||TAMARA KAFTALOVICH, Guest Blogger
I’ve been to many countries around the world, but nothing could prepare me for the contrast I was about to see in Mumbai. I say contrast because of two extremes — the tall, modern skyscrapers, BMWs and businessmen roaming the streets, to extremely poor people hanging out by the railroad tracks, begging for money, performing any job they can and eating whatever they can find. Sure, there is definitely a middle-class, a very large one in fact, but given Mumbai’s large population, it was a lot easier to see the clear division of social classes.
Banganga Tank, Mumbai. Photo by Tamara Kaftalovich
Duncan, our Sleeping Children Around the World (SCAW) team leader, arranged for us to spend the first two days of our trip touring Mumbai with Amin Sheikh, a local tour guide he’s worked with quite few times.
Amin grew up in the slums of Mumbai. He left home when he was young, after being beaten several times by his stepfather. He then lived a tortured life on the streets, falling victim to prostitution, hunger and abandonment.
One day, he was approached by a nun and brought to a nearby orphanage called Snehasadan where he turned into the most optimistic and kindest 30-year-old man I’ve ever met. He now lives with his mother, sister and 13-year-old niece, and prides himself on his car — for without it, he wouldn’t be able to take people like me on tours of his city, which he is so proud of and humbled by.
And let me say, he was the best tour guide ever! In less than six hours, we did more than I could have imagined. First, we visited the home Gandhi grew up in. It has since turned into a museum (no admission fee required), and the third floor is home to a room filled with small puppet displays depicting Gandhi’s life and historical moments in time related to freedom and liberation.
Amin Sheikh. Photo by Tamara Kaftalovich
Coincidentally, one of Mumbai’s annual art festivals, Kala Ghoda, was in town and we spent some time browsing local artists’ work. It was a great way to see some of Mumbai’s cosmopolitan flare, straight from the artists themselves.
Amin also took us on a walking tour of the slums. We started off at the Banganga Tank — filthy, but considered holy water where people go to worship the dead — and finished off at Dhobi Ghats, an open air laundry facility where people hand-wash hundreds of pieces of clothing and linens each day.
In addition to making a quick stop to see the Taj Hotel and Gateway of India, we capped the day off with a delicious late lunch at the bustling Leopold’s — a bit of a tourist attraction, but the food was pretty tasty. We couldn’t have asked for a better day!
Oh, and a word to the wise: Never take your eyes off the people you are traveling with while walking along the very busy streets of Mumbai. As we left the restaurant, I turned my head for a moment, and when I turned back, my group was gone. I started walking one way, thinking I would catch up to them, but they were nowhere in sight. Luckily, I turned around and there they were, on the opposite side of the street. Phew! Because if they weren’t, I could have gotten myself into a little bit of a situation…
Date Added: February 14, 2011 | Comments (0)
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