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.
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.
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.
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.