaced with other images that turn the world on its head – woman construction workers in saris carrying bricks on their heads; tuk tuks buzzing like motorised bees in and out of a sea of traffic that appears absent of rules or logic; a red double decker bus that looks as though it has taken a serious wrong turning from Piccadilly Circus; beggars whose bodies are so devastated that you can’t help but feel guilty for being healthy and whole.
Arriving in Mumbai was shocking and yet at the same time, exciting. My senses were overloaded, but so were my emotions; veering from gut wrenching sadness to guilty wide-eyed wonder… it was impossible to keep control of either. Is there anywhere else quite like Mumbai?