Over 100 migrants squeeze into already-crowded Mumbai on a daily basis. Those counted are those with papers, so the real number is probably around 500. Many, many of these migrants become pavement dwellers.
It’s impossible to move around the city without seeing whole families spread out anywhere there is space for them. Watching these families day in and out, I can only marvel at the capacity of the human race.
Mothers of many tie their dupattas at their waists and meet at any source of water available. This is a gathering place for all women, who scrub dishes with ash and talk together.
Nearby, Hindu and muslim kids play cricket or badminton with whatever equipment they can find or create. I never had to make a roadside into a park, I wonder. But these children have done that. They laugh even more loudly than the traffic that surrounds them.
In the evening, Dad comes home and the family gathers to eat together. They squat instead of sitting, and eat simple dal and rice with their fingers. How rich am I, I wonder, to be able to worry about the nutritional value of the food I put in my own mouth. The migrant family’s needs are much more immediate and relevant to the moment they are living in.
Come evening time, the whole family spreads out to sleep, evenly spaced on a tarp in that covers the ground that they call their own. Over time, they toss and turn and their limbs fall over one anothers’. Husbands and wives that have never known privacy sleep side by side on the ground, under bright lights. I from the west, with the blessing and the disease of too much privacy, watch and wonder. What a sad thing, to have to sleep like this.
Back in my own comfortable, furnished room, I lie underneath the fan. Hours later, I wake up sweating from a nightmare, and there is no-one there. I’m a million miles away from my own family. For a moment, I wish that I wasn’t richer in everything else, but richer in community.