Realities of an Indian Concrete Jungle

 Photo by byheaven/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by byheaven/iStock / Getty Images

By Kirthana Sasitharan, Master of Journalism, University of British Columbia

One of the greatest gifts a woman is blessed with is her sense of empathy. A woman can feel the yearn of others, the pain of others, and the stride of others.

I classify myself as a travelling woman - willing to see the world at any cost, even if that comes with a sinking heart. Travelling the world is eye opening because the level of empathy that is often attributed to women travels with you, regardless of where you are.

On my travels, I witness heartbreak, struggle, triumph and honest attempt - traits that I find in people who try to get by day by day. I also feel anger at those who control an impoverished society by ignoring the hardships of its people, for the benefit of its outer appearance.

Travel makes me think and makes me realize. It makes me empathetic. It makes me stronger. It makes me want to change the world. It makes me want to change perspective.

On the outside, it did not appear as bad as everyone made it out to be. I had been warned about the smelly streets, the filthy conditions, the gastric intolerant food, and the overly annoying people. But what I witnessed, was beautiful. The fast-paced movement was my favourite part. Everyone seemed like they were always on a mission. I guess that’s why they call it “The New York of India”.

Mumbai is one of the more ‘developed’ cities in India-aesthetically and economically. Office buildings and Condominiums stand tall; glass windows surround skyscraper penthouses; crown-molding edge the roofs of fancy hotels, and massive boats stay afloat at the marina next to the Gateway of India.

From the outside looking in, The New York of India had it all-

If you only looked up.

Below the concrete jungle, lies the forgotten India many people overlook because at your feet sits the rising concern of this nation and the world.

Poverty stares back at you and always strikes a chord.

Sitting in our rented, air-conditioned minivan amidst the Mumbai traffic on a Wednesday afternoon in December, my head turns to the right to see two children sitting on a traffic island amusing themselves with a puppy. Their clothes are ripped and dirty, their faces unwashed, and their smiles beam with yellow teeth. The children look nearly six years old and there is no parent or guardian in sight. I see the children get up from the island and make their way amidst the minivans and jeeps with outstretched hands.

I feel my heart sinking at the sight.

Even in the busy city of Mumbai, many middle-aged women, men, and children are homeless, begging at the corners of Prem Court or Santa Cruz market. Amidst the shopaholics and business personnel, the poverty stricken reality of many Indian families remain apparent in their strive to recover enough rupees for a decent meal every night.

The poverty issue encompassing India today is not declining, as many citizens still suffer, especially in Mumbai. Despite a booming economy thanks to the placement of western fast-food chains like McDonalds and retail shops like Forever 21, despite the grand designs apparent in The Taj Hotel where the likes of The Beatles and Barack Obama have stayed, despite the flourishing tourist rate as a result of the homes of well-known Bollywood actors’ being there, the city of Mumbai is not able to tackle their poverty concerns. They merely build the city around it.

I witness the attempt of citizens to make better lives as I make my way through the streets of Santa Cruz market. It is fair to say that many citizens, who live below the poverty line in Mumbai, do make an effort to take advantage of the thriving city by putting their limited skills to good use. Whether that be through the means of shoe polishing, handing out newspapers, or performing acrobatic stunts- there are citizens who make an effort to escape a life of poverty without subjecting themselves to panhandling.

Mumbai tries to hide the poverty that lies in its streets. Beggars are often not allowed near popular tourist attractions in Mumbai because they may “ruin the image” that the tourist attraction presents. It is interesting to note this notion of “image” that seems to be of a concern. This “image” is meant to manipulate tourists into thinking that this city is merely a replication of New York City and nothing else. The reality behind this “image” cannot be escaped. It cannot be ignored. If the reality of a poverty-stricken society is not seen at the Gateway of India, it shall be found elsewhere in Mumbai. Poverty cannot be hidden midst skyscrapers and condominiums. Poverty lives in the concrete jungle.

You’ll just have to look down once in a while.