07/04/2008 | by Arsen Brzostek
March 10, Bombay, India
A long time ago when I was young, I overheard a conversation my dad was having with one of his friends who had just returned from a trip to India. The guy-Tom- was one of those spritual-jack-of-all-trades guru types; I guess he had gone to India for some enlightenment seminar or what not. But what I remember that really intrigued me was when my dad asked Tom how the weather was, and he honestly couldn’t say. Tom said that he had never had a chance to look up. After just two days in Bombay, I can see how that could happen. Shit, the taxi ride from the airport to the city center is enough to break your travel-toughened spirit. I swear, ghetto, ugly, impoverished- these words hold no weight to the scene. The sight of some of these slums or slum-cities could only be described in terms like post-apocalyptic, quasi-animalistic, nightmarish. I mean, I’ve driven through favelas in Rio or the shanty towns in Soweto, South Africa, but now, I can honestly say, ‘I’ve never seen anything like it.’
The term ‘living on the streets’here is in every way literal and a lot of times, seemingly in no way disgraceful? I’ve seen families of squatters who have fenced off a segment of public sidewalk to form households with (minute) bedrooms, open air kitchen, and den in full view. And then a man walks out of a stooping, hovel like opening of the house in a dapper suit and tie.
But then there’s early in the morning, when you see those who don’t even have the luxury of slum or shelter or settlement. Crooked forms and shapes of children contorting their bodies to fit in a stretched out t-shirt in order to fully cover themselves from the night air or notorious Bombay rats. Clumps and small piles of sleeping life, scattered on the streets, that from a distance I myself have shamefully mistaken for trash. My Lonely Planet guidebook recommends its tailor-made trips to Rajasthan to see ‘the real India,’ but after witnessing some of this, I wonder, how more real can it get?
I walked around the touristy part of Bombay- Colaba- hoping to meet any solo travellers like myself but right now all I’ve seen are separate regiments to a small army of middle-aged women whom I think have all just been inspired by Eat ,Pray, Love, but all have that look on their faces like ‘We’re supposed to do which one of those things in this fuckin place?’ Them, and then European couples with their hippy-traveller-baggy-light –linen uniforms on, and in some cases, one of the mates in tears.
Two days, and I’ve seen four car wrecks (two serious), and mostly from the window of my own speeding, maniacal cab. But my driver’s name was Mohammed Ali, so that had to count for something. But walking into this internet café, I think I saw the best thing. A man who- I think was trying to sell my an oversized balloon (why would I want that?)- with a t-shirt on that prophetically said, ‘Welcome to My World.’