Mumbai: A reformed Bombay?

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Last Updated on March 15, 2011 by Christine Kaaloa



Action. Motion. Heat. Noise.

A cacophony of sound and moving drive-by sights accost my taxi window on the drive into the heart of this blazing city.  Overwhelming, exciting, raw, jaw-dropping … the problem began– what to focus my attention upon first?

All is a soiled hotbed of moving, honking, hawking, digging, driving, walking and selling activity.  Roadside stands line the streets in endless stream, selling everything from food, souvenirs, cellphones,… tires.


Practically every job is serviced by men and every man seems to service things by medieval hand vs modern machine.

Much of the city’s laundry is still washed by hand. Hospital uniforms, hotel sheets, clothes, etc all go to huge concrete vats with men scrubbing, wringing, slapping and sudsing laundry, hanging them out to dry.

wash wide4


Congested. Polluted.

A thick haze cloaks the entire city, making it feel like faded film. No Bollywood technicolor here.

Mumbai is overrun with people…. living on top of each other, overlapping, overflowing into the streets, squeezing to get a foot in the queue. Clothes hang from apartment windows like proud flags coloring the city’s aged buildings, reminding you people live inside these boxes, to the point they’re spilling out.




Tireless. Relentless.

You can smell the dust, age, disarray and poverty through the window.

Occasional taps on my car window at the stoplight, presents a child or deformed beggar, cupping hands over the glass to peer in to ask for money. Young boys selling books and magazines stand in front of the door to make a turn-away sale difficult for the backseat passenger.



Pulsing. Reaching.

If Mumbai fights the grips of an un-relinquished and proud Bombay; Bombay still wins.


Mumbaikars buzz from one place to another on foot, by Ambassador taxi, tuk-tuk and railway. Stepping into this city feels like setting foot into a different era.

Mumbai’s railway trains are like ancient metal cans on wheels, with men occasionally hanging outside the car door. Unlike Delhi, the metro system hasn’t quite made it here.





Rich and poor remnants mix, but the poverty swells with upstaging. Old colonial buildings, peeling with time, choke out little pockets of modern allure.





Buy fruit at a produce dealer or get your envelopes weighed at a post office and iron weights are still used to gauge weight.


Is Mumbai a reformed Bombay? If it’s getting there, it’ll probably take a rickshaw!


Jarring Beauty.

There’s an arresting beauty to Mumbai, however. It’s jarringly exquisite, tenuous, rough but well-oiled… and it peeks through from Indian culture, it’s human nature, historical hardship, its colors ,  spiced flavors and… sense of  humor.


sign gunshot4Leopold Cafe & one of the famous bullet hole marks from the 2008 terrorist attacks

puriman4Stands at Chowpatty Beach


bhelpuri4Bhel Puri snack

crtrrd34Carter Road & promenade in Bandra

pujasale 014


bhindi 024




Seeing Mumbai for the first time, it’s hard not to feel enthralled, watching it all. Like a child on a merry-go-round, it makes you want a second turn on the ride to get a better view. It’ll tempt you to with curiosity as you want to understand…

How everyday Mumbaikars live.



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  • “Rich and poor remnants mix, but the poverty swells with upstaging.” This is a beautifully crafted sentence and I absolutely love it! I really liked this piece and hope to visit Mumbai someday 🙂

  • I think you captured Mumbai perfectly. This is the Mumbai not advertised in guide books and brochures but ironically is the real Mumbai. And as with any place, only when you get experience the true reality of that destination, can you even begin to understand it, and be changed by what it shows you.


    • @Anuj: I love what you say —

      “…as with any place, only when you get experience the true reality of that destination, can you even begin to understand it, and be changed by what it shows you.”

      I agree completely! I love India but Mumbai really surprised me. It wasn’t at all what I thought it would be and I think that turned out to be a good thing!

  • Wow, this is beautiful, Christine. I think I would be completely overwhelmed to be surrounded by such widespread poverty–and yet you’re right, there is beauty there too. I think you’re embarking on an incredible adventure here.

    • @Gray: Thanks. There are times that India tests your personal meaning of “beauty”. Seeing it above the poverty or poverty-included is the challenge or so it feels…

  • so much beauty in the face of ugliness yet fear I worry….

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