The Extreme Contrasts of Mumbai

16 04 2009

One of the most shocking things about India – and Mumbai, in particular – and is the way that luxury and poverty coexists side by side. It’s so difficult to even comprehend the disparity that you have between the “haves” and the “haves-not”.

You can be right in front of a skyscraper and then walk 100 meters to find yourself in the slums. It’s quite common for luxury buildings to be built right next to shantytowns and the slums. Or the other way around, as the slums were often formed by the construction workers who came to the city from the rural area and needed to live near the construction area, so they put together these illegal dwellings and simply never left.

Modern apartment buildings built right next to a shanty

Modern apartment buildings built right next to a shantytown

You can do your shopping in a posh, air conditioned mall where 5 assistants will help you to buy a pair of socks or you can go on the street and buy virtually anything for pennies on the dollar. Anywhere you go, the streets are lined with hundreds of vendors and stalls selling street food, shoes, cigarettes and candy.


You can see expensive imported cars on the street riding next to a scooter or a motorcycle carrying 3 or 4 people. Honestly, I didn’t think it was possibly to fit 4 people on a motorcycle, but there it was – a whole family going home on a single bike.


It’s fascinating to be in a country that’s both so developed and yet still developing. Over half of the population lives in poverty, but yet the country has many elements of the Western infrastructure – financial sector, medical sector, etc. is all there. It’s just that 500+ million people aren’t plugged into it…




2 responses

17 04 2009

God bless capitalism 🙂 See, in post-commy Tajikistan, everyone is equally poor. But for those 50% of Indians, they might as well be living in Tajikistan.

What I’ve always wondered is whether it will ever be possible to plug most people in? Can a society sustain 1 bil people actively participating in the capitalist system?

Here in NYC, although our idea of the poverty line is very different, disparity is equally stark. About 23% of NYC residents live in poverty, while limos are taking people to their Central Park side penthouses.

Good stuff. Keep posting.

20 04 2009

Ahh, I’ve been starting to wonder the same question more and more myself lately.

The thing about it is that it’s always fairly easy to discuss this issue abstractly – when you’re talking about theoretical people in a theoretical place. 500 million people here, 500 million people there. But, when you go into a slum area or a village and you see a specific group of people – same people, as you and me, but with much worse luck of being born where they were born, it becomes something much harder to ignore.

It’s extremely unlikely that you’d ever get all of these people “plugged” to such a degree that everybody moves to middle-class level and lives happily ever after. I just read a book where one of the themes was that the poor of India wanted to overthrow the “rich” – and that everything would be ok after that. Now, that’s not reality. Overthrowing anybody will not solve anything.

However, wealth aside, there are certain things that, as my co-worker here said, are “unacceptable”. Lack of water, food, sanitation, and education, etc. The basic things that people deserve.

I don’t think it’s realistic to expect that all people will have a two-story house with a white picket fence, as you’ll always have people who have more and others who have less. But addressing those basic needs … well, whether it’s possible to do for everybody or not, it’s something that needs to be on the agenda.

It’s very difficult to see any solutions when you look at these problems on a global scale. It’s much easier to look at a specific problem in a specific community and work to address that.

Of course, if the population continues to increase at a level it’s going now………. then we’re in trouble.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: