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Mumbai Disturbia

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There's a Sanskrit word with its roots in Indian Hindu philosophy and mythology called "Maya" - meaning illusion, something that embodies duality - that, which changes face and confuses our perception of reality in daily life.

Mumbai, the city, epitomises Maya.

That, which glitters with hope for millions in small town and rural India; that, which carries the honourable plaque of the financial hub of the country, that utopian dream that can make millionaires out of rag-pickers - that temptress, which attracts so many to it only to send most of them plunging into its dystopian reality, a world, ironically, full of disillusion.

Mumbai Disturbia

Few of us are alien to Mumbai's dark underbelly - glorified as it is by the Slumdogs and Salaam Bombays. But walk right into its scenes when you least expect to, when you haven’t been in the city long enough at a stretch to be sufficiently inured to it, and it can disturb deeply.

On my last leg of my India trip last month, I spent two days in Bombay (as I still like to call it). Rose early on a Sunday morning to get a few shots of my favourite part of the city and to get a few shots for Metrotwin Mumbai. Shots of NGMA done, pleased with myself , pleased with the shots I had managed to take, I started walking towards my waiting car, the city only just stirring into action around me. This is when I spotted this little girl, sweeping a small patch of the street, all alone.

Mumbai Disturbia

Mumbai Disturbia

Why did I stop and notice her? It was the way she was dressed, the look on her face – she was an anomaly to the hordes of street children one comes across on Bombay’s streets. She wasn’t in tatters; she wore a clean frock and her hair in two neat pigtails. She couldn’t have been over 5. She was so vulnerable. I moved towards her, hoping to speak to her – suddenly she looked up and ran away. I followed, hoping to find her around the corner but instead, I found this.

Mumbai Disturbia

Mumbai Disturbia

I don’t know if this woman was her mother. I don’t know why she was sleeping (lying?) on the doormat of that building. Like the child, she was dressed neatly; she didn’t belong here, on the street. There were a few men around by this point. No one else seemed to notice her. A couple of men glanced at me, probably surprised that I was paying her any attention at all. At one point I thought I saw her open her eyes slightly and look at me. I couldn’t be sure. I was afraid to go up to her and talk to her. I don’t know why. I stood there for a long time wondering if I should. The little girl was nowhere to be seen.

In the end I walked away, just like the men. But these images didn’t leave me.

14 comments so far:

Mumbai Paused said...

Very true

Anonymous said...

lovely poignant shots...you have captured the life in the city beautifully!

Paul Nixon said...

That's quite an eerie story which you've conveyed well.

I wonder what the building was before it was the Institute of Science. The sign looks newer than the building and seems to be obscuring an older date or script.

Sishir said...

Your post has left me wondering with the same question......beautiful shots.

Dhaami said...

great shots and love the post.. India never fails to touch the heart.
what stuck with me most was the 'I was afraid to go up to her and talk to her.' I would have had the exact same reaction

Flaneurbanite said...

SloMo: You'd know!

flyingstars: Thank you so much!

Paul: Thank you...Indian city streets are full of such stories if we only care to look. Most of us though, get inured to these scenes once we start living there...partly a way of keeping oneself sane, partly a veil of indifference, perhaps?
I looked up the building's history - looks like it has always been The Institute of Science (formerly knows as the Royal Institute of Science). It was built in 1920 by a bunch of British and Indian philanthropists - not surprising - you'll find several such buildings around South Bombay.

Flaneurbanite said...

Sishir: I'm glad I could stir something in you. That is what the writer-photographer aims to do. Thanks for visiting and following the blog, do please drop by again!

Dhaami: Thank you! I still think about that moment when I walked away - almost feeling like I betrayed her. Hollow, futile words perhaps, but I hope someone did gather the courage to walk up to her.

Aditya said...

Ive almost never taken pics of strangers on the street.. I am kinda scared...

I have been so eagerly waiting do to that... those pics come out so well, like the ones above!

How do I get started?

Erinn said...

Once again, it's quite the juxtaposition to see someone lying asleep, and presumably homeless in front of the Institute of Science - a bastion of progress. I'm curious about their story now.

christian said...

hey, captured the life of mumbai very nice! some great shots.. interesting blog by the way..

jyothy karat said...

What a coincidence! I just posted something on children in north india and then i go to google reader and find this! You are right.. it is unsettling...

Flaneurbanite said...

Aditya: It's fine tightrope between offending/exploiting and between being a recorder of life on the streets. In my experience, and as I have often said on this blog, it is much easier to click people on the streets in India (and for that matter in the US) than anywhere in Europe - cultural differences being one of the main reasons. I used to be very apprehensive of clicking people too - but over time you learn to be sensitive to the moment, to the immediate circumstances around you as you click. Sometimes, you have to let go of what could be a fantastic shot, just to respect someone's privacy/sensibilities, or even to protect your own self...
If you'd like to discuss more, please don't hesitate to email me. Just click on the email link on the top right hand corner of this page. :)

Flaneurbanite said...

Erinn: That's India, that's Mumbai. You'll see this juxtaposition almost everywhere. Curiosity apart, I still feel a pang of guilt about not approaching her. I'll never know her story and never know if I could have helped in any way.

christian: Thank you for your kind comment! Please do visit again.

Jyothy: Will check yours out too :)

Anonymous said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.



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