Letter from Mumbai

So I’m currently in India, where for the last couple of days I’ve been immersed in the world of garment manufacture, and trying to solve a nagging production issue, which has now been resolved – hurrah!

However, the world of business means that I’ve been living a very ‘unreal’ Indian existance, being picked up from one air-conditioned location and carried in an air-con car to another similar place. Even the factories are clean and well presented, with air-con meeting rooms and bottled drinks for ‘important’ western buyers like me.

It all feels really weird living like this, even the way I dress is required to demonstrate my separation from the poor and lowest parts of society, I must appear smart and well groomed in order that the factory bosses take me and my business seriously. I must deliberately differentiate myself from the urban poor, demonstrating my ability to be ‘worth something’ to them.

This afternoon I had a rare, and far too short opportunity to escape the clutches of business colleagues and anxious hotel staff and to get out for a change amongst the smells and dust of Mumbai.

One of the great joys for me in this kind of place is to travel by rickshaw, something I’m not often able to do as a business traveller, so I grabbed the chance this afternoon, and without realising it, scored a double whammy.

Not only did I get the rickshaw ride I wanted, but I got a driver with attitude and humour, not only was his ride ‘pimped’ with a large pop culture sticker which almost completely obscured the windscreen, but he also had a large brass hooter for a horn, something which is rather impractical but a lot of fun.

As if this wasn’t quite enough, he turned to me as we got in and said: ‘Magic?’

‘Magic??’ I replied, wondering what he was on about.

‘Magic!!’ he declared, before putting on the loudest music in the road, so off we went in his pimped out rickshaw, music blasting. Highly entertaining.

However, the reality of the separation between me and the people around me is not altered by one short rickshaw ride. From the fourth floor window of my hotel room, I look down on a collection of slum dwellings, where people are living in circumstances which for me are unimaginable. Kids walk blithely along huge concrete pipes, between which a stagnant sewer steeps.

Ragged homes are built of reclaimed junk, and men sit for hours sorting through piles of plastic litter, presumably looking for items which are worth reclaiming or have some other resale value.

This is India in the 21st century, beautiful hotels in which the priveliged can dwell in air-conditioned luxury, right next to abject poverty. Apparently I’m stuck in one camp, wanting to make a difference to the other, unsure as to how well I am managing it.

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