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Dichotomy City: Mumbai


I love the cities and looked forward to our week in Mumbai, India, the city formerly known as Bombay. It is the largest city in India and one of the largest cities in the world with a population of over 21 million.

Many northern hemisphere folks were introduced to this city through the blockbuster movie: Slum Dog Millionaire and although Mumbai is home to the largest slum population it is also a booming commercial capital and predominant Asian seaport. All around us are construction cranes, and even Donald Trump is investing in buying property here – although Donald might be viewed as chump change to the other billionaires living here. Two of the richest people in the world live in Mumbai.

Add to all of this Bollywood, center of the globally successful Hindi film industry. This creates an eclectic cosmopolitan feel to the city and peppers it with movie and music stars driving down the streets. This lends a Los Angeles feel to the city and the local beaches add to that comparison – however the waters off Mumbai’s coast looked extraordinarily dirty.

People from all over India have flocked to this city in search of work, fame or anonymity. It has created a rich mosaic of cultures all within the one city. Hindu temples, mosques, churches and even some synagogues reflect some of the diversity.  English is very widely used and most people we met could communicate with us in at least broken English (except for one driver Bob had but that is his story to tell).

There is a strong 19th century architectural influence that the British established and these buildings are in remarkable condition for their age – in contrast to buildings erected in the last thirty years that appear to be falling apart.

Labor from our Canadian perspective is inexpensive in Mumbai however this does not factor in the purchasing power of the Rupee for the people earning them. You see many people servicing some businesses. The restaurant that Bob and I favored had a staff to guest ratio of four to one – and the service was exceptional!

Mumbai for its size and diversity felt quite safe. Having been targeted by terrorists from Pakistan on three occasions (1993,2006 and 2008) killing a total of over 700 people, security is high in most buildings. For example, we were not able to drive into our hotel without the car being searched for weapons or bombs each time. When we walked into our hotel there was a screening device as in airports you walked through.

Some visitors to India may want to argue with my position that Mumbai feels safe due to how frequently you get approached by people on the street trying to sell you something. From beggars to prostitutes, you will have people pressing into you (literally) especially if you are a foreigner.

But there are lots of police around, right? Well, policing in Mumbai is a challenge. We had the privilege of meeting with the District Police Commissionaire. He is a devoted and decorated police officer who has also served the United Nations in peacekeeping and international policing situations such as Kosovo.

He told us that there are 44,000 police officers for the city of Mumbai or 1 officer for every 500 people. The ration for Vancouver is 1 for 507. However, how effective are they? While the ration seems good, there is much training needed for the officers, and the temptation of economics make bribery a common practice among some officers.

We were surprised to learn through the folks at International Justice Mission that in a courtroom, the testimony of a police officer is not considered reliable and that there must be the presence of a civilian witness in order to seek a conviction. This is because of the level of corruption in the system. (See positivelyparkinsons.com for Bob the lawyer’s discussion of this).

More on Mumbai and the work of IJM next …

  1. paul sailhamer
    June 22, 2012 at 3:50 pm

    I may have mentioned this book to you before, but you should consider it after visiting India. It is called THE LOTUS AND THE ROBOT, by Arthur Koestler. It is a fascinating story of his search to discover why people from the west are drawn to India for spiritual insights in light of the reality of so much of India. It was written in the early 60’s I believe. Now the robot, high tech, and the lotus, spirituality, are even closer neighbors in contemporary India. Makes me want to read it again.

  2. June 22, 2012 at 10:42 am

    I love Mumbai – one of my have cities in the world. I lived there in 2000, and have often thought of moving back – maybe someday. Thanks Carson for posting from your travels – its been very interesting to live vicariously through your blog.

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