The unfortunate parts of Mumbai
After a few days of self provided sightseeing, we decided to take a late night walk along the seaside of Colaba to see a wedding event that was being prepared right outside of our hostel. The place was beautifully lit up and flower decorated, with the Gateway of India and a whole fleet of lit up army ships in the background. In the mild evening temperature we were sitting peacefully watching the beautiful Colaba promenade when a legless man approached us with his tricycle.
It was clear to us that this man came with good intentions, and did not intend to ask for money or sell things like most of the other poor-off Indians. The man was genuinely interested in our backgrounds, and what we expected of our stay in Mumbai. We told him we were not only interested in seeing the top sights of Mumbai, but also the contrasts that are so clear, but also hidden away for mainstream tourism. It was then that e mentioned his taxi driver friend who lived in the slum, and would happily give us a taste of his everyday life in the Dharavi: the biggest slum in Asia.
The next morning the taxi driver stood smiling by his legless friend, and was ready to take us on a trip he promised we would never forget. And that was true indeed. He got to show us how the recycling worked in the slum, how the locals did their cooking, shopping and laundering and how they managed to work as a society with their limited amount of resources. He even took us to his home to show us his family and neighbors, where he generously offered us a cup of slum water (that we did not dare to drink). He was very proud to show us his house, even though it was just a shack with tin roofs and concrete floors to sleep on. Most of the slum “houses” lacked clean water, sanitation and electricity, but these factors did not seem to play a big role in peoples quality of life, as people were happy and very friendly to us and everyone around. Everywhere we went, there were smiling children running around, observing every move we made. After our three-hour visit, these people came running after our car and waved enthusiastically to say goodbye, leaving us with a warm feeling in our hearts that even though these children live in extreme poverty, their quality of life seemed better than some people living in Norway.
When returning to our hotel, there was a casting agent from Bollywood waiting for us, asking if we might be interested in doing an acting job the next day. It became clear that he had received a tip from the hotel manager saying that he housed some blond Scandinavians. And after a short look at each other, we though: this is a once in a lifetime opportunity, and accepted the job offer pretty much right away.