January 19

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Mumbai-ker in the making?

“Where has the time gone?” I ask myself.   Mumbai has drawn me truly in…

 

My PULSE assignment in the 6th largest and disputed most densely populated city on the planet, has taken me a world away from home and GSK House.  Yet, it feels a home from home now too.   I may just one more person squeezed into a bulging  22 million population, but I have felt very welcomed and I know it will be a challenge to bid Mumbai and my NGO farewell!

India is indeed a feast for the senses and I have loved exploring and immersing myself in the life and culture of vibrant, frenetic Mumbai.  It is providing much inspiration for my up-coming wedding!

 

It is never a dull moment be it in the monsoon rains, autumn heat and winter cool.. every day holds an adventure of sorts for me.   The rules of the road remain a mystery to me (traffic lights seems more of a suggestion than anything enforceable it seems). The ever-surging sea of traffic is alive with rickshaws, buses, cows, dogs, carts and endlessly sounding horns which are mostly used to signal your whereabouts rather than a signalling of aggression.  I often imagine the traffic as converging shoals of fish that somehow swim around each other remarkably avoiding collisions (mostly).  I am surprised I have not seen more accidents than I have..

Travelling on trains during rush hour, even in the women’s only carriages, have also proved adventurous introducing me to the most competitive yet the friendliest of fellow commuters! The volumes on the London Underground are a drop in the ocean by comparison as wave upon wave of commuters prove.  “Mind the gap” or “allow people off first before boarding” are not considerations.  Hold on tight and don’t stand too close to the door-less doorways!

However it is first time I have heard the term “train friends”.  My colleagues have had to explain to me it is not unusual to have friends made during their  long daily commutes and make of point of celebrating special occasions together.  (A contrast to London’s eye-contact avoidance!).

A few statistics:

  • 22 million people (which represents a doubling in size in just 13 years – and set to do the same)
  • 20,482 persons per square kilometer
  • 62 % live in slums (according to the Hindustan Times 2015 – however this figure varies)
  • c 60% of the city is build on reclaimed land from the sea or jungle swamp (therefore vulnerable to floods – and I have heard some very sad stories from colleagues about their experiences when it does happen especially in the slum areas. “Insurance? What insurance?”)

I struggled to imagine the reality of these numbers before arriving..  How can so many squeezed on this collection of seven islands? Such a huge percentage of people living in slums?   It almost requires seeing to believe – one of the world’s most extensive slum areas next door to the world’s most expensive home, Antilia estimated to be c £2b.  I can now understand how some described Mumbai to me as schizophrenic when such extremes are apparent.

It is easier to imagine there is a great need for NGOs in all manner of areas – sanitation, nutrition, education, reproductive health, protection against violence..

Working in my NGO SNEHA has been eye-opening –  always a fascinating education for me and hugely rewarding.   SNEHA is focused on empowering women and children in the

SNEHA Video

SNEHA promotional video

vulnerable communities in Mumbai focusing on nutrition, maternity, adolescent health and protection against domestic violence.  http://www.snehamumbai.org/about-us/sneha-mumbai-ngo-story.aspx

We have four offices across the city including Dharavi, famed for being the setting for the film “Slum Dog Millionaire”.   Each time I go on a field visit, I am always humbled by the welcoming families and their generosity and openness.