21 April 2013

India again

I am flying out to India again tonight to work and for work. There will be no play. We have a lot going on over there and I spend quite a bit of time in Bombay and Delhi and also in lesser known Indian cities such as Pune and Chennai. I don't mind really even though I would much prefer to be jetting off to Paris or Prague.

Bombay is only a five hour flight from Singapore and there is only a two and a half hour time difference swing. 


So it is not too taxing on my body or my brain.

Bombay is now known as Mumbai - it will however always be Bombay to me. Most of my work colleagues there still refer to it as Bombay as well.

The renaming of cities in India began back in 1947 which was when the British Imperial period officially ended. India became independent of the British in 1948. In some cases India just 'de-anglified' place names. For example Calcutta reverted to Kolkata.

It was a phonetic change.

Bombay was renamed Mumbai in 1995 and Madras became Chennai in 2001. The city of Pune used to be Poona and Delhi, the capital city of India, has always been Delhi. It has been continuously inhabited since the sixth century BC. The city of "New Delhi" was built in the 1920's to the south of the old city - but they are merged together. 

New Delhi has only been the capital city of India since 1947 - when the British left. Prior to this the main political and commercial centre for India was the phonetically changed city Calcutta - which as I have previously noted is now referred to as Kolkata.

I am flying to Bombay tonight and I will work there for a couple of days before going to Delhi. It is estimated that population of Delhi is currently about twenty three million people. The population of Singapore where I currently live is a little over five million people. Australia's total population is a bit over twenty two million people which is just a little less than the city of Delhi. The entire population of India is one billion two hundred million people - give or take a couple of million. Only China has more people. They have one billion three hundred million people. 

That is a lot of mouths to feed.

I am very fond of both Delhi and Bombay but not so much Pune or Chennai. Bombay is my favorite Indian city though. It has character and charm and despite the abject poverty that is very much in your face I find the place delightful and the people are very friendly and endearing.

When I am in Bombay I often go to the slum district of Dharavi. It is an incredible network of narrow alleys and thrown together shelters made of corrugated iron and cardboard and plastic. I like to wander around in Dharavi and get lost in there. I have been there many times and I have never felt unsafe. It is estimated that up to one million people live in Dharavi. 

They live in very close quarters.

Here is a picture of it:

Inside Dharavi the industrious nature of India can be witnessed first hand. Every conceivable item is recycled and put to use. Tiny factories pump out all manner of items from textiles to automotive parts. I am often guided around by small children who take me to show me where they live. I have chai with their parents and grandparents and their uncles and aunties. They all live together in very cramped conditions with no running water or electricity. 

We talk about politics and sport and kangaroos and kookaburras and I quite often play cricket with the kids. We use a stick for a bat and balls made of tightly wadded paper wrapped with layers of rubber bands. When I tell the children that I am from Australia they bowl very fast at me and take huge delight when they take my wicket. When I bowl to them they constantly hit me for six. 

They cheer very loud and we all laugh a lot.

The United Nations actually have a definition for the term 'slum'. They describe it as:

"a run-down area of a city characterized by substandard housing, squalor, and lacking in tenure security." 

The origin of the word slum is actually Irish and it arose from the gaelic phrase, "S lom e" - which translates to, "a bleak or destitute place".  

Life in Dharavi and the other slums of India is obviously very hard and tough and each day is a battle for survival. The people I have seen there though are very tight knit and there is a great sense of community and sharing and caring. I have always been made to feel very welcome in Dharavi and I am greeted with smiles and warmth and hospitality. 

I don't see it as being bleak at all. 

I think it is wonderful.


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