Notes on Antique Textiles, Folk Art & Timeless Traditions – Jaina Mishra
Everyone has heard about the much romanticised and much media-exploited slums of Bombay. There are even organised tours through the slums!
Most outsiders think that slum life is the rock bottom of all the layers of living. But the slum layer is two layers away from the real bottom.
The layer lower than slums is that of street dwellers – people who have homes on the streets. No houses – just homes. They are not the same as the homeless of the West. The Bombay street dwellers have homes and have flourishing families.
These are actual households with pots and pans and cooking and washing. These are families consisting of grandparents & parents and children of various ages living together. They even have pets that live with them and sleep with them. All happening in the open. Without a roof over their head.
I noticed the first family just around the corner of my apartment, living on the foot path along the highway. Their spot stretches for about 20 meters of the public road on which all their belongings are parked. No one really uses that stretch of the road so they are not really in the way. And besides, even if they were in the way, the Bombayite always ‘adjusts’ and ‘accomodates’ everyone else – so that no one is inconvenienced by an obstacle. Every time I see them, a faint desire arises to go out and chat with them. This family has 3 dogs – strays who have been adopted by the the family.
This week in my daily trips to Nanavati hospital, I have noticed another such family on the footpath on in a different suburb. Again – with dogs as pets. Today I watched the woman of the house, sitting near the cooking fire and pulling her two pet dogs close to her to feed them with love.
These people are among the poorest I know. They really do live hand to mouth.There is no ‘unemployment cheque’ coming to them and they have no government who will listen to them. They live, finding food from one day to the next. They have no shelter in the monsoons and they have no toilets all year round. They have no water supply and street lights are their only power supply.
The rich drive past that drive past, these poor are rendered invisible by the rolled up window glasses of the chauffeur driven cars. The middle class feel bad for them and even though they know that there is little they can do to change the lives of these people, they give do their bit of charity by giving them food or old clothes or just a few rupees occasionally.
The Street dwellers live in the open. In full view of the world. I wonder about the compromises they must be having to make with the municipal authorities and the local police – just to keep their home in a given spot. I wonder how they protect their little toddlers as they learn to walk. And I wonder how they protect their young girls from the predators. Their life is not easy.
Yet, they find enough love in their hearts to share their resources with stray dogs. As permanent full time members of their homes. As though the chaos in their day to day life is not enough! As they they don’t already have enough mouths to feed!
Who are these amazing people who have still not allowed their very tough lives to toughen their hearts?
Someday I will reach out and find out. Someday soon I will take pictures and post them here.