January 4, 2008
A Memory of a Place
It reeks. I mean I guess it doesn’t smell that bad. Not as bad as the thirty-year-old compacted feces in our toilet back in Tilonia, up in Rajasthan. Now we are in Mumbai.
I can deal with this. Whatever.
There is a lot less dust and a lot more space than there was in Jaipur. I notice a decrease in honking on the streets, and an increase in prodding with tourists. People make constant attempts to lure us into their shops to admire their “Good price! Good price for these miniature plastic Ganesh sculptures.”
Mumbai is on the coast of the Arabian Sea, on a polluted and yet somehow beautiful island. There are way more tourists here than anywhere in Rajasthan. But none of them want to stay in Mumbai—they are all on their way out. As a result, Colaba, the downtown area of Mumbai where most tourists reside, has a transient aura, as if any moment some businessman could come in and decide to turn more slum-grounds into coffeeshops.
The children and adults that beg on the street, just like the ones in Brazil (and apparently elsewhere around the world), lure tourists into the “buy me milk and rice” trap because they can. Few tourists are there long enough to know what this convincing plea is all about. The way the milk and rice system works is the following: “Please, madam, I have a baby sister. Could you buy me some milk and rice?”
And the concerned, dazed, jet-lagged, and heart-wrenched tourist will say, “Okay, yes.” So the child brings the tourist over to a fruit stand, and the vendor, taking advantage of the sensitive, pressure-filled situation, charges the tourist ten times the amount for the powdered milk and rice. After the tourist leaves, feeling good about himself or herself for having fed a poor street child, the beggar returns the milk and rice right back on the vendor’s shelf, and the beggar and vendor split the profit in half.
“What is wrong with this? They need money anyway,” my friend told me. But so often these children are forced to beg for other people, and the money goes to adults who use it for other purposes. The best way that I have found to feed and help people here is to hand them some cash, bundles of food, snacks, and pour water into thirsty mouths.