Mumbai airport slum: reality bites

November 8, 2013

Mumbai Airport Slum 3--621x414Photo credit and news story

Day 1: Landed Mumbai at 1:30am Friday, Nov. 8, 2013. We are 13.5 hours ahead of Pacific time.

It’s not like I wasn’t expecting it, but still, seeing the shantytown slums just outside the Mumbai airport was an assault to all my senses, even in the middle of the night.  That people live in such horrific conditions, such squalor– that children live there, only steps from the shiny, modern architectural wonder that is the Mumbai airport—well, if you’ve read Katherine Boo’s book, Behind the Beautiful Forevers, you’ll know what I mean and if you haven’t read it, I can’t recommend it highly enough.


Photo credit and blog post

We are the epitome of fat, privileged Americans on a luxury tour, I don’t deny it. And here’s another truth:  to a great extent, I want to be insulated from disgusting sanitary conditions, children in rags with no future, the evidence of a government run entirely on corruption. I know it exists. I probably know more about it than most Americans. But I’m helpless and that makes my heart hurt.

The airport slums are supposed to come down and the families who live there are being relocated to flats. A story in the Times of India today said that sanitary and health conditions in the flats are even worse than in the slums. How is that possible? How could there be no way to improve things for these poor people?

How? Corruption. Graft.

By the way, this is just one slum in Mumbai, a city with a population of 20 million. It’s unimaginable.

This morning the owner of the airport transportation company we use picked us up for our run to SFO. He’s from India and a successful entrepreneur. We’ve known him for several years and know that he goes back to India to visit family annually. I can’t help but wonder how he squares what he sees there with the vast wealth and superior living conditions in Silicon Valley. What does he really think?

He did have some advice for us:  Drink only bottled water and be careful about pickpockets at the Pushkar Camel Fair. Be careful about the food.

(As we prepared to land, M. said, “Let’s see if I’ve got this right. We should be ok if we eat and drink nothing and never go out on the street, right?”)

Another story in the Times of India said that a 77-year-old woman was walking to church in Mumbai and a thief ran by and ripped gold earrings out of her earlobes. There was also much coverage of the abuse of women by fathers, husbands and brothers. Mutilation. Scarring. Attacks.

Yes, things like that happen everywhere.


What kind of country is this? I ask myself.  I hope to have my own answer 18 days from now.

If you want to know more about the slums near the airport, click the photo credit for the story that goes along with it. Actually, click on both credits.



20 comments on “Mumbai airport slum: reality bites
  1. Carol, is there a special reason you picked India to travel to for 18 days? Knowing the living conditions of 98% of the people there, it is not on my bucket list. When we were on the tour bus to Napoli, we saw the shanty town of that crap hole. I know exactly how you feel, my heart broke into a million pieces knowing people lived in those conditions.

    • admin says:

      The culture, for one. And some of the beauty, for two. I’m not sure we’ll do another third world country, but…..

  2. Barbara says:

    Oh my – the culture indeed, the beauty, the history, the people, the stories, the spiritual richness…I can think of many, many reasons why I’d want to visit India. Anywhere you travel – you will see what you look for, you will be surprised, you will be moved, you will gain a more realistic world view and for me, you will appreciate your home even more. I think a true patriot has to have traveled abroad. People not from the States wonder how we live in such a gun violent place with shootings every week. And have you seen under the bridges or along the walkways and bikepaths in most cities in the States? Have you seen homeless camps set up right outside the view and sometimes in plain view of the opulence that is our cities? Have you visited a shelter? Are you aware of how many people don’t have decent healthcare? Haven’t been to a dentist in decades? If ever? I could go on – and yet it’s a beautiful, bountiful, flawed yes, but rich (in ways beyond money) country.

    How can we help and how can we know if we don’t visit? And how can we appreciate and absorb the beauty if we don’t visit?

  3. Lisa Froman says:

    I’m looking forward to hearing more. Even though it hurts.

  4. Allison says:

    Looking forward to more posts and stories about your trip. I think this will be an amazing trip for you.

  5. Judy says:

    Yes, India sadly has its share of poverty and corruption, as does much of the world. But it also has mindblowing architecture, art, dance, music, film, food, festivals, spirit and spirituality. Its otherworldliness can at times feel like you’re visiting another planet…or another dimension. It is a land of mysterious paradoxes: Let your senses be bombarded, don’t rush to judgment and embrace the journey!

  6. I t really is mind-stretching to go to a country where such stark economic conditions contradictions. It is hard to believe there are places in the world where wealth and beauty and extreme poverty and suffering (little children starving!) walk hand-in-hand (or never touch at all, as the case may be) in India. I do not know what the answer is. But I do know that you can’t just pour money on the problem of poverty because it never seems to help. Available Education, real education, and then the opportunity for self-improvement are the only answers that ever seem to work it would seem to me.

  7. It’s difficult to take in this kind of devastation when you can figure out how you can make a difference. I hope you will enjoy your trip regardless. I’m sure that the money you spend in India will help.

  8. Hi Carol…I just wandered over to you site from the Midlife FB goup and appreciate what you’ve written. I know it is tempting for us all just to see the pretty around us…I happen to live in the Southern California area near Palm Springs and it is incredibly beautiful with sunshine, palm trees, golf courses and resorts. But what most people don’t realize is that barely 30 miles down valley people live in shacks. Yes, many are illegals but our area couldn’t exist without their hard work and labor…who would work in the hotels, restaurants, golf courses–not to mention manicure all the lawns? It is a real paradox. My DH and I also travel to Baja MX regularly and it can be even worse….the poverty is all around us if we look. But on the other hand if you look you will also see incredible kindness, charity, hopefulness and love. While I think it is important to do what we can when we can, I also think it is important to realize that money and having “stuff” doesn’t necessarily make us happier. As studies show, once we have food, a safe place to sleep and health care then chances are good we can find happiness no matter what. I look forward to hearing what you see and observe as your trip progresses. ~Kathy

  9. Ryder Ziebarth says:

    Namaste Carol~I am a client of Lisa Romeo’s and she sent your blog link to me, knowing that I wuld want to follow you. I spent a month in India last year, mostly touring Gurajarat-the two dessert regions there and the arts of the nomatic tribes. That being said, I sent two nights in Mumbia and four in Delhi. Every day, I counted the days until I could go home; and when I arrived back here in NJ, I cried to go back. The fifth and corruption, the begging and the burning smells that you will never forget, are all part of the wondrous place that is India-The first day or two, you will feel exhausted and shell shocked, then slowly, delighted and fascinated. Hang in! It’s coming! Be careful of the food-esp. ice-cream, cheese soaked in water (pizza is a no-no) and of course, anything fresh. The breads will be your best friend and the breakfasts are wonderful.And shop ’til you drop! Things like stationary stores within local malls are magical, and of course, the fabrics and the craft centers (a great one in Delhi.)I would give anything to go back…..but I couldn’t say that while I was there.

    • admin says:

      Ryder, thanks so much! I’m still kind of shell-shocked, you’re right. And I love what you wrote about the light. I’m glad you’ll be keeping up with my travels and, I hope, adding your perspective and advice. Thanks to Lisa for sending you here! Namaste.

  10. Ryder Ziebarth says:

    ps- reading some of the comments here–You can’t make a difference-its not possible-so don’t think about that-just look at the light, the fantastic light and the beautiful people standing there within.

  11. And this is why, as much as I would like to see this place, I can’t bring myself to. This will be interesting, and I’ll be tuning in for EVERY post!

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