Like most countries India seems to consist of the rich, the working classes and the poor. But sadly that’s not where it ends. The rich in India can be sub-catgorised into the rich and the super-rich, and the poor can be divided into the poor and the super-poor.
And then there are the invisibles.
Before we came to India we prepared ourselves for the divide. We’d both come across poverty before in other countries and although obviously it can be sad, we felt pretty well adapted to it.
But we’ve just left Mumbai, and that my friends, is something else.
We’d come to take in a Bollywood film, explore the many famous monuments Mumbai has to offer and stroll along the promenade with some street food. And although none of the cinemas were showing anything Bollywood (we could have watched the latest James Bond over and over again) we did manage to see nearly all Mumbai’s monuments and eat some fabulous street food. We explored the famous Taj Mahal Palace Hotel and had our picture taken with about a million Indian guys next to the Gateway to India.
But none of this compares to the taxi ride from the airport to the guesthouse.
First we saw the huge buildings, the tropical palm trees and the Bollywood studio skyscrapers. Everything, down to the iconic yellow and black taxi cabs, was the Mumbai we’d seen on the television.
But then… Is that? It is! That man’s deficating on the Mumbai we’d seen on the television. And so is that lady. This is the point where the impressive buildings and lush foliage turn into slums. The road becomes uneven and you can see far too many people crammed into small self made huts. All the children, and many of the men aren’t wearing clothes and the population seems to have increased by a frightening amount. But the scariest thing about this part of town? The skyscraper towering over it with the big neon letters – SUN TOWER. So clean, so new, so expensive.
Our taxi stops under a bridge for the traffic and a small child looks through the window hopeful. He moves on and a middle aged woman takes his place, again just looking through the window of the car, but this lady isn’t hopeful, she’s expressionless. Just past the slums, these are the invisibles. And sure enough our driver doesn’t seem to notice they’re there.
Many of these people don’t dream of self improvement because they know the corruption in Indian society won’t allow it, rather than receiving charity they’re covered up. But it shocks us that if they were to aspire to something better, it would be to the slums we’ve just passed.
As the traffic pulls away the people go back to the side of the road under their bridge and sit in that squatting position you so often see the poor in India adopt. Not a particularly comfortable position, but one we’ve learnt is forced upon them by society, because the invisibles are not allowed to sit down.
All of a sudden a limo pulls up next to us with blacked out windows and we can just make out a pale Indian couple sat in the back. We can’t be sure but we assume them to be a Bollywood couple and it angers us to see them drive in such a car through this area. But then we realise that this is their area too. This is the area of Mumbai, shared by the rich and the poor alike. It’s not allowed to be shared by the invisibles however, because of course, they’re not there – they’re invisible.
Except they’re not. They’re the most visible thing about Mumbai, and probably my one lasting memory.