Monday, January 22, 2007

Salaam Bombay

I saw them from the taxi on the ride back from Bandra last night, as we were passing through Worli and getting ready to make the arc out onto Marine Drive, where the city meets the sea. Among the estimated 100,000 people in Bombay that are officially designated as homeless (as opposed to the 7.5 million people that live in the city's slums), they had taken refuge for the evening on a traffic island amidst a swirl of motor cars that was cacophonous in its noise even at this late around (around 10:30pm) on a Sunday night. The tableaux was jarring in its intimacy and familiarity: Two small children stretched out, a man who appeared to be their father tucking them both in with blankets, tousling their hair, entreating them to sleep well. But this was no child's bedroom, the pallet was concrete in a public space set amidst the glare of headlights and noise of strangers. There was no pillow for their young heads

These are the people that, in the words of the Times of India group's rather asinine estimation, "are the leash," keeping the country from reaching its development potential. Last evening, they certainly did not appear to have the power to restrain anyone but rather that, as with the 700,000 citizens of the Dharavi slum, they were in fact the ones who had been roundly failed by successive governments here in India and that now, sixty years after independence, some in the country wished nothing more than they would go away so as not to detract from the pockets of affluence here, in New Delhi or in Bangalore (where riots erupted this weekend). I think not.

The day before, I received in the mail a copy of , Asia Society Associate Fellow Mira Kamdar’s upcoming book Planet India: How the Fastest Growing Democracy is Changing America and The World (Scribner). Along with some books by Amartya Sen, Suketu Mehta and Humra Quraishi, among others, it should make an interesting literary companion on my travels.

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